In this article words like “caretaking” and “high-maintenance people” will be defined. First, what is caretaking? When does it start? Why do you have that urge to take care of anyone in need even when it means setting aside your own needs? Why is it dangerous? Who are these “high-maintenance” people?
“My experience of my vulnerability. My experience of what it’s like for me to be in the world and to be seen is exactly what makes me want to defend myself—control a little bit what you think of me, how you see me, you access to me. But if you’re like me or like millions of people who are like me who has had an upbringing or an experience in your life that means that very early on, your experience of vulnerability was one that left you afraid and uncertain and actually, what you wanted to do was get out of your skin, leave that behind, and be someone else. And maybe, in that kind of naught to six years, you might want to be a ‘good girl’. Let’s just say that in an environment where there is a family and there is somebody of high need -it’s nobody’s fault — but there’s somebody with high need in that family, they’re depressed, or they’re anxious, or they’re angry, or they’re unhappy, or they’re ill in some way. Let’s say the child has a sibling who is high-maintenance, and they see all the family resources looking after this child or all of them worrying about this child. And the sibling will say, “Do you know what? I don’t want to ask anything of the family system. I’ll give to it; I’ll be a good girl. So, when mum needs help, I’ll say: I’ll lay the table.’ “I’ll go and get my brother for supper.’ ‘That’s okay, No, I’ve already done my homework.’ And my mum says, “Where would I be without you? Where would I be without you? You’re my good girl.’ And I’m all validated. And then I go to school and I do tidy-up time, and when a new girl comes in I show her around. I’m quite happy to do that. And the parents hear: “Such a nice child to have around.” And then that child goes to secondary school, and this is when I as a therapist meet the parents, who say, “My daughter’s fallen in with a bad crowd.” I don’t really believe in a bad crowd, by the way. My question to the parents is, why would your daughter feel at home around people who are troubled? Tell me something about her family background that would indicate why she might feel comfortable around troubled people. Why is it her role to be an emotional shock absorber, a rock, a good girl, a nice girl—-Don’t worry about me; I’ll be all right. Let’s worry about you.” And I bet you that later on, she will fall in love with someone who is high-maintenance. She will translate those feelings about who she is and how she feels about herself, as love. Her eyes will meet across the bar against someone and of course this person is going to be high-maintenance. And they will demand that she stays in that role of caretaker, that she stays in that role of giving —“Don’t worry about me. Let’s worry about you.” And as a result, she is likely to end up running on empty, because she doesn’t know how to take for herself, and actually as a child she learned that: “I’m not going to take from the family system. I” just be a good girl. I’ll get my validation that way. So her giving is conditional: “If I’m a good girl, will you like me?” “So all my giving, all my comforting when you’re crying is: if you’re crying and I come and comfort you, and you don’t feel better, I feel like I’ve failed. SO, as your caretaker in this particular role, you will feel obliged to feel better when I start to comfort you. The reason I’m talking about this is “HIGH-MAINTENANCE PEOPLE will always attract the COMPULSIVE CARETAKER.” – from a TEDxGuildford talk of Mandy Saligari Feelings: Handle Them Before They Handle You“. (This is 1000% a good talk for parenting, self-awareness, handling emotions, overcoming your issues and a lot of other things. I recommend you check it out.)
“Somewhere deep inside me I believed that if you got close to me, that if you got to know me, you’d find out that I’m not what I look like that there’s something wrong with me, and I felt that you would reject me. So there’s no way I’m actually going to let you close. So, I used to spend my life playing, performing, people-pleasing, being defiant, being the rebel, being anyone, anything other than me, because if you get close to me, it’s going to hurt. But suddenly, when I discover something more potent than all those behaviors that does the job, defends me from feeling vulnerable in front of you, because believe me, I judge how I feel against how you look and that sets me up to lose because I can’t see your frailties if I’m in my self-centered fear. If I’m thinking I’m gonna go out somewhere and I’m full of that fear and I’m thinking, “I don’t know what to wear, I don’t know anybody there. I don’t know what to say, I’m not interesting, I’m not funny and I go into the room with all of that, I’m not looking at anyone else, I’m walking into the room with my eyes close. And I’ll probably pick up somebody who’s codependent, a caretaker, someone who’d go, Would you like a drink? Are you okay?” And they’re looking for someone like me to take care of, and we can stand together, pretending to be at a party together but actually what they are doing is preventing each other from feeling vulnerable and isolated.– from a TEDxGuildford talk of Mandy Saligari Feelings: Handle Them Before They Handle You“
So based on what you just read, caretaking is easily defined as taking care of something or in this case, it is taking care of someone. This someone is what we call the high-maintenance people. High-maintenance people, therefore, are people who are in need of some caretaking by the caretakers. You may have already understood the danger of this from your reading but I am going to share a story in the hope of making it a clear illustration of the costs of care taking and if you are not aware of it, at least you will discover if you are one and will know what to do and how to direct your care taking to your own precious wrongly-validated-validation-deprived-self. If you are not ready to face your own demons, I think you’ll find this annoying but you’re welcome to come back anytime in the future –when your demons demand you slay them for your own good.
April 28, 2022, 11:00 A.M. – 2:00 P.M. I was sitting at a family restaurant, Saizeriya, contemplating about something that just would not get our of my mind. Enjoying where I was. Did not and had not checked my cellphone since the night before. It was just me and suddenly, I had this unexpected conversation with an older man around 50s or 60s. I am not good at guessing ages to be honest so let’s just say that’s about accurate. He is Japanese and I am not. I don’t speak Japanese but he speaks English. His English skills were not that good yet —but his vocabulary level seemed high and it seems that the only problem was just the sentence construction. Nevertheless, we managed to get the conversation going and he managed to finish and get his stories across. Now, let’s jump right to it. Of course, I’m only starting from the part that lead to the conversation.
It all started when I said, “Good morning. How are you?”
“I’m not good. I’m actually feeling bad. I think I’m still drunk. I went drinking last night and I think I drank too much.”
“Something bad happened? Because my friends, they just want to get drunk when they break up with their boyfriends or something you know”
“I broke up with someone.” “I think my love life is a failure.”
(Oops! You talking about me?) I, someone who was still having the pain relating to the word break up said, “Oh THAT is not good” in the back of my mind I was surprised, relieved and happy that the man in his age who I was talking to was seeing someone (because we have had a talk about other things and I thought of something else). When he said something about relationship, I became more all ears because relationship, love and breakup are just freaking hurtful things in my current world, and then I knew this was just going to be a hell of a good conversation.
“So, what happened? Who broke up who? You initiated it?”
“Yes. We broke up. I realized that there’s no future. I think she also understands our age difference. I’m old and if I died first, she will be left alone.”
“What’s the number? What’s the age difference?”
“She’s so young. She’s someone like you. She’s as young as you.”
I didn’t do the Math this time because I didn’t have the courage to ask for his age but I think most likely around 20-30 years age gap.
“She’s smart. She’s popular. Her movement is so cute.”
“Popular?” I wanted to check if she was talking about a celebrity.
“A lot of people at the gym like her.”
“Is she a staff there?”
“And you always go to that gym?”
“Yes. I really liked her. I felt her affection towards me, too.”
My interpretation of it so far was maybe this was a one-sided love and I wanted to make sure if my impression of it being a one-sided love story was wrong. So I asked him, “Wait a second, so the girl knows you have feelings for her, right? and that you were really together?”
“I put a wall–a barrier. I swore not to fall in love again but I really like her. And I think she also likes me, too. When I talked to any other woman, she looks at me and gives me scary eyes. She gets jealous. If I cannot respond to her, she gets angry.”
Ah so this man had suffered pain that made him think that falling in love would be another suffering and what a better way to avoid pain is to avoid the cause of it. (Huh so like me.) I immediately wondered if that man experienced what I had. I swore not to fall in love again, too. Only in my case, I did it just recently, at that time I knew I was finally able to acknowledge I had some issues I need to fix first .I became more curious and well, my brain quickly makes deductions and assumptions on its own so anyway, I asked, “Why did you decide to not fall in love again? Why build a wall?”
And the story he told was care taking at it’s finest.
“I was in a relationship with someone for 10 years. She was sick.”
“How was she sick?”
“Hmm what do you mean?” But I already had a hunch he was talking about depression, toxicity or something but better to be sure so I still asked.
“She had depression.”
“How did you know she had it?” Because I wanted to make sure he was not just projecting because maybe the relationship just didn’t work out and he wanted to put the blame on her or something.
“She was taking pills. She really had a prescription.”
“Are you sure it was for depression maybe it was for something else.” I asked this because I am taking pills. I have some medications myself but it isn’t for depression or anything mental. It’s for my stomach and I remembered joking about it to a guy saying it was for neurosis heehhh bad joke. Anyway, I asked because I wanted to make sure he was not assuming because maybe he just misunderstood.
“She told me about her condition. She had depression. She already had it before we dated. She hid it from me at first. I learned she had depression probably like around 3 months after we started dating. She was suicidal every time I would break up with her. Every time we would separate, she’d tell me she would kill herself. One day, I decided to tell her I wanted to give up on taking care of her. I told her I did not want to take care of her anymore AFTER she had told me that her sickness would not heal. She said she was not getting better. Every day, it was getting worse for her. Then, I told her, I could not take care of her.”
“When did you tell her that?” “What did she say?”
“She did not say anything. We were in the car at that time. I was driving and she was in the passenger’s seat. She did not say anything. She was leaning his head on the window. I think she was enduring my words. I can still remember what I was feeling at that time. Maybe she was really hurt but she did not cry. She asked me to pull over to a convenience store. She went to the bathroom. I think maybe she cried there.”
“When did this happen? I mean, the 10th year?”
“Yes, that’s the last time we talked. At that time, we were already living separately. On the 7th year of our relationship, we decided to live separately. She lived in a different house and I did too, but we would still meet from time to time. I was taking care of her. We met up and then she told me at that time she was not getting any better. She just laughed and told me that she was not getting better. Then, I told her I could not take care of her anymore. I still remember my feelings at that time seeing her just leaning the window. I felt guilty. I think she felt bad and hurt because of my words.”
“I see. Hmmm can I say something? Is it okay if I share my opinion on this? I think you should not feel guilty. You did the right thing, to be honest. You left her because you were not supposed to be there for her in the first place. She was broken and it was not your job to make her whole. You see, it’s like this, this fork is you and this spoon is her. You were one whole person but she was half (adjusted the spoon so it appears half shorter than the fork). You were trying to fill the void for her. It was not your responsibility. Relationships should not be like that. It was not healthy. A healthy relationship should be like this. One whole fork and one whole spoon and then you join together. Two whole human beings. It was not your job to help her become whole. It was the right decision. In fact, you should have done it earlier.” (This is something I really believed to be true, though. I mean I did not know it specifically back then, but I noticed that a guy I was seeing with only saw me as someone he could take care of. I meant I saw my younger previous “caretaking” self in him. Back then, I did not know about these caretaking, codependency and some other terms yet but I knew it was not supposed to be that way.)
“Yeah, thank you. But, I was not a 100% good guy. I was a bad person, too. I wasn’t totally honest with her. I cheated on her.”
“What do you mean? When did you do it? When did you think you cheated on her?”
“It was in the 3rd year of our relationship. I could not break up with GIRL A (The Depression Girl) and I did not love her anymore. I was just taking care of her.”
“So, there was another girl, GIRL D. I confessed my feelings to her over a dinner. It was a bit too late. But I was not confident about our relationship and also, she already had someone. Her fiancée kept on calling her that time but she ignored it at that time we were talking. I was still taking care of GIRL A at that time. That was the 10th year. After that dinner, I told GIRL A I did not want to take care of her, that night after my conversation with GIRL D. That night too, I SWORE I would never fall in love again. So, I put up a wall. A barrier. And I started hating GIRL A (the depressed girl). I hate her.”
“I’m sorry. About the other girl, when did it happen again?”
This man happened to have a notebook and a pen with him so he made use of them and draw illustrations about the people involve in the story. Actually at this point, she revealed all the women in his life. I suggested we label the Depression Girl as GIRL A and then this MAN (him) was B. The next girl after GIRL A is GIRL C, then GIRL D and GIRL E.
“So, there was girl A (The Depression girl). We were together for 10 years. I learned about her condition after about 3 months we were living together. But I couldn’t leave her because she would always threatened me she would commit suicide. After around 3 years of being together, I started seeing someone else. This was GIRL C. I really loved her. She was my great love and I think she also felt the same but we could not make it work because of GIRL A (the depressed girl). I promised GIRL C I would leave GIRL A and asked her to give me more time, but of course, she thought she was my only option. She thought I did not really love her because I always stayed with GIRL A. I always said I would leave GIRL A but I couldn’t, so she left me. We were together for about 6 months. The best Cherry Blossoms memory I had was with her. We were in Shinjukugyoen and she told me she would be really happy to see the Cherry Blossoms again the next year with me. We were not able to do it because we separated because I could not leave GIRL A.”
“Awee, but I understand the situation. I understand you did not love GIRL A anymore. She was sick. You could not leave her because she would say she would kill herself. It was reasonable. I think basically, it was not cheating anymore because GIRL A made you stay in that relationship to be her caretaker. Did you not contact or see GIRL C after that? I think Girl C really loved you, too.” I said this because based on how he was telling the story of it, I could tell there was love from both of them. I just summarized the story but I could tell they both liked each other. Well, I maybe biased but my guts were strongly telling me it was love. Also, I can relate to GIRL C. I loved a guy but there was somebody else involved.”
“Around the 7th year of being together with GIRL A, I had to go to New Zealand for a business trip. At that time, I was working for a magazine. I was working, walking around doing my job, checking the cars and the people in each aisle of booths. It was like an F1 event. I was walking down the center aisle checking left and right and I noticed there was a woman crossing her arms standing near the opposite end of the aisle. I was concentrating on my job and I did not notice who it was. When I reached near the woman’s side, somebody suddenly spoke to me and said “It’s been a while.”. I was so surprised. It was GIRL C.”
“Oh my gosh. Did you talk? Did you ask her out? Did you ask her to have dinner with you or anything? I mean, did you ask her to have dinner so you two could talk?”
“No, I did not. I couldn’t. I chickened out.”
“Why? I think she was more likely to say YES. I think she was really happy to see you again. Did you not say anything to her at all?”
“Actually, I did. I talked to her but it was all about business. I gave her all the information she needed for her job. She belonged to a publishing company. But, she asked me if I was still with GIRL A and then I told her yes. Then, she laughed scornfully. I got embarrassed and also scared. “
“I think she just did that because she did not want to show her real feelings. I think she was hurt inside to know that after all that time, you were still with GIRL A even if you had always told her you were to leave GIRL A. I think sometimes, strong woman are strong outside but they hurt a lot inside. They just endure because they are strong.”
“I don’t think so. She’s a strong woman. She is smart. She always told me that guys her age were stupid.”
“Yeah, I think she’s really smart indeed. Or mature. But, I think she really loved you. I think she prefers men older than her because according to Science, women tend to mature earlier than men so guys her age are totally not at her level of maturity. That’s why I think she really liked you. How old was she at the time you met her? I supposed she was younger than you in that case. I mean what is the age difference?”
“I am 10 years older than her. She was around 25 years old at that time I met her.”
“See? I think she really liked you. You were supposed to be perfect together. Actually, I think GIRL C is like me. That’s why I think she felt the same. I also got involved in a kind of a similar situation, you know. I felt like the guy really liked me too. And I really liked him a lot too but there’s this situation. He did not have to take care of her like you did with GIRL A but he was in a situation. But I thought also maybe he really liked the other girl. I did not believe anything he said because I was afraid. So, he’s involvement with the situation he was in was supposed to be for 5 years. But then 5 years is a long time for two people to be living together like they may be have known each other better and may be he already loved the other girl. So, I got scared. I did not want to hear him admitting that was the case. I was scared he would say it was serious and getting real-real with the other, so I also left. ”
“How old is he? Is he older than you?”
“Yeap but not so much.”
“Did he really love the other girl?”
“Probably. I don’t know. But he also told me a lot of times that it was me who mattered to him. That his feelings for me were real and so on. But I was unsure what to believe because he was with her. So, I can relate to GIRL C. I understand her. That’s why I said I think she really liked you. She’s like me, maybe.”
“Did you see or talk to him again, too?”
“No. So, I stalked him online. I found out that the only one thing I did not believe he said was actually true. A lot of things had happened. I felt bad and regretful but I couldn’t talk to him anymore. Something terrible happened when I was ready to believe in him again and he would not talk to me anymore, either. Anyway, how is she now? How is GIRL C now? Do you know if she’s married or anything? Maybe she is still single–waiting for you. Maybe she also swore she won’t fall in love again.”
“No, I don’t know. Maybe she is married now. She’s a strong woman.”
“We never know. Strong women are sometimes not so emotionally strong when it comes to these things. How about the depression girl, is she married now? Where is she now?”
“I don’t know. I did not talk or see her after that night I told her I could not take care of her anymore.”
But going back to the current girl. GIRL E. The reason why you wanted to get drunk. Does she know about your feelings?
“I think so. We did not really have a talk but I think she likes me, too. She always made sure I can see her. You know what girls do when they like guys.”
“From Saturday until Tuesday, I have been feeling distressed, because I thought she was getting married. She announced it in front of anyone. Then, the next day,I learned she was leaving for a new job–she was leaving for her career. I felt relieved. But, I still feel distressed about the thought of not seeing her after she leaves on the 10th.”
“How did you know she’s leaving for her career?”
“She announced it in class at the gym. She said it in front of everyone. “
“So, you were around when she announced it?” (because I thought he came to the gym for a workout)
“Yes, actually, I take her dance class twice a week. I have been taking her lessons for 2 years now.”
“Do you plan on talking to her at least to confirm things?”
“No. I think it’s not good. But thank you for listening to my story. I am sorry for telling such a selfish story. “
“No, it’s not selfish. Thank you for sharing.”
“I feel sad. My love story is a failure.”
Actually, mine, too. But nah, I didn’t say it. I said this instead, “It’s okay. It’s part of life. There’s no happiness if there’s no sadness. So, I think it’s fine that we are sad sometimes.” This is me after having been distressed for over a month. 🥴
“Thank you. I am encouraged. I feel like I am healed. Thank you for listening. I think you are admirable. “
Going back to the excerpt of the TEDTalk speech used in the beginning part,
“Would you like a drink? Are you okay?” And they’re looking for someone like me to take care of, and we can stand together, pretending to be at a party together but actually what they are doing is preventing each other from feeling vulnerable and isolated. If I know I am in my self-centered fear, if I know I’m in that space whereby there’s a sense, maybe an early childhood sense that there is something wrong with me, I can actually put my arm around myself, and I can say, “You know Mandy, I love you and I’m going to be with you, and we can do this thing. And it’s not all about you, there are loads of people there, go and chat to someone. Just go and have a conversation with someone; it’s not such a big deal. And I manage to take myself out of that fear, suddenly, I am available to talk to you. I am available to live.”TEDxGuildford talk of Mandy Saligari Feelings: Handle Them Before They Handle You“. (This is 1000% a good talk for parenting, self-awareness, handling emotions, overcoming your issues and a lot of other things. I recommend you check it out.)
Therefore, caretaking is dangerous because it leads you to the expectation and resentment cycle. The man is resentful not just to GIRL A, but also he had been regretful of the choices he made and did not make because he knew that GIRL A had needs he thought he was responsible for. He took care of her that long for whatever reasons he might have. It might have been because he was so used to taking care of others—which was due to childhood experiences, that he had forgotten to prioritize himself and actually forgot what he really needed. He might have forgotten to get to know what he really wanted in life and so it cost him a lot.
If he only knew what his conditioning was or if he was brave enough to face his fears, issues, apprehensions and whatnot, he could have found a better way to ditch GIRL A at the earliest time possible. I don’t know about you guys but I just think that he could have done so if it was something he knew he really wanted to. You know what they say, when you seek, you find. When you knock, people know there’s someone knocking, so I think it was possible
LESSONS LEARNED FROM MY EXPERIENCES (NOT JUST IN LOVE, BUT IN LIFE) THAT I RELATE TO THIS MAN’S STORY
- Codependency is when you build your emotional life on the weaknesses of other people. By doing so, you empower their weaknesses to control you; you magnify them; you strengthen them; you enlarge them. (Steven Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)
- Caretaking is dangerous when you give from a place where you end up running empty.
- When giving involves sacrificing your own needs or wants, it isn’t really giving.
- Prioritizing yourself is never selfish (I’ve heard of this phrase hundred times before but it only mattered when I finally understood what it really meant)
- When you neglect what you want or need for the sake of others, you end up angry and resentful not just to yourself but to the people involved
Giving is dangerous when we give because we expect that we get something in return. It’s dangerous because if we don’t get what we expected, we end up hating ourselves and also the people in the receiving end.
We have that urge to take care of anyone in need even when it means setting aside our own needs because that is how we were unconditionally programmed by our environment. For me, at least, all of these happen to be true. Growing up, I was raised with the teaching that helping others is good. Yes, it’s true. Noble even. It’s true except that I wasn’t thought that it was not supposed to be in the expense of myself.
Apparently, the examples mentioned in the talk I shared above are really accurate for me. I got praised when I would help someone or when I would take responsibility for my younger siblings or the household chores. Or when I would play like the adults because kids my age in the neighborhood were playing parents My environment taught me that if I just have the initiative, the compassion to help those who are in need, I would get appreciations. Those are some of the situations I get to feel validated. It’s really not wrong, it was just incomplete. They are not bad things per se. because being responsible at an earlier age is also the reason why I am so willing to take responsibility for myself now. I’m not really saying all these just because I am looking for something to blame on for the circumstances I have had to deal with because of “caretaking” and some other issues. It’s just that the more I had become willing to confront my traumas and fears and address these issues in my life, the clearer it is for me to see these things.
What I see is that our environment plays significant roles in our conditioning. All of our actions or reactions are results of our past conditioning. Our upbringing. The situations we had to encounter earlier on in life. Our past conditioning is what tells us on how we react to certain situations. The experiences where we got threatened and we had to defend ourselves emotionally and physically. The struggles we had to overcome; all these and some other things we learned as our emotional defenses. If we are just willing to see what they are, we can really address them I think. However, I know it is also not easy. I haven’t addressed all of my issues yet, but I know some of them now and knowing where I can start is a great place to start.
“My Love Life is a Failure” I think, is something we can avoid saying when we know who we are, and what we want. By then, we get to set clear boundaries as to what is best and what is not good for us. We know who we are, we know what we want and we do not need to feel guilty about going after it. —marymancee, April 28, 2022 10:55 pm
P.S. I’ve been both a caretaker and a high-maintenance person at the same time and some parts of the story of the man is kind of like similar to Haruki Murakami’s novel “Norwegian Wood”. I just remembered thinking about it while listening to him.
P.P.S. My consolation from this conversation with the old man was that he told me 2 weeks later how thankful he was for I had pulled him out of a possible depression. I know that the narration above doesn’t cover everything in the conversation but it was over a 3-hour conversation.