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Style of caring? Who ever heard of that? It’s a load of nonsense psychobabble! I bet that’s what’s going through your head right now. But it you are reading this, then you are intrigued, and may be wondering what exactly is your style of caring. You may think you care about your loved ones, and no doubt, care for them too. But step back a moment and look at what it actually means to care about someone and care for them, or indeed take care of them so they take care of you in a co-dependent situation.

Lupita claims to care about her adult son: what’s her caring style?

Lupita, a 44-year-old divorced billing manager loved her son Antonio, a 25-year-old artisan jewelry maker, who had been abusing alcohol and drugs from the age of fifteen. As a mom, she was scared for her son’s life and health, but most of all she experienced the substance abuse as stealing her son from her. She spent time, money, and energy in a massive and continuous effort to get Antonio clean and sober, but he relapsed every time. So, Lupita’s caring style was to care about Antonio but only in so far as he would fill up her life, and take away the hole left when his father left for another woman when he was six years old.

But Lupita’s caring style didn’t involve caring for him. She didn’t care that his development was being stunted by her using him as a substitute partner, and that his substance abuse was a way of numbing himself to being emotionally abused.

Antonio only went to rehab and treatment to please his mother so that she would make sure he had enough money to cover his rent. Eventually Lupita was angry and desperate enough that she threatened not to pay the rent. Antonio experienced it as blackmail and broke off all contact. Her caring style was to care about him in so far as he was useful to her.

Although Lupita’s style of caring was to care about her son, it was ultimately a self-centered caring about herself, that was masked by an apparent maternal care.

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‘Caring About’ Style – what it really looks like

The caring about style of interacting with a loved one involves:
• Wanting them to fulfill potential even though it may impact you negatively – for example if your loved one has a lifestyle you don’t approve of
• Letting them be themselves and have own their mind even if you want them to see things your way and make you feel good.
• The caring about style involves encouraging your loved one to share the full extent and intensity of their emotions without you feeling edged out or overwhelmed.
• Tolerating your loved one’s view of the world, their reality even if it doesn’t gibe with yours – it provides an opportunity to get to know their inner world of threats, and fears such that you can understand and create an environment of safety.
• The caring about style means that you are comfortable to be there when your loved one needs you: not intruding into their lives uninvited or invading their space when you want care.
• The caring about style means allowing your loved one to move at their speed and pace even if it’s frustrating. If you get impatient that it becomes about you needing them to shift so that you can feel better.

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Arun claims to care for his wife and children but doesn’t feel it is reciprocated. What’s Arun’s caring style?

Forty-four-year-old Arun, an events organizer for a big company, cooked, cleaned, put the kids to bed, went to their school games and helped with homework. He never cheated or lied. If he wanted to hang out with mates, he’d run it by his wife Miranda, a 45-year-old proof reader. He was a ‘good’ boy who wanted acknowledgment and appreciation for his efforts. His caring style of ‘caring for’ was concrete- things that were visible and therefore had to be recognized and rewarded.

Arun’s caring style of caring for his family was not about caring for their emotional, developmental, or psychological welfare. He cared for them in a servile manner wanting to shine in the process so that then could feel cared for. If he did not get adequate and genuine acknowledgement, praise, and gratitude he felt uncared for. To Arun caring for a loved one meant doing things for them in the expectation that they owed him to be truly thankful, adore him and make him feel special.

Arun’s caring style for his loved ones was one of expectation and entitlement that they treat him a certain way. It was a caring style that was conditional, which just led to resentment when he didn’t get his due reward – having the unfortunate consequence of making Arun not care about them, or for them as individuals with their own needs. He complained of being taken for granted, while his wife was fed up with the burden of having to praise and thank him continuously. Sadly, his kids didn’t feel cared for – their dad may help with homework or watch a game, but they felt bad about themselves because they saw their father’s disappointment in them.

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‘Caring For’ Style: what it really looks like

The caring style where you ‘care for’ a loved one involves acceptance of the person they way they are.
• The ‘caring for’ style means you tolerate, rather than judge and criticize
• Caring for a loved one includes being able to put yourself in their shoes and experience their distress or their joy without having to give up your own perspective
• When you care for someone rather than just care about them, you don’t insist on proof of their allegiance, or demand they compromise themselves for you.
• Caring for a loved one shows up as comforting, soothing and letting the person have their feelings without trying to change, fix or make them reflect a mirror image of your emotions.
• The ‘caring for’ style means you are honest with yourself and speak your truth. Censoring yourself means you hold back, and make your loved one do likewise. Both of you live in a pretend world where it seems that everything is okay. In fact, it is disrespectful and uncaring to avoid being honest using the excuse that you might hurt them. What you are really doing is saving yourself from your imagined reaction which may not be comfortable with you.

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Hari seems to care a lot about his girlfriend Farah and she him: What’s the unwritten deal between them that they call ‘care?’

Hari a 37-year-old solar panel engineer was totally into his girlfriend, 35-year-old Sonia. Within a month of meeting and falling in love they started to live together. He worked hard and he liked to play hard. His caring style was apparently to care for Sonia and care about her. He cared for her in that he supported them financially, was attentive and present if she was sick or needed support to deal with her demanding parents who insisted that she needed to care for them as they aged.

Hari cared about Sonia because he witnessed her conflict around needing to be a good obedient daughter and his partner. He tried to make her feel stronger and be more assertive, but Sonia was engulfed in fear that if she didn’t do her parents’ bidding, she would lose them – they would cut her out of their lives and she’d be orphaned. Sonia’s caring style was one of caring for loved ones by being obedient and servile. Her rewards though short lived were immense – she was elevated to the position of the star of the show, the most special, the most beautiful, the best daughter, the one and only – it was like a high that she had to keep trying for over and over again.

Sonia was so scared of losing Hari that she would force herself to participate in his fondness of playing hard over the weekends – partying, hiking, jogging, going to shows etc. Sonia’s caring style was of co-dependence both with her parents and her partner. She needed them in her life so she didn’t have to be a fully fledged person in her own right. She traded the chance of choice and self-direction for being infantilized such that she was always having to be the obedient little princess, to avoid having to think about supporting herself or worry about loss and being alone.

Hari’s caring style was also one of co-dependence. By taking charge of the financial issues and giving her a place to live away from her parents, she was dependent on him. That meant that he never had to worry about her leaving, or not being the companion he wanted. He met her need to have some separation from her parents without forcing her to stop being their servants, not-understanding that her caring style was to transfer the servitude to him – to have sex when he wanted, go to his family functions etc. She was the performer par excellence, in her caring style of co-dependency. But unhealthy for all concerned.

‘Caring in Co-dependency’: what it looks like – why it isn’t really ‘caring.’

• Co-dependency caring is based on a quid-pro-quo mentality.
• Caring in a co-dependent way is based on a sense of entitlement to be cared for, (not cared about). I went bowling with you even though I hate it, so you must come swimming with me – that’s the underlying belief
• Caring in a co-dependent way comes with a sense of entitlement to be taken care of, so you don’t need to be a separate person and depend on your own talents.
• Co-dependency caring style means that both parties have to stay small and not grow – so when one person thinks for the other, anticipates their every need, make decisions for them in the guise of taking care of them – that is really making sure you don’t get left behind and have to think for yourself.

Did you recognize anyone in these stories? Maybe you ressonated with some themes. It’s useful to explore them further and learn to care in ways that are genuine and be cared for in the same way yourself, when you give yourself the chance to feel it in action during individual psychotherapy.

Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D. 2022

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