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Caretaking or Codependency… Sound Familiar?

August 23, 2018

By: Gene Gardino, LCSW

Jim was the caretaker in his family. There was an inner impetus to listen, support, strategize, and even comfort others when needed.

As a gay kid who knew from very young who he was, it behooved him to help others in the hope that when they found out his big ‘secret,’ they would still love him – storing up emotional ‘credits’ so to speak. When he went to school the persona of helper-empathic listener began to develop around him from his friends and other peers. When old enough to start dating and having relationships, he found himself attracted to people whose issues, problems, or emotional struggles he could fix or make better.

These were not conscious decisions. His motivation had been ‘baked’ into his behavior from his younger days.  He was always in control in his relationships, taking over the lives of his paramours to “make their lives better.” He made most of the decisions, made sure that his partners needs were met.  

The problem was that no one was loving and taking care of him.

After he ended years of drinking and substance abuse to self-medicate the pain of these unfulfilling experiences, it became clear in therapy that he was in a life-long cycle of trying to feel loved and cared for by people that he felt needed his help. The irony, of course, was that his partners were perhaps too damaged to love him back – and he hardly allowed them a chance to evolve from their places of ‘weakness.’  

The very disability that attracted him to them was he same disability that denied him the thing for which he was searching.

Consequently, Jim always found himself in relationships where he took care of his partners, but they were not very skilled or even willing to take care of him in a way in which he felt loved and whole.

In middle age Jim, although in a relationship, began to feel a well of loneliness and emptiness that was deeply saddening for him. He did not know how to break this cycle which started early on and manifested in every relationship since. It was a challenge for him to think of one person that had ever loved him unconditionally.

Therapy had helped him genuinely see this pattern.the next step with his therapist, breaking this life-long pattern, was challenging, but wonderfully rewarding. His lack of self love and self worth was the key target of this healing process.

How many of you can identify with Jim? What has worked or not worked for you? Has therapy been apart of your healing? And in what way? I would love to hear your experience , feelings, and thoughts about your “Jim-like” life…

 

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