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You Can Be Competent and Cared For


Many clients are under the false impression that they cannot be both competent and get taken care of by others in a relationship. Not true. If this is one of your conflicts, it's time to resolve it so it won’t continue to be a barrier to “normal” eating, self-care and healthy relationships.

Clients with this unilateral view often grew up as parentified children. Maybe they took care of parents who had mental health or addiction problems or had to mind siblings rather than heed their own needs. Doing a job well and especially doing it without asking for help was a way they not only received praise or gratitude but was the strategy they used (consciously or unconsciously) to feel good about themselves. In their world, competence and doing a job well or perfectly was their path to self-esteem.

No matter how overwhelmed and inept they felt, they couldn’t afford to keep reaching out hoping that someone would help them (because no one did) and had to set aside their longings for dependence and support. Giving in to them felt fruitless and caused despair so that growing up they pushed aside these feelings and instead enjoyed those of autonomy, accomplishment and feeling competent. These feelings are all well and good, but it’s unhealthy for them to be valued above enjoying the fact that dependence is a crucial human need that must be met for effective mental health. 

Then there are clients who tried to be competent but weren’t encouraged to be because it either competed with a parent, or sometimes another sibling, or because the parent was frightened (without realizing it) that the child’s competence would lead to independence and parental abandonment. These kinds of parents often want their children to be good, but not too good, that is not so talented or smart or skilled that they would want to lead their own lives and climb out of the nest.

These clients must fail and fall in order to feel secure with their parents. And this is what they do—getting into trouble in school or with the law, dropping out of college, and finding romantic relationships that don’t work out. All not to succeed because doing so would mean losing a parent’s love or approval, even in adulthood. So, in a sense, they choose not to be competent in order to get taken care of.

The good news is that by allowing yourself to be competent and have people take care of you, you will attract healthier people. You’ll feel more well rounded and life will become easier because you’ll be less stressed. Even your eating might improve.