(Disclaimer: I am neither a psychologist, nor a mental health professional. The following is solely my personal opinion.)
Are you a caretaker?
No? Doesn’t sound familiar?
What if I asked if you were a people-pleaser? Sound a bit closer to home? No?
Maybe this one might be closer to the mark: nice. Are you nice?
Yes! Yes, of course you are!
You’re nice. Super squishy, sugary, goody-good nice.
You’re nice to everyone, everyone, even when it hurts you to be so. Maybe you patch all that pain over with the idea that being that nice is being a good person. Sacrifice is a sign of goodness. You’re partially right. But, truthfully, being nice should never hurt.
I am a recovering nicey-nice caretaking people-pleaser. Well, honestly, I thought I was a recovering caretaker, but this past week I have been reminded that the road to recovery is long, hard, and covered in pitfalls and backslides.
You see, my in-laws are here for Christmas. Naturally, I want to show them a good time while they are under my care and make sure that we all eat well (because I’m super good at that). I am not trying to impress anyone… Husby and I have been married long enough where I’m no longer worried about that anymore.
So I’m in the kitchen everyday since they’ve been here. Going out of my way to prepare health-filled goodness for us to enjoy together. Veggies are everywhere. Stuff is being made from scratch. I’ve pulled out all the stops and even dug into my recipe trove for ideas.
This could simply be a result of the fact that my kitchen has been über clean since I broke down and got some household help, which makes it easier to get into the kitchen and want to do something because cleaning doesn’t have to happen first. It could also be because going out to eat at 4 people is a bit demanding and expensive (ignoring the fact that lots of restaurants close for the holidays here). Maybe I’m just really prepared this week.
But if I’m really and truly honest with myself, what I know is that this behavior is simply me exercising my caretaking side. Because I never cook like this for myself. Never.
Left to my own devices, I can easily dress up a pack of instant noodles with some frozen (or dried) veggies and a low-sodium bouillon cube instead of the MSG-filled salt-bomb they usually include in the package. Done and done. Even with Husby, meals can be just as simple.
Yet, throw in another couple of folks from wherever, I go full-on Julia Child. It’s been this way as long as I can remember. Even as I’m typing this, I’ve got turkey legs and wings roasting in my oven nested within a mountain of fresh, chopped veggies (loosely following this recipe from Simple Bites here).
Modified sheet pan turkey dinner. I promise the turkey is in there underneath the veggie mountain.
Sure, it’s natural for me to want to care for those around me that I have affection for by preparing a tasty meal. I believe that this is healthy, loving behavior. But what I’m really talking about here is more than that. What I’m talking about is when being nice and a people-pleaser goes too far. When it becomes a compulsion. This thing can even go as far as becoming something referred to as “caretaker personality disorder.” A great definition of the disorder can be found in this article which I’ve reposted here:
According to [Les] Barbanell, [author of “Removing the Mask of Kindness”] these ‘nice’ people feel unhappy, empty, guilt-ridden, shameful, angry, anxious, afraid of rejection and abandonment and are emotionally and physically exhausted because they are brought up to put the needs of other people ahead of their own. [emphasis mine]
This. This is what I’m talking about. When your need to care for others trumps any need of your own. Being so kind that it hurts you.
According to an article in Psychology Today,
As a caretaker, […] it is your job to please and take care of the [borderline or narcissistic person in your life (usually a family member)] first and foremost. To do this you will have learned to ignore your own needs, adapted to a highly emotional tense and chaotic environment, and become hyper-vigilant to the BP/NP’s emotional reactions. Your job is to do everything that the BP/NP is not willing or able to do, give in to whatever the BP/NP wants, and carefully monitor the family’s image in the community. [emphasis mine]
No, my in-laws qualify neither as borderline nor narcissistic personalities, so this is not about them. They’re lovely people. I’m quite fortunate.
But I believe that through certain, unfortunate circumstances, most anyone can be forced into a narcissistic state where everything they do is focused purely on them, with no regard for those around them. I also believe that if you are subject to this influence by a family member or other guardian figure while in a vulnerable state, such as during adolescence or childhood, you can develop caretaking habits. But I also believe that you do not need to be exposed to such a person in order to develop this habit.
Because caretaking can be a way for you to get people to like you.
And that’s it, that’s the thing there. When you’re fat you’re concerned about getting people to like you.
Because society says that fat people are not worth liking. There’s something wrong with us. Stay away or get fat too. It’s the worst.
But none of that is true. We are awesome people. We are perfect, just as we are today, worthy of love and trust and friendship and care. We are wonderful folk, just like the rest of them.
So when I catch myself defaulting to the caretaking habit I’ve cultivated through my years of learned self-hatred, I remember this: I like me and the feelings that others have about me do not affect that.
Giving every last piece of myself to everyone else is a way to guarantee that there is nothing left for me. And when there’s nothing left for me, there’s nothing more to give, and everyone suffers. Remembering to love myself and take care of myself reminds me that I do not need external validation to be valid or valuable. If someone can care for me by seeing past the veil that is my fat, that person is worth spending my valuable time on. These people are the ones worth getting into the kitchen and whipping up something fantastic for. They like me for me.
So on that note, let me get back to my stove, I’ve got a lemon meringue pie to throw together. Happy holidays!
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