The Shadow Side of Caregiving

the shadow side of caregiving

Addicts/alcoholics usually require some caregiving to aid them on the road to recovery. The person who shoulders this role has a difficult and troublesome task. Most often this is a lover or friend and that makes the job even more difficult. There is a fine line between caregiving and enabling. To put it bluntly – caregiving is a choice and enabling is a form of addiction. It is important to inquire within whether the service provided is a conscious choice or an unconscious reaction.

Caregivers are usually forced into service out of necessity so it is even more important to make this a conscious choice. Those who hold the belief that they are merely a victim of the addict/alcoholic will soon find themselves sunk in a morass of self-pity and overwork. Those who make a conscious decision to do this work from their heart center will fare much better and will avoid self-pity. Of course it looks like the caregiver is a noble person, and usually this is the case, but not always. There is a shadow side to caregiving that is often the hidden catalyst for all that good help given to another.
The difficulty rises from the self-effacing view that the caregiver may have of herself. She often sees herself as a set of eyes and a handful of gifts. The caregiver rarely pays attention to her own well-being. She may unconsciously offer gifts of service to the person in need as a substitute for actual self-to-self interaction. “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” is the unspoken song and “Just look at what I can do for you and not at who I am” is the refrain.

That makes it very difficult for the two people to interact directly and allows the caregiver to hide her low self-esteem behind her gift and buy affection with service. Caregivers can unconsciously be on the lookout for those who are in need of assistance. They often marry their casework and are suckers for Bad Boys. It is preferable to be a caregiver who is employed in that capacity and who receives a paycheck for work done. This solves the problem of repayment by the one receiving that care. It is a difficult challenge to help others without repayment of some sort and it can deeply affect the personal relationship if there is one.

The usual rule in recovery situations is to assist only if the recipient is doing the bulk of the work himself. Oddly enough, it is the one getting the care that is the most unhappy about receiving help. He feels uncomfortable about just doing the taking. It is an imbalance that can be righted in several ways. Usually he can repay in some manner such as some service to his benefactor. That way he can avoid the feeling of being in debt to the giver.

It is a good idea for the caregiver to ask for something from the recipient. Then there is some sort of balance to the work otherwise there can be a wish to avoid the caregiver or to badmouth her so that she is not worthy of repayment. This is an example of that lovely phrase “No good deed goes unpunished.”

Caregiving can be a way to buy affection with service and the best way to avoid such a trap is to learn to say NO. This returns the power to the recipient and frees him to see the caregiver as separate from the care itself.

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