How could it be a problem when people wish to take really good care of you? Isn’t that a positive trait in a person? Doesn’t that make them ideal as a partner or friend? How could care-taking ever be something to be wary of?
Let me explain. Some people are looking to take care of you because they’re natural caregivers and others do it because they love you and want the best for you. But, there’s another aspect of a care-taker who has motives, albeit generally unconscious, that are neither benign nor healthy. That is the person who needs you to be sick or stuck because then you can be accountable to them and needed by them. These kinds of people create in you an unhealthy dependence on them that only keeps you from becoming healthy and empowered.
Here are some examples. One of my clients was seeing a nutritionist who was, to my mind and to the client’s detriment, extremely bossy. She insisted that my client eat only in ways she had mapped out and expected to see a list of all the foods my client ate between appointments. The nutritionist told my client that she was trying to teach her accountability. What I saw was quite the opposite: that she was trying to make my client dependent on her advice and counsel. I recommended that my client make a list of foods she’d eaten before appointments and review it herself so that she could assess her progress and promote self-reliance. The nutritionist soon decided she didn’t have time for my client and they ended their work together.
Another example is a client who was trying to stop drinking. Her partner discouraged her from going to AA, saying she’d hear only drinking stories and, instead, wanted her to call or text him every time she wanted a drink so that he could talk her out of it. This dynamic went on for months. He also discouraged her from going out with her friends because she might drink with them and pressured her to stay at home with him. He may look at first glance as if he’s trying to help my client get sober, but underneath he’s sending her the message that she can only do so with his help. Beware when someone wants to be your sole care-taker.
Even as a therapist who wants clients to develop an initial dependence on me so that they’ll keep coming, that’s not what I wish for them in the long run. My goal is to teach them how to fish, as the saying goes, not to be their permanent feeder. It’s wise to be wary of people who do things in the guise of taking care of you that actually keep you unhealthy and make you more dependent on them. Being well taken care of is wonderful, up to a point. Like most things, it works well only in moderation.