06/16/2014 05:48 pm ET Updated Aug 16, 2014

Are You Addicted to Caretaking?

I was trained to be a caretaker -- which means that I was taught that other people's feelings were more important than mine. I was taught that if I did what I wanted to do instead of what my mother or grandmother wanted me to do, I was selfish, even when I had no intention of harm to anyone. I was trained to put aside my own needs and be a "good girl," attending to my narcissistic mother's and grandmother's needs instead.

When I grew up, I continued caretaking my parents, husband and children -- putting aside my own feelings and needs to take responsibility for their feelings and needs. I thought I was being loving, and I was stunned when I finally realized that caretaking is a form of control. Much of the time I wasn't giving for the joy if it -- I was giving to have control over getting approval.

Caretaking is doing something for others with an ulterior motive or outcome in mind -- they will love us, approve of us, give us attention, give us money and so on. It is giving in order to get something back, as opposed to giving for the joy of giving.

When we give from our ego wounded self, we are always giving to get something in return. This form of giving is manipulative because it always has an expectation attached regarding what the other should give back to us. We believe others owe us when we give from our wounded self, and we may feel angry and used when we don't get back what we expect. Whether we are giving compliments, attention, money, sex, time, food, presents or anything else -- if we have an expectation of how the other should respond to our giving, we are caretaking.

Caretaking is a form of covert control, as opposed to anger, which is a form of overt control. Both caretaking and anger have an agenda attached, but anger is obvious while caretaking is subtle. Caretaking is just another way of making another responsible for your worth and security, i.e., "If I give to others what they want, they will give me the love and approval I need." It is a form of making others responsible for your worth and security, and is one of the ways codependency gets acted out.

How do you caretake? Try not to judge yourself as you read through this list. Self-judgment always gets in the way of learning.

  • I'm overly nice.
  • I give gifts with strings attached.
  • I try to be emotionally or financially indispensable.
  • I flatter people or give false compliments.
  • I have sex when I'm not turned on.
  • I give in, give myself up, and go along with things I don't really want to do.
  • I don't ask for what I want. I put aside what I want.
  • I often agree with others' points of view.
  • I people-please.
  • I try to rescue people.
  • I censor what I say about what I want and feel.
  • I second-guess and anticipate what others want.
  • I put myself down and keep myself limited so others will feel superior or won't feel jealous.
  • I make others' wants, needs and feelings more important than my own.

When we give from the heart as a loving adult, we are giving for the pure pleasure it gives us, with no expectation of how the receiver should respond. Others do not owe us when we give from the heart. We give freely and do not need anything back to feel fulfilled.

Making the transition from caretaking others to loving myself and sharing my love with others was not easy. I had been caretaking for so long that it was habitual and addictive. However, once I realized that it was controlling rather than loving, I became determined to heal this addiction. I'm happy to say that loving myself and sharing my love with others is what I do most of the time now, and it brings me great joy!

Join Dr. Margaret Paul for her 30-Day at-home Course: "Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships."This course starts on June 25th, 2014.

Join Dr. Margaret Paul for her 30-Day at-home Relationships Course: "Loving Relationships: A 30-Day at-Home Experience with Dr. Margaret Paul - For partnered individuals & couples, & people who want to be partnered." This course starts on August 6, 2014.