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While watching a movie, I heard the phrase “caring distance” and was immediately intrigued. The character was talking about how to maintain healthy boundaries with someone you love, a certain kind of someone. Caring distance sums up what we need to do with people whom we love but who are not particularly or always lovable.
We often think of caring only in terms of actions, as in to care for someone. But caring starts in the heart, when we care about someone, aside from whatever behavior we exhibit toward them. Caring can sometimes even mean engaging in behavior which does not feel caring to its recipient—when a parent puts down his foot and cuts off the gravy train to his irresponsible teenager, when a wife refuses to let her husband or partner sit around and do nothing while she works two jobs, when an adult child moves a parent who’s unable to care for himself into an aging facility against his wishes. Caring does not always mean doing something that makes the other person feel better. Rather, it’s doing what you believe is best for someone’s welfare. Caring means putting yourself on the line for what you believe is in their long-term interest. Caving to their wishes against your better judgment is less about caring than about a fear of disappointing them or dealing with their negative reaction to your actions.
The distance in “caring distance” may be emotional or physical. When people are so difficult that it’s unpleasant and unwise to be around them, a caring physical distance is appropriate, which includes finding other ways to stay connected—cards, email, phone calls, an occasional gift, or a rare face-to-face. The point is that you can keep your distance and still show caring (albeit often not the way the recipient wishes you to show it). If physical distance is not possible, then you must rely on creating emotional space. Creating caring distance need not mean not caring. In fact, it may be that having emotional (or even physical) distance is exactly what you require in order to be or show caring. Things may get too heated up with heightened intimacy and you may feel more warmly toward someone only when you control the temperature of the relationship.
Think about the people in your life who may benefit from the concept of a caring distance. These are folks who need attention from you. As well, consider the people that you need distance from for your own mental health. You know, so that you don’t turn to food abuse to stay sane. In either case, rather than entertain an all-or-nothing mindset—I care or I don’t care—find a balance for them and for yourself that affords a comfortable distance for you and meaningful caring for them.
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