When caring becomes an obsession

Please be careful when you go to that place — it’s not safe, or better — don’t go at all. Here’s a can of mace — just in case. I’ll pick you up — it’s going to be late for you. Have you had your meds? Are you feeling okay? Are you sure? You should go for a walk — it’ll make you healthier. You should speak out for yourself — they’re using you.

And so on and so forth.

Caring. Concern. Love. Attention. Nurturing. Protecting. Supporting. Security. Safety. Cherishing.

And so on and so forth.

I’ve been very blessed to know so many incredible people in my life. Independent. Intelligent. Funny. Authentic. Strong. Ambitious. Accomplished. Indefatigable. Irrepressible. Loving. Honourable and faithful. And unforgettable . They encompass a wide spectrum of relationships — family, friends, colleagues, lovers. And I will always value them. An important expression of that was what I termed caring. I’d want to look out for them. I wanted the best for them. I wanted them to be safe. I wanted them to be happy. I wanted them to be healthy. I. I. I.

And when they resisted, or didn’t respond the way I’d have liked them to — it would hurt. Expectations intertwined with caring. And when it harmed some of my relationships, it created deep wounds. Created by perceived daggers of injustice, misunderstanding and a lack of appreciation. So the caring intensified. The concern became even more enveloping and ultimately, stifling. I would do more, hoping that the greater intensity would be more persuasive. Since I was only feeling and expressing my caring so they could be happier and more secure.

Because of course I knew everything about their lives. What they wanted. And the way the universe works. I knew what was best for them.

My caring was a shield. My caring was a bulwark against misfortune. I could protect them. And if it meant sacrificing a part of their independence, wasn’t it worth it?

The flow of narratives of others’ suffering, their hurt, disappointment and abuse, intensified the justifications. My caring was a shield. My caring was a bulwark against misfortune. I could protect them. And if it meant sacrificing a part of their independence, wasn’t it worth it? Wasn’t it wonderful be loved so deeply? To have someone concerned about you all the time?

When did that concern get so deep that it became obsessive? When I lost some of those really close to me? When I blamed myself for the trials and tribulations that they had to face? When I thought I could have done something more when I had the chance? When, no matter how hard I tried, I increasingly felt helpless?

Caring sometimes becomes obsessive insidiously. It does so when it becomes the default mechanism for interacting with those you care for. When the fact they’re healthy, happy and safe is cause for relief rather than celebration. And when the dangers and adversities begin to acquire a larger space in one’s consciousness. The potential bad has become so huge that the existent good becomes a sideshow. The puppet of caring has become the puppet-master of obsession.

And this creates a dangerous gulf of understanding, empathy and connection.

“I care but you don’t get how valuable that is.”

Versus

“You’re caring is stifling me. You’re disrespecting who I am.”

(My heartfelt appreciation to Gillian Sisley for articulating this so well.)

And this is where it can get dangerously destructive. Because the response to the widening gulf can be to switch off. To stop caring completely. After all caring doesn’t come with a volume control switch that you can turn down at will — right? So if people don’t “get it” — why not just stop? Retreat? Switch off?

It is a process of listening to one’s own caring “narrative”. Why does one do it? How much can one let go while still being concerned?

Or succumb entirely to it. Become increasingly deaf to the protestations of it being stifling, controlling, corrosive. Become a juggernaut of obsessive caring. And have a stream of relationships. Always starting with appreciation and embrace of the caring. How wonderful to be understood and appreciated, at last! But as it grows stifling, it results in exits of various kinds. Framed by tears, recrimination and disappointment. They actually didn’t get it. They couldn’t value this amazing depth of love and caring. Someone else will…

Or there can be another path. And it isn’t an easy “7 ways to…” or “9 actions that…” kind of path. It is a process of listening to one’s own caring “narrative”. Why does one do it? How much can one let go while still being concerned? Like watching your child cycle off for the first time without training wheels. Knowing that there might be a fall. But appreciating the value of giving them the freedom to do so and being there for them if they do, is a true act of caring. Respecting the fact that it isn’t about oneself at all. It is about being there, being concerned. But also having the strength to be willing to face the fear of what could happen without letting it rule you or your relationships. Being available. Being conscious. Being heedful. Being a port rather than a portcullis.

It means to constantly question one’s most treasured beliefs about caring. Listen for the number of “I”s and “Me”s come up. Understand the underlying motivations that well up. Like “I don’t want to lose you”, “I don’t want you to get hurt”, “It’s about you and what’s good for you”…

It is understanding the true meaning of independence, freedom and responsibility. You need to believe the one you care about cares enough about you, to do whatever they can to be safe, happy, healthy. Without corroding their individuality. It means respecting the journey they’ve taken to get to where they are. And not trying to put the training wheels back on again. It means being there for them if something does go wrong. Or if they do need your caring. Without lessons to be taught and “I told you so”. It means them knowing that you have their back no matter what. No matter what. No conditions. No provisos.

It means feeling that pang of concern. And using it to deal with things if needed. And to remember that pang and celebrate when it’s not needed.

Being a ladder rather than a crutch.

Because caring is about consideration. Thinking through why, how and when you express your caring.

It about acknowledgement. That the person you care for is an individual. They have been, are on and will continue to be on their own life journey. A lot of that has to do with you. And a lot of it does not. The ways you care are the “soul-rest-stops” on that journey. Engineering a deep inner feeling of reassurance and motivation for the one you care for. Knowing they can do even more because you have their back.

It is about resilience. To keep caring without expectations or conditions and with consideration. To not turn to recrimination if your caring goes unheeded. To not, not care because…anything. To feel it and think it through. With the emotional occasionally being shepherded by the rational.

And it is about empathy. Feeling, connecting, understanding — holding without grasping. Being a ladder rather than a crutch.

Consideration. Acknowledgement. Resilience. Empathy.