In a recent post I wrote about those I refer to as “Tireless Caregivers.” Tireless Caregivers are
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people who are compassionate, good listeners, drawn to caring for others, and who place a high value on relationships. The problem with Tireless Caregivers, or “TCs,” is not that they are caring, but that they feel compelled to take care of everyone and everything, ultimately to their own detriment. The “tireless” part refers to their behaviors and motivations rather than how it feels to give and give and give while getting little in return. If anything, taking care of everyone at your own expense is tiresome, frustrating, and unnecessary.
Tireless Caregivers are usually thought of as women, but men can be Tireless Caregivers as well. TCs will find themselves, again and again, in some type of unbalanced relationship – whether these tend to be friendships, dating relationships, relationships at work, with family members, or some combination of these.
Why Tireless Caregivers Are Drawn to – and Stick with – Narcissists and Other Self-Absorbed People
· Tireless Caregivers tend to place a high value both on relationships and on seeing the good in others.
· TCs often invest heavily in people – even those who are pretty self-absorbed – because they believe that the 1 or 2 or 5% of the person that seems really wonderful is the “real person.”
· Relatedly, TCs believe that if they are patient and caring enough, that the tiny percentage will grow to balance out or change the 95% of the self-absorbed person (that actually doesn’t want to change).
· It’s human nature for people to view others’ motivations, emotions, and intentions through a personal lens; TCs assume that others must share a similar code of conduct. Thus, they often don’t see the motivations of self-absorbed people through an accurate lens.
· It’s challenging for Tireless Caregivers to accept that they cannot “heal” another’s narcissism simply by loving and nurturing them, becoming more pleasing to them, being patient enough, and so forth.
· Tireless Caregivers who fear that saying “no” means they will be “selfish” or “bad” often remain in one-sided relationships.
In addition to the above, narcissists are typically engaging and often very attractive. They believe they are better than most people. Narcissists are uncannily skilled at making people feel extra special when the narcissist’s attention is focused on them.
As I have discussed previously, Tireless Caregivers have a hard time setting limits, feel guilty when they are not caregiving, and are particularly sensitive to being perceived as selfish, unkind, or unloving. In addition, being “nice” and taking care of others is central to the TC’s identity and sense of self worth.
TCs are thus very desirable to narcissists – both of you will wind up agreeing that the narcissist’s needs are the more important ones in the relationship.
In my own ongoing research into Tireless Caregiving, I’m finding that many Tireless Caregivers admit that they wouldn’t know who they were if not in the role of everyone’s go-to person.
How Narcissists Provide “Job Security” for Tireless Caregivers
The downside of this combination of strengths and vulnerabilities is that as mentioned above, it makes Tireless Caregivers ripe for attracting self-centered people. So, why do TCs so often choose to be with – and stay with - self-centered people, instead of finding partners and friends who are just as compassionate and caring as TCs themselves are?
1. Being with someone who needs a steady stream of validation, attention and care provides the Tireless Caregiver with a type of “job security” – it ensures the TC will remain needed by someone, and thus have an important role.
2. Self-absorbed people set the stage for TCs to keep doing those things they do really well.
3. The self-absorbed are uncannily good at knowing how to displace blame and responsibility onto guilt-prone TCs (who will readily take on responsibility).
4. When one person is the obvious “bad guy,” – that is selfish, or unreliable, unfaithful, and so forth, it allow the Tireless Caregiver to remain the “good guy” in comparison.
5. Familiar relationship patterns are like the well-worn grooves in the road – it takes a lot of energy – at least for a while – to create a new path for ourselves.
And because the perennially self-absorbed are unmotivated to change (and because no one can ever change another person who is unwilling to do so), the most important thing a TC can do is work on the self.
How to Start Working on Yourself
1. The most important issue when working on yourself is knowing yourself. Become familiar with how you think about yourself. Why are you here? How do you know if you are a “good person?” What kinds of relationships have you tended to attract? When you think of the way you are in relationships, does this remind you of anyone else in your life, such as a parent or other important figure? Keep a journal. Start noticing what you notice.
2. Ask yourself, “What would the healthiest, most loving version of myself want for me?”
3. Understand the difference between being caring and toxic caregiving – that is, caregiving that leaves you feeling frustrated, exhausted, resentful or worse more often than not.
4. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness meditation can help you sit with the discomfort that comes when you start to change old patterns, say no to unreasonable requests, and set limits with people who are used to you always saying, “yes.”
5. Consider trying guided imagery or self-hypnosis. These approaches can help you mentally rehearse making needed changes, decrease your anxiety about doing so, and shore up your self-esteem in the process. All change starts in the mind first.
6. Seek professional help if needed. Deeply entrenched relationship habits take time and energy to change. Working with a licensed professional near you can help you to get through the rough spots along the way and emerge feeling better, stronger, and forming healthier relationships.