Many of my clients who are dysregulated eaters have enormous stress from overdoing taking care of others. And, lopsided relationships are a top cause of their emotional eating. Although they may recognize that they shouldn’t be working so hard to take care of someone else, they don’t understand why they do it. Because our actions follow from our thoughts and emotions, it pays to work backwards to identify what’s going on.
- Lack of love. Clients may believe that making up for the love and care that’s been missing for someone who didn’t receive enough of it will transform him or her into a healthy, happy adult. While it’s true that in rare cases, love will make someone blossom, it’s not going to cure addiction or serious mental health problems. This is something that therapists learn early on. Simply showering clients with caring and going overboard doing for them is not therapeutic. In fact, this strategy often backfires. In this case, the Beatles were wrong, “Love is not all you need.”
- Hurting their feelings. Clients fear that hurting people’s feelings will crush them because they, themselves, can’t take criticism or bear feeling hurt. Therefore, they believe that other people will take it to heart as seriously as they do and be equally decimated. They don’t realize that some people think that whatever they do is fine and won’t allow themselves to feel hurt—ever. They don’t let themselves feel emotional pain or shame because that ability shut down long ago. They will always deflect blame and project it onto others because it’s never their fault.
- Time to change. Clients think that someone just needs time to change. This time can extend to years, even decades. Because clients work diligently to improve their own lives and become mentally healthier, they think that others will do the same. In fact, if people wish to change, they seek out ways to do it. If they’re taking forever, it’s not because they need more time. They’re simply not interested in emotional growth.
- Enjoy being needed. Clients find human projects, like other people find hobbies. They take someone who is obviously a mess and try to shape them up because it gives them a purpose and makes them feel needed. It’s a set up because in the unlikely event that this person actually gets better, the client no longer feels needed and will have to find a new human project to rebuild from scratch.
Do you succumb to excess care-taking of others for any of these reasons? If so, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee. Quit overdoing, take care of yourself, and look for people who are already fairly healthy and can take care of themselves.