Women are often put in the position of being the caretaker whether they like it or not. Families assume that being female means that you are automatically caring and nurturing, fit to care for others. You’re given baby dolls to feed, clothe, bathe, and change before you can even construct a full sentence. As you get older, you are expected to care for your younger siblings before you can even care for yourself. Even though there are celebrities out there like Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, Angelina Jolie, and Celine Dion openly discussing how they believe in gender neutrality, our society is not quite there yet and continues to push gender roles even before a child is born.
“It was hard keeping everyone in line, no one wanted to listen to you because you were just a kid yourself.”
Being the oldest girl in your family was hard. You didn’t have the freedom to be a kid like the rest of your siblings. You were pushed into the role of mother as your actually mother was working two jobs trying to make sure y’all kept a roof over your heads. You were often in charge of making sure everyone got up in the morning, dressed and to the bus stop on time. Before you even had a chance to do your own homework you were helping your siblings with theirs after school while you prepared a basic dinner so no one went hungry. There were many nights that you had to make sure your siblings took baths and were in bed at a decent time, staying up late doing your own homework until your mom got home from work. It was often hard keeping everyone in line, no one wanted to listen to you because you were just a kid yourself and not their mom, but you did your best. The teenage years that you imagined of going to the movies with friends, hanging out at the mall was not your reality. You were a mother before you even bore any children.
When you left home as an adult you thought things were going to be different for you, that you would be able to escape taking care of everyone all the time. But this just wasn’t the case. The same expectations that your family had of you as a child carried over into adulthood and you were still expected to be there for everyone. Constantly being in the role of the caretaker began to create anxiety within you. Every time the phone would ring or it was time for a family gathering your anxiety would increase wondering what duties would be placed on you this time.
“You have spent your whole life caring for others.”
However, you don’t have to continue taking care of everyone. The role that you were forced into as a child is not one that you have to hold on to. But in order for you to be able to let go of that role and focus on yourself you have to understand how it has manifest itself in your life to impact how you interact with the world as an adult. Part two of the four part series explores how you can overcome being the hero, or caretaker of the family.
Everyone always sees you; you’re not invisible like the lost child. You have spent your whole life caring for others, being the good sister, the good daughter, the good friend, the good partner, the good employee. You have always put the needs of others in front of your own and though it feels good at times, you feel like you’re unable to truly enjoy all the things that you have worked hard to achieve.
On the job, you’ve become very successful. You’ve been an overachiever your whole life and that has carried over into your career as you have, with little trouble, moved up to higher positions. People have always liked being around you making it easy for you to create lasting relationships. Mornings on the job are spent chatting with others and you can often be found at happy hour after 5. However, all is not as good as it may seem on the work force. You are often given a lot of responsibility due to your ability to handle a number of tasks but it’s stressing you out and you often spend nights up worrying about the next day at work. With your coworkers, as with your friend and family, you’re often expected to pick up the tab as your income level is higher than most of your peers. When you’re not there everyone notices that you’re missing and will often check up on you. But you often wonder are they missing you or what you can do for them.
In relationships, you tend to attract those that need to be taken care of. You’re often the bread winner and find yourself putting most of the effort into the relationship. You put on a good front making it seem to the outside world that everything is good, just like you did at home as a child. You desire to be taken care of and have your effort matched but you just haven’t been able to find the one. When your relationships end it’s often due to you being unwilling to continue with being the caretaker, having someone mooch off of you all the time. You want a partner, not a child to take care of, but in reality you struggle with being able to allow your partner to be a man, treating him like a child that you have to care for regardless of what he brings to the table.
Friends are easy to come by for you. You have always had quite the personality and your caring nature easily attracts others. Your circle is large but it’s not as intimate as you would want it to be. You’re always the shoulder for your friends to cry on, the one they come running to for advice, and the one they love inviting out as you’ll often buy rounds for everyone. However, the friendships that you have are often one sided. When you’re in need there are few that you are able to count on. They invalidate your experiences and the troubles that you have due to their perception that you have everything together. Even though you can easily be surrounded by others you often feel alone.
The relationships you have with your friends are similar to what you have with your family. As much as they hate your controlling nature you’re still the one that they come running to. Yep, I said it, you’re controlling. As the person that was placed in the role of the adult in the family as a child, you are use to being in charge of things. This power that you were given as a child translates into other areas of your life. You are in a high position in the company you work for, you are the alpha female in your relationship and you’re the parental figure among your group of friends. Your family hates how you take charge of things but as the responsible one of the family everything tends to come back to you. When someone is in need financially they come to you, when a parent is no longer able to care for themselves they come to you. You try to put your foot down but they hit you with the guilt every time and it works.
Continuing to put yourself out there, putting everything and everyone in front of your own needs is not a way to live your life. Lack of care for self will lead to depression and anxiety in situations in which you feel there is a chance of you being used. Now is the time to face the dysfunction of your childhood so it can stop impacting the way that you are currently living your life.
So what exactly is the “Hero” or “Caretaker?”
Every family has that one child that stands out in a positive way. They are the straight A student, involved in school activities, and never get into any trouble. They are the ones that make the family look good when behind closed doors everything is falling apart. Their ability to present a positive front to the world is why they are often known as the hero of the family.
This child is also the one that keeps the other siblings in line, or at least tries to. They take care of the household, their siblings, making sure the needs of the home are met. Instead of having a childhood themselves they are forced to take care of the family, which is why they are also known as the caretaker.
The caretaker, however, struggles with a fear of failure within the family system. They fear that no matter what they do it will never be enough for those around them. They continue to try to be everything for everyone but neglect themselves leading to depression and anxiety. The hero child, as an adult, often resents their family and will try to physically distance themselves from them in an attempt to not have to continue carrying the family on their shoulders.
So What Now?
You see yourself in the above descriptions, being able to relate to how you are on the job, in relationships, friendships and interactions with your family, you understand that a lot of the way that you are is linked to the role that you were put into as a child either by force or by choice. But what can you do about it, how can you stop being the caretaker, the hero of the family so that you can focus on yourself and create the life for yourself that you have always wanted? Continue reading as I provide you with a few tips to improve your current quality of life.
Letting Go of Responsibility
As a child you were the overachiever, president of this club and that club, honor student. You strived to be the best and did not fall short. However, continuing to go about life with that type of attitude can become overwhelming. The demands of childhood are nothing compared to being an adult. You have to be able to look at your life and set priorities for yourself.
“That voice in your head will fill you with guilt, but it’s time to tell that voice to shut up!”
So, how exactly do you do that? As long as you allow it to happen people will continue to ask. I know you have heard this before, but you’re going to hear it again. You have to learn how to say no, to recognize when your plate is full and that you cannot take on any more task. Saying no now is not saying no forever but it is saying that now is not a good time.
If you’re are up all night working on task or not being able to sleep because you are trying to organize everything in your head, that is a clue to you that you have taken on too much. No one is going to think less of you if you say not right now. I know that voice in your head will fill you with guilt but it’s time to tell that voice to shut up!
Take a look at your to do list, what’s already on your plate. Remove those things that are not necessary and do not take on anything else until you have the ability to do so without jeopardizing your own mental health.
In intimate relationships, you take on too much and have a desire to be in control because that’s just how things have been for you in your life. Yet, you’re doing too much and it’s time to step back and release some of that control. I know it sounds scary, you’re use to doing everything, being in control and the thought of not having that control is anxiety provoking. But you have to trust that you have someone that is able to lead so you don’t have to always be the one out in front.
“You have to let a man be a man.”
In order to find that man that’s not a man child you have to be willing to sit back and observe. For some this may be seen as being weak, allowing the man to make the decisions in the beginning, but what it does is allows you the opportunity to see how he handles things. If he can’t take charge or show responsibility in the simplest of situations, how can you expect him to do so when the going gets tough?
I’ll wrap up this little section, with some advice that my daddy told me a long time ago, “You have to let a man be a man.” As an alpha female it’s very easy to put on the pants in the relationship, but is that the standard that you want to create? Do you want the man that is dependent on you, that turns to you for every decision, or do you want the one that is ok without you holding their hand? As a caretaker, you have to be willing to stop babying your man so that he can be a man and you can relax.
You’re Not Going to make me Feel Guilty
So, how do you as a caretaker, hero deal with friends and family. Being able to successfully deal with those closest to you goes beyond being able to say no; if goes down deeper to being able to forgive yourself for living your life the way that you want to live.
“Those around you make you feel guilty for not continuing to care for them.”
See, it’s easy to say no to stranger, those that don’t mean much to us, but those that are close to us pull at our strings a bit differently. With friends and especially family, there is history, a pattern of how things have always been and you are expected to not break that pattern. You have always been the caretaker, the hero, the one that took care of everything and who are you to decide that you’re not doing it anymore? But it’s your life and you have the right to live it the way that you see fit.
However, guilt holds you back. If not self imposed guilt, those around you will make you feel guilty for not continuing to care for them. To them you are their back up plan, their 911. You are the one that they go to when the lights are going to be turned off, they got kicked out of their boyfriend’s house, or they need someone to watch their kids. But what about you? Who takes care of you? There is no reason that you should feel guilt for doing for yourself when no one else will. You have to be able to recognize that you have done enough and you do not have to continue to enable their behaviors.
Take some time to do an inventory of all that you have done for them. I know this may seem petty, but you need to see it on paper. Make the list and then ask yourself if you have done enough? If you feel like you haven’t, then by all means continue to give but if that list looks pretty long, as I’m sure it does, then get comfortable with saying no. Guess what, they won’t die, I promise you (unless they need blood or an organ), but in most situations they won’t die.
How Can Therapy Help?
The tips listed above are some of the ones that most people, not just caretakers, struggle with the most, so I don’t expect you to be able to do them on your own. As you scroll through social media looking at inspirational quotes, many will tell you to just say no and to let things go, but those are some of the hardest things to do. We hold on to things, take on too much and have a hard time saying no. Therapy helps you get over those barriers that you have not been able to cross on your own.
At Live Now Counseling, I can help you reorder your life to include the important things and push to the side the things you don’t need on your plate right now. I can help you with saying no to others without need for explanation. I can help you with being able to step back and let your potential partner show you that you can trust them to lead the way. I can help you with being able to differentiate between real guilt and false guilt so that you can say no to those that are closest to you. The goal is not to make you care less, but to make you care more about yourself.
Being a caretaker or hero can have a positive effect on your mood, making you feel needed and important in other people’s lives. However, when it’s not balanced with self care it can lead to a depressing, anxious, and lonely existence. You can have a fulfilling work life that is not overwhelming, you can have a balanced intimate relationship, and you can have friends and family that want to be around you because of who you are and not what you can do for them. But you’re going to need a little guidance to get you there. If you are ready to stop being everyone’s crutch and reclaim your life, click here to schedule a free consultation.