Care over Caretaking — Loving Without Losing Yourself

The Art of Accomplishment Podcast
The Art of Accomplishment Podcast
Care over Caretaking -- Loving Without Losing Yourself
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What is wrong with making people feel better? When some of us think of codependency, we think of alcoholism or addiction but it can affect our lives in subtle ways both personally and professionally. Today we are going to talk about the difference between care and caretaking.

“If it ever crosses your mind that the person can’t handle what you are going to say to them, what you want to say to them, if you ever think they are too weak or incapable, those absolutely are key indicators that you are in it, that you are in the caretaking side of things.”

What is wrong with making people feel better? When a lot of us think of codependency, we think of alcoholism or we think of addiction, a lot of the extreme examples, but co-dependency is something we really do a lot in our daily lives, and this happens in very subtle ways in relationships, personally and in business. Today we are going to talk about the difference between care and caretaking. 

Joe, today, I want to talk about something we have all dealt with before, which is a really common scenario where you want to make somebody feel better, and you think that this is going to help. You do something specifically with a goal of making them feel better, and it actually ends up making things worse in the long run. 

We have talked about that in your courses, and we have labeled it with the term caretaking, which sounds a lot like care. People think about care as a good thing, and then caretaking becomes this thing that is disempowering. What is caretaking? How did you come to this as a concept worthy of inquiry?

Joe: Semantically speaking, you could call it co-dependence or caretaking, and just for the sake of this conversation, let’s make caretaking the side that is in the lexicon as co-dependence, more on that co-dependence side, and caring for being something that’s not in that camp. That’s how I use the words, so I just want to define that for everybody who is listening. 

If you heard, I was laughing as soon as you were talking about wanting to make somebody feel better because that’s actually the way I would define the difference between caring for somebody and caretaking somebody. It is the idea that you are trying to manage their experience, and this gets particularly dangerous when you are managing their experience for your experience. 

For example, the wife who comes home and is doing everything she possibly can to make sure her husband doesn’t get mad at her. Is she doing that to manage her husband’s emotions? Or is she doing that to manage her own emotion? Is she trying to avoid fear? Or is she trying to avoid his anger? If she is trying to avoid his anger, just for him, what would be the purpose of that? What would be wrong with letting somebody be angry? People get angry all the time. Humans are meant to get angry. All mammals have moments of anger. What would make you want to stop you if it is to try to manage your own experience?

That’s where co-dependence of in this case what we are calling caretaking is. It is when you are trying to manage another person’s emotions through what we call care to make it so that you don’t have to experience your own emotional situation. You don’t have to experience something you don’t want to experience. 

Brett: In a sense, it is taking care of yourself. For example, that wife, maybe what she is avoiding is being attacked in anger by somebody larger than her, and so she is trying to make him feel better, trying to manage his experience, trying to tiptoe around the lava in order to prevent her experience from deteriorating or going in a direction she doesn’t want. 

Joe: That’s exactly it. I’ll give you an example. I had a woman come to me and she was talking about this exact same situation. She was talking about how my husband gets angry at me, and I don’t know what to do and there’s nothing I can do. It was very much that she was not capable of changing her reality because she had this angry husband. She genuinely felt that. This wasn’t something like her mind was wanting to be a victim in this way. It was generally she felt trapped. That’s the feeling she was having. 

I said, ah, BS, you like it. She didn’t like me saying that very much, obviously. I got a smile out of it. She looked perplexed. I said tell me what would happen if every time he started getting angry, you just got up and walked out. You just consistently did this for let’s call it 10 weeks. Every time he started losing his cool, you just got up and walked out. How long would he still be yelling at you? How would this work for him if this anger thing that he does stopped working? What if every time he yelled at you, you were like yeah, baby, I like to see your anger? Give me some more. Tell me how angry you are. Tell me how frustrated you are. You have nothing to be ashamed of. I can accept your anger. 

If you did that for 10 weeks, how long would it be that he was getting angry at you? Obviously, I am not talking about if he is hitting her. If he is hitting her or being physically abusive or mentally abusive, that’s not a relationship you want to be in. Even if you are in that situation, leaving is a far better situation than trying to make them feel better because you are just telling them that this works. If I get angry, you will stop being yourself and you will try to manage my experience, which gives me all the power in the relationship. That’s what co-dependence is. That’s what care taking is. You are trying to make someone else feel better so you don’t have to feel it. 

That’s an extreme version of it, but there’s everyday versions of this too. The most obvious one that you see is somebody sad. Somebody else says it will get better. What makes you want to take away their sadness? Is it that you don’t want to feel their sadness? Is it that you don’t want your own sadness? What’s the problem with them being sad? Sad is beautiful. Good cries are amazing things for people. Is it because your mom and dad told you not to cry for 20 years? And so now you are just doing whatever you can to make sure you never have to hear tears. That’s co-dependence. 

On the other side of the equation, caring for is when you are moving, not out of any desire to change the person. Your desire is just simply to relish and enjoy the feeling of caring for somebody. It is an unbelievable joy to care for somebody. It is just a great experience to have, but you are not trying to change them in any way. Their reaction to your care is completely unimportant. The way you can tell internally that you are in one or the other is resentment. 

Caretaking eventually will lead to resentment in you. You will start resenting the person, and they will start resenting you because they have no choice but to resent you because you are treating them like they are kids. You are treating full adults like I have to manage your emotions. I have to make sure you don’t get upset. I have to make sure you are not sad. Eventually the person is like screw off. I am capable. I can take care of my own emotions. What makes you think you are better than me? That’s the reason. 

Then the person who is caretaking is like look, I’ve given you all this stuff. I am sacrificing myself every day for you. I am not speaking my truth. I am trying to position my truth for you in such a way that you can hear it, and you are angry at me. Forget you, then. This is the rigmarole that people put themselves through instead of just I am speaking my truth to you, and that’s my responsibility. Your responsibility is to have whatever emotional reaction you want to have to it. I am not going to try to change that. 

Brett: What about situations where the person really is dependent in some way, for example a child or an elderly or sick relative? To some extent, you want to care for them, and to some extent, you resent it also. But if you don’t, you are not okay with the alternative of them being left completely on their own. How would you pick apart the care and caretaking in that situation? How do we know the difference?

Joe: There are so many of these that are very different from one another. They are very different from one another. A child is very different than an alcoholic father, which is very different than a mother who is bipolar, which is very different than somebody who is developmentally disabled. All of those are very different things. Everybody likes to clump them all in. Basically, them clumping any of this in together is saying wait a second, I don’t want to stop being a caretaker because then I will have no control. What will my life be without control, which, by the way, is the same reason the abuser, or the bully, or the yeller is saying I am not going to stop yelling because then I have no control. Everybody has got their control in different ways. 

Behind that question is mostly that. Behind that kind of question is wait a second, there are people I really have to take care of, and behind that is mostly that fear of losing the control that one does have. For instance, with a drug addict, there’s whole rooms of Al Anon built to teach those living with addicts how to take care of themselves and not take care of the addict. That one is an easy one. That one is a complete illusion. When I say it is a complete illusion, what I want to say is not that the person is bad or ignorant. They might be ignorant, but they are not bad. It’s actually they just can’t see through it. They have been trained their whole life to take care of people emotionally. They think it is their job. It is very hard for them to see outside of that thing. 

But with children, on the other hand, you actually do have quite a responsibility to take care of kids, and yet a lot of people care take kids. Don’t cry, Billy. That’s a perfect example of it. The only way you can really tell when you are at the difference is when your resentment starts building when you are trying to manage their experience so you don’t have to deal with a certain feeling you are having. 

Brett: Back to the kid or the addiction example, this is where a lot of these topics get the response from people. This sounds really great in theory. This is probably true for a lot of people, but my situation is dire. If I, for example, don’t care of my addict brother, then the next thing that might happen is that he dies of an overdose. That happens for real all the time. And so like somebody may be like no, I absolutely cannot accept the possibility of my brother dying of an overdose, so I need to do at least the minimum of caretaking or care or enabling that should at least keep him alive. That can make this really, really difficult to pull apart. A lot of people always feel like their situation is different. Their situation is not the textbook case. Theirs is actually they are trapped. What advice would you have for somebody who feels that way? They feel resentment and they also feel like they have no other choice. 

Joe: I would say first look at the other choices you have, and really ask yourself the question. For example, with the addict, if I don’t pay for this addict to live, then they will be homeless. If I don’t take care of them, then they will die of a drug overdose. What makes you think they are going to not die of a drug overdose or not go homeless if you are taking care of them? How does that work in your brain? Do you think that every single person who has a drug overdose is because their brother/sister/mother/father stopped caring for them? Do you think that every one of them that’s homeless is because they stopped caring for them? 

Taking a look at the other side of your logic and deconstructing it is an incredibly important tool. The evidence that I have seen is that the caretaking drives the person into the addiction further, and there’s evidence of this where the alcoholics who have the hardest time to break alcoholism are the people who have independent wealth, and they have nobody particularly depending on them. They have no bottom to hit to get out of it. Most of the time the co-dependence is just making it so the person doesn’t hit their bottom. You are actually hurting them. You are again trying to avoid somebody from feeling pain so that you don’t have to feel the loss of your loved one. 

If you were being honest with yourself, and here’s the trick, feel the loss. Feel the loss before you even make your decision. I am not saying stop or stop. Just feel the loss. If I stop this, they are going to die. Feel your person’s death, mourn it, go all the way through it so that you are making decisions that are based on what’s best for them, not because you are trying to avoid the grief. 

Brett: That was a really good point you brought up there about hitting the bottom. A lot of these difficult emotions, their purpose is for us to feel them so they can teach us the lessons they are meant to be teaching. If you are protecting somebody else from feeling their emotion and receiving their lesson while also using that as a tool to avoid yourself feeling the difficult emotion and learning your lesson, then you really can’t get out of the pattern. 

Joe: Yeah, and take a look at it the other way. Occasionally, I get to meet these beautiful people who have dedicated their life to caring for a mother or a father who is passing or a child who has such bad disabilities they can’t leave their wheelchair. They have dedicated their life to these people in a way that’s healthy. There is a care for. You can spot them a while away. The reason you can is because they have just gotten so soft and their heart is so big. There’s a way in which they have used this experience of caring for somebody to dissolve themselves, to sandpaper their edges. They are just soft people. I don’t mean soft like not strong. They are far stronger than most people. I mean soft as in they are not rigid. 

If that’s happening to you, it is a pretty good indicator that you are in the caring for camp. Then there are other people even if they are caring for those same people but more likely they are caring for an addict or they are caring for somebody who is abusive to them, and they feel like they can’t get out of it. They are not getting softer. They are getting more and more neurotic. They are getting more and more spun up over the years. They are losing friends. They are becoming more isolated. That’s another way. 

In the long term, that’s another way to tell the difference between which camp you are in. Is it softening you up? Is your heart getting bigger? Is there less resentment or is there more resentment and more feeling of trappedness and more spinning?

Brett: Let’s talk a little bit more about some of those subtle forms because it is pretty common to talk about alcoholism or some of the deeper forms of co-dependence. For many people, I think that just feels like a separate category.  I don’t have these problems. That’s not in my life. My life is great. Everything is good. Then just not seeing that there are always. There’s only an asymptotic reduction of these habits it seems over time. Everybody does at least a small amount of it, and most people are doing some amount of it. 

In a romantic relationship, for example, how can you identify the smaller forms of subtle caretaking that are occurring and co-dependence and transform that into care?

Joe: I had a friend once, and he had a strong faith. It was a Catholic faith. He was a sweetheart of a human. One day he came to me and he said I have a hard time, Joe, knowing when I am supposed to take care of myself and when I am supposed to take care of others. I said to him wow, so your God is a masochist. 

Brett: Explain. 

Joe: What I am saying is if your God has set up a world where it is binary, where it is either self-love or the love of another, then the design that this God has created is one that’s masochistic. It is one that is to torture. It is not the way that I see the world working at all. What I see is the thing that is true in us is the compassionate treatment of ourselves and is also the compassionate treatment of the person across from us. Now, everyone says what’s best for me is I just want to go out and drink, but I’ve got to take care of my kid. Is going out and drinking or partying really what’s best for you? I am talking about what’s really best for you and what’s really best for them. 

Somebody says what’s really best for them is if I am really nice and take care of them. Is that what’s really best for them? Or is what is really best for them to learn how to be independent, for them to be told the truth? That’s the overarching way that I look at this is that the most compassionate thing you can do for yourself is also the most compassionate thing you can do for someone else. I see this all the time when somebody finally breaks through into this is what I want. When they are in a relationship where they are constantly caretaking somebody, and then they are like oh wow, this is what I want, I will almost always then ask the question and so what about that is not the most compassionate thing for the person you have been caretaking. 

Brett: That gets almost into a different topic of what is the deeper want. You might think that what you want is just to keep the peace, the harmony in the relationship or not to get yelled at or not have somebody be sad at you. Is that what you really want? Do you really want to be authentic? I have run into this a number of times in my relationships. 

Joe: That’s exactly right. How deep are you going to go down that want hole? How deep are you going to go down that compassion hole? If you are going to go down compassion to the place where everybody is nice to each other, this law doesn’t work. But if you go down to the deepest level of compassion, which is I am willing to sacrifice our relationship for my love for you. I am willing to sacrifice what you think of me. I am willing to sacrifice this person, you, who I love because I know it is what’s best for you. Then the law works. Then God isn’t masochistic. 

But you asked a question, so I started with this story just so I could say when people are in the more gentle forms of caretaking each other, there[s some pretty easy signs. One is you notice that you are managing how you are going to say it. If you are worried about how you are going to say it so that the person across from you can hear it and accept it, and you have run over multiple solutions, multiple ways of talking to them in your head with the hopes that you are going to get it so that they will have a different reacting than they normally do, then you are definitely in it. Then you are definitely caretaking. 

Brett: I resonate with you. I have experienced a lot of times where I will have some issue or challenge in a relationship, and then I will go to a safe space to process it where they aren’t present. It is not really vulnerable to them. I am just kind of doing the process with whatever my group is, and then I am like oh, okay, great, now I have gotten to my core want. I have gotten to my authenticity. I know what I want. Now, what’s the way I can say it in a quick paragraph that I can hide behind and that will exactly get this point across without me messing it up or having to hold my ground in a sense or truly feel into myself in the moment. 

I think a lot of that comes from there being fear of constricting in the moment. This happens a lot of times where when you are away from the person you are having this challenge with, you feel relaxed. You feel open. You can feel the love for them. And then the moment you are with them, and perhaps you are being accused of something or there are emotions that are uncomfortable for you that are either being thrown at you or they are just coming up in the other person and they are uncomfortable for you, then we constrict. Then, all of a sudden, it seems we lose access to all of this stuff. 

Joe: Yeah, that’s the trick in all of this work. All of this work is those moments of defensiveness, those moments of resistance, how do we fall in love with them? How do we fall into them? How do we open up and allow them to permeate us? The more felt sense of it is how we open up and let it permeate through us. That is the kinesthetic or the somatic experience. The other way to look at that is to say when I get in front of them, I am totally going to constrict and I am totally not going to say the right thing. Great, fantastic! That gives you practice. It is like the best batting cage in the world. 

You can even start the conversation and say hey, I am nervous that in the middle of this conversation, I am going to constrict and I am not going to bring my full, true self here. I don’t want that. What I want is to love you with my full self. If you see me constricting, if you see me not being myself, please point it out to me, and just give me a couple minutes or seconds or whatever I need to get back to being able to bring my full truth to you. 

Brett: What about accusations or attacks that come as a consequence of speaking our truth in this way? It may be not just from the person that you stop caretaking, but it may be from your entire friends’ group or your family or everybody around you. It may be normalized that what you are doing in this caretaking way is actually how you are supposed to be and if you are not doing this, you are a bad person. If you are not enabling your partner or we could talk about the addict again or we could talk about elderly parents, if you are not taking care of your elderly parents in a particular way and everybody around you is externalizing this guilt towards you, what’s the way to process that?

Joe: That’s a good question. Before we get into that, there is something back that I want to touch back on, which is how you know when this is happening. We talked about a couple of the ways you can know it is happening, but there’s a key one, which is if it ever crosses your mind that the person can’t handle what you are going to say to them, what you want to say to them, if you ever think they are too weak or incapable, and/or if you feel like if I say this, they are going to fly off the handle at me, those are absolutely key indicators you are in, that you are in the caretaking side of things. If you think they are too weak, then basically you are treating them like they are weak, and they will get resentful. If you are scared of them getting angry, then they definitely have learned that getting angry gets them what they want, and you are delivering it for them. Those are just two other indicators that really let you know if you are in a relationship, that that’s happening. 

When you get really attuned to this, you will notice. You said it is asymptotic. The way I would make that very real is that you will just notice how often, just listen. Go to the person you love. Listen very carefully to every sentence you are speaking to them. Notice how many of them are subtle excuses or subtle hedges, not completely owning yourself, not completely owning your experience, hedging it, shaving it so that they will think differently of you than what you are scared they are going to think of you. 

If you are scared about what somebody is going to think about you, and you are modifying your behavior in any way, that is a form of caretaking. It just gets more and more subtle. It is subtle until you see it. It just gets more and more subtle. 

*BELL SOUND* Okay, so this is the time in our podcast when we do something just a little bit different. We take a break from the intellect and incorporate our bodies and emotions into the conversation. We do this because it helps us integrate the information better and usually it is a bunch of fun. We crowdsource these exercises from our community so if you have a good one, please share it with us.

When doing the exercise, take it as a treat and as an experiment. Just do the activity and see what happens. As always, enjoy yourself. *BELL SOUND* 

Tara: Hi, everybody. This is Tara. I am a coach who works with Joe. 

Come to a sitting position with your feet on the floor, and your hands on your lap facing palm up so your hands and your wrist are on your lap, palm up. You are going to keep your eyes open for this one. 

Go ahead and raise your hands so your upper arms are next to your body and your arms are bent at the elbow with your hands in front of you, your palms facing you. You are going to start shaking them. Your hands are shaking back and forth at the wrists. It is like your middle finger goes back and forth from the back arm to the front arm, and your hands are just going back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. You are going to do this for like 30 seconds. This is a Qi Gong move to calm the nervous system. Keep going. Keep shaking your hands at the wrist. 

You are going to take a deep inhale through your nose, and exhale slowly through the mouth with like pursed lips. Inhale with the nose, through the nose, and exhale through the mouth with pursed lips. Your hands will keep shaking. We will do one more inhale through the nose. Exhale through the mouth with pursed lips. You will stop shaking your arms, and you´ll put them back down on your lap. Just notice how you feel. *BELL SOUND*

Joe: Welcome back. I hope you enjoyed the exercise as much as we did when we found it. Before we go back into the episode, I wanted to thank all of you who have been sharing the podcast and signing up for the VIEW course. The interest and support you guys have shown has been overwhelming and humbling. It is a pleasure to know we have something to offer that has been so helpful to you. Now, let’s get back into the conversation. 

Brett: A lot of what we have been talking about seems like it is a one against one kind of situation where there is a person you are caretaking. But if you have, for example, a community, and you are concerned about what that community is going to think or how they are going to respond, then you are actually caretaking them as well as the entire situation. 

Joe: That’s exactly right. That can happen in the workplace. I see this in workplaces all the time where you have a group of people, and they are just not speaking their truth to each other. This is death. If it is in manufacturing, it is not as much of a death. It just means you are giving up a massive advantage, but if you are in a tech or a creative, this is death where people can’t speak their truth and feel really safe about it and be just blatant and be able to be wrong and for other people to say I don’t think that’s right and for having that open discussion. That’s where great things happen. 

If you are going to be inventive or creative or do something out of the box, you need that. There are companies, back to your example, whether it be everybody wants you to take care of an alcoholic mom or everybody wants you to work from six am until 11 pm because that’s what the company is doing. If you don’t do it, you are going to suffer the consequences. Whatever that situation is, there is a real possibility that you will be ousted from the group. There’s also an equally real possibility that you will force the healing of the group. 

Brett: Bringing that into a business context, there’s a real tragedy of the commons-esque thing about this. If an entire group is slowly trending towards optimizing for harmony, optimizing for fitting in, if there’s an unseen value around being a team player, you are staying as long as everybody is staying after work, and it is really getting to the point where it is not good for anybody individually. Then everybody also fears if they are the one to speak up about it, then they will be ostracized from the group, then they are allowing the entire group culture to deteriorate. 

Joe: And there’s no leader, meaning there’s somebody who is in charge, but there’s no leadership happening. The healthy cultures are the ones where everybody is acting like a leader from time to time. If you mute people as the boss or if you, the employee, decide to be muted, you are killing leadership in the group because leadership comes from I am going to lead the way into a new place. You don’t lead the way into the place you are at. You lead the way into the place that you have not been or that you are going to. The only way that happens is being the tip of the spear. That’s how leadership works. You can’t be the tip of the spear if the whole thing is optimizing for harmony and/or optimizing for competitiveness and/or optimizing for intelligence, even. 

Optimization is for what’s happening right now, and that changes in business. And so the people have to change as well, and new places have to be led to. 

Brett: From a leadership standpoint, how would you apply that to accountability or discipline with regards to if there’s an employee that’s not meeting certain criteria? Maybe coworkers are trying to protect him because they like the employee, and so everybody hides each other’s flaws or shortcomings. 

Joe: The question is how to hold them accountable. The idea that holding somebody accountable, particularly accountable with love could ever be a problem is a good determination that you are in co-dependence. If I am speaking my truth, I don’t want to work with somebody who can’t deliver on time or at least tell me why they can’t deliver on time and tell me how they are going to compensate for it. My truth is I don’t want to work with somebody like that. 

I also notice that people that work like that aren’t happy with the way they work. It is not good for them, and it is not good for me. To own that want, and to say this is the reality I choose to live in, whether you are the boss or the employee is 100% acceptable. Now, if you say it to your boss and your boss gets pissed and you say it to your boss again, and they fire you, then you are going to get exactly what you asked for, which is a work situation in which people are reliable. If that’s how you want to work, it is a good thing you are out of that situation with the job. If you are the boss, then it is a good thing you have lost that employee even if it is a short term pain in the butt because you are going to have a long term great team if this is the reality. You are also going to create a culture where everybody knows this is how we behave in this culture, and then it just starts having a gravity of its own. 

The reason you wouldn’t hold them accountable is because you are caretaking, and the reason you wouldn’t fire them is you are caretaking. They will become resentful of you. That happens all the time in business where you see somebody who has been trying to be nice to their employees and their employees are resentful. You see the boss in the group next to them. They are dead straight forward, and they are very clear about their wants and the expectations. They do it with love and gentleness, and they are cared for and a deep sense of loyalty has been created by that kind of leadership. 

Brett: A lot of the times when people start working with a new tool like this, they will do what they think is actually working with the tool, for example, not caretaking. They will actually end up avoiding and weaponizing the tool. An example of that is I don’t care about your feelings. I am not responsible for them. It is not my job to make you feel better. They will say it in a way that actually pulls them away and creates distance. What are some ways to recognize that? What are some other ways that might happen as we start to work with this? 

Joe: The first way it is going to happen is you are going to start judging other people who are caretaking of you. That’s the first eh that happens in the process of learning about this. What’s actually happening is that you are judging your own caretaker, that you have started a war with yourself about your caretaker. You have seen that it causes you pain. You have seen it is suboptimal. Then you have decided let’s make an enemy out of this thing and try to change it, which is underneath the same thing you are trying to do by being co-dependent is trying to change somebody else or change yourself. That doesn’t help. It doesn’t do much. It is fine for a bit because it is part of the process you are going to go through. It’s okay. There’s no reason to start a war with yourself over it because you are not going to win. That’s one of the ways it is going to start. 

Then the second thing is what you are saying is really true. People will start weaponizing it and say now I am just going to cut myself off from you in a different way. Our society likes to tell the story that if you are caretaking, then you are not cutting yourself off from people. You are caring for them. You are not being arrogant. You are not being rude. You are not being dismissive. But you are still cutting yourself off from them because you are not telling them your truth. You are managing them, just in a different way. 

So then all of a sudden, if you decide to cut off from them in another way, like I am not going to talk to you or I am going to basically feel or have empathy, then it is just another way of cutting them off. In all of these things, what happens is your body will start constricting whether you are being co-dependent or whether you decide to be defensive in a more traditional manner or cut yourself off from them. You will start feeling your body somatically start to tense up. That’s the indicator. That’s the main thing. 

The last thing that can happen is you can start going down that caring for route, which is a beautiful route. You can start feeling how soft you are getting, the benefit of keeping an open heart and allowing them to feel anything they need to feel or want to feel and not trying to manage their reality, and at the same time not closing yourself down from them. That becomes this incredibly inspiring place, and you start noticing how much benefit you and the people around you get. Then you forget to draw boundaries. 

Then all of a sudden, it is like I can just manage myself to continually be open-hearted instead of I actually have to draw boundaries to maintain an open heart. You can’t keep loving people without boundaries.  A mom who doesn’t have boundaries raises horrible children that eventually will be very abusive to the mom or dad, for that matter. Those are some of the pitfalls you can go into but the biggest pitfall is people will get through one layer of how they are caretaking, and they think they are through it. There are just more and more subtle ways. 

Brett: The corkscrew. 

Joe: Yeah, it is just the corkscrew. Exactly. 

Brett: It reminds me of another subtly there. You were talking about how we will start judging the caretaking in others. Perhaps the progression is that we begin completely not aware of our caretaking, and thinking that it is care. Then we start to become more subtly aware of the caretaking, and we are like oh shit, I am doing this. That’s bad. I can’t be doing that. Then we start attacking the part of ourselves that does it, which makes us judge the part of other people that is doing it. 

It seems there is another layer I have experienced myself that happens, which is I am done caretaking. I am not caretaking anymore, and what that means is that I am over it. I am done. I am better. All these other people are expecting me to caretake them, and they just need to be experiencing their emotions. I just need to let them experience their emotions because they need to process them. Then, all of a sudden, it becomes about everybody else having to process their shit and then I am just on this pedestal of like I am good. That has always led to some kind of heartbreak or challenge. 

Joe: The people I see who are really able to care for others without any kind of abandonment of themselves, they often feel people’s emotions when the person isn’t feeling their emotions. You will see them weep. These are rare folks, but you will see them weep or take in the sadness the other person is avoiding. Any way that we are defending ourselves is an opportunity to lean in, love more, and accept ourselves and others. 

Brett: Let’s say somebody around you has started to address their caretaking habits. They are going this thing we were just discussing where they are starting to be blunt and rude with you. What advice do you have for anybody who is working with that?

Joe: Cherish it. If you are listening to this podcast and you see somebody who is finally standing up for themselves, they are going to be wonky and weird about it. It is going to be clunky, and it will change. That’s guaranteed to change, meaning the person who has been co-dependent or caretaking and they stop caretaking, they are going to be harsh for a while, most likely. They are not going to go straight into loving. 

The reason that that’s the case is because they are so sure that if they don’t care for people, people are going to attack them because their whole life they were attacked when they didn’t abandon themselves for their mom, dad, or their sister or whoever it was. They are very sure they are going to be attacked, and so they are preparing for that attack. So what looks like they are being dicks is really them preparing for attack. 

Brett: It is like courage of them challenging their inner assumption and just hoping it gets proven wrong. 

Joe: If you see them doing it, the best thing you can possibly do is just say I am so glad that you are asking for what you want and I just want you to know I am not going to attack you. There’s no need to be defensive. Then it is super short-lived. That’s the trick. 

The other side, which we didn’t get to talk about too much, which is when you are starting this new way of being of not caretaking, most likely you are going to be a little defensive, which is going to make people attacking you more likely. One thing you can do is to hold yourself with love and care as you are doing it, and not need to defend yourself. You are just going to say what you have got to say, and if the attack comes, you are going to allow yourself to use it as a sandpaper, to use it as a way to clean yourself out or to cleanse yourself, purify yourself. 

That’s the best way to approach it, and at the same time, people are going to get upset with you. They are probably going to get upset with you even more the second time or even more the third time. If you stay in a loving, non-defensive stance, then the most likely scenario is they will see that there is this other way of being and they want to be that way with you. Sometimes that won’t happen, and you will lose people. But either way, in a year or two, you will be surrounded by people who want to hear your truth, who don’t want you to manage them, who don’t want you to caretake them, who want to be sovereign and empowered next to you, not in you or through you. It might be a hell of a transition, but it is unbelievably worth it. 

Brett: I have got one more question for you. This came from somebody within our community. If you had to pick between a vaccine for Coronavirus and a vaccine for caretaking, which would it be? Why? 

Joe: Wow. I don’t want to answer this question. 

Brett: We don’t have to. We can cut that whole thing out. 

Joe: I don’t want to answer the question because my answer is I wouldn’t pick either. I wouldn’t pull the butterfly out of the cocoon because it won’t be able to fly afterwards. For me, it would be like do you build a vaccine for crawling or do you build a vaccine for a capacity to do mathematics in an eight year old. There are developmental steps we need to go through. All systems require something to challenge them so they can grow and be strong and evolve. If there is no challenge, there’s no evolution. I don’t want to get rid of our challenges. I want to learn how to embrace how, how to embrace the death that we face, to learn how to embrace the caretaking that we do, to learn how to embrace the innocence that tries to get us to manage other people to feel safe. That’s what I want. It is not to get rid of it. It is to learn how to embrace it. 

Brett: That’s amazing. Thank you very much, Joe. I just realized when I asked you that question, I caretook you by giving you an out. I am going to sit with that until next week. 
Joe: Awesome. What a pleasure to be with you, Brett. 

Brett: Yeah, same here. Once again.

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