Christmas of the caretaker

Sassy has talked about the art of receiving a few times, the most recent being: how to receive in the bedroom.  Today, let’s talk about the holidays! Time to quit the martyr act and start getting what’s yours!  

I grew up in a family of self-sacrificing women. They would do everything in their power to ensure the safety of their loved-ones and would assume responsibility for everyone’s happiness. It was a type of crossbreed between caretaking and martyrdom that was seen as necessary and admirable. To this day, I try to explain to my beautiful mother that these tendencies are not healthy for anyone. I explain that sacrificing herself by making huge daily meals, expending ridiculous amounts of energy, and spending a lot of money on everyone around her, is detrimental for each and every person involved. First, it causes under-functioning in her entourage (they will do less because she will always do more). This will lead to a complete disregard of my mother’s time and efforts. Second, she will undermine the resiliency of other people by continually doing the job for them (they will never feel autonomous, capable, or efficient around her). Third, she will be disrespecting herself, her efforts, and her value by constantly doing everything for everyone else. Fourth, relentlessly caretaking for multiple years may cause fatigue, bitterness, and/or resent that may manifest in daily behavior (being easily irritated, snapping at people, avoiding social events are some examples of what could happen when bitterness or fatigue set in).     

Does this sound familiar? If this is you or someone you love, I want to tell you where it comes from. My studies and practice have informed me that this type of behavior comes from an “I’m not good enough” core belief. In order to feel worthy, or valuable, or “good enough,” excessive caretaking and sacrifice is necessary. In other words, the only way to see your own value and worthiness is to constantly and markedly do for other people. This is a problem!

Therefore, the gift I’d like for you to give to yourself this year is the gift of freedom. Free yourself from the bondage you created. You are still an exceptional person regardless of what you give to other people.  You are still an exceptional, spouse, parent, friend, colleague, cousin…whatever.... You don’t have to relentlessly give to others for them to see your value!

Here are some “fun” holiday exercises to try if you are finally ready to quit the caretaker and/or martyr role for good. 

1)    Caregivers have a hard time receiving. Whenever someone tries to do for them, they do not know how to receive the gesture. Well, holiday time is a great place to start practicing the art of receiving.  When someone tries to do for you…are you ready for this…LET THEM!!!! Before your gift exchanges, I need you to mentally prepare yourself to look the gift-giver in the eye and to simply say, thank you. None of this: “Oh-my-gosh-thank-you-so-much-i-can’t-believe-this-it’s-just-what-I-wanted-how-did-you-know-you-are-amazing-thank-you-thank-you-your-really-shouldn’t-have.” STOP IT.  Say, “thank you.” Maybe even, “thank you, what a thoughtful gift” and THAT’S IT!!! You deserve the gift, you are worthy, and you are not indebted to the gift giver. THEY WANTED TO GIVE YOU A GIFT. ACCEPT IT AND MOVE ON.  

2)    How about starting to say no? When you’ve slaved over the menu and your son wants you to make an extra dish because his new girlfriend doesn’t like potatoes, the answer is “no.” When your spouse wants you to wrap all of his gifts for people at the office and you’ve been gift wrapping for the last two hours, the answer is “no.”When your friend wants you to accompany her to the nutcracker but you actually hate it, the answer is “no.”  When you feel tired, …”no.”  When you’ve had enough, …”no.” When you just don’t feel like it, …”no.” Now I’m not saying that you should stop doing everything in life, I’m just saying that it’s time to start seizing what you really want and to start getting what you really want (and you don’t have to use the word “no” per se; adding a “maybe next time” or “let me think about it first” usually appeases the anxiety of a caretaker). 

I want you to have a brilliant holiday season full of both giving and receiving. Your relationships will be more balanced and healthier if you finally start graciously taking, in addition to joyously giving. Happy holidays to all!

Anna-Maria Tosco, or our Sassy Psychologist, has two masters degrees in the field of psychology and has studied and worked coast to coast. She has worked in both psychiatric and community settings in some of Montreal's most respected healthcare organizations and institutions, and has also given a variety of talks and workshops on neuroplasticity, meditation, and uncovering barriers to love.