Empath Traps: Caring v. Caretaking

This is the first in a series of posts to help empaths deepen their gifts while avoiding the common traps that compromise their energetic and physical health.

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Image via Piotr Lohunko

Caring v. Caretaking

Do you know the difference? Caring is healthy and natural. Care-taking is doing something for someone who can do it for themselves.  A simple example is my daughter asking me to pour a bowl of cereal for her. She is capable of doing that herself. Fighting someone else’s battles for them is another example of care-taking. 

Caretaking is appropriate with babies and young children, invalids & those who genuinely aren’t able to care for themselves.

Inappropriate emotional care-takers are fixers and rescuers.

Since an empath’s emotional body is highly developed, they respond to the world primarily through their emotions. They use intuition and emotion to make decisions, more so than intellect.  Since you feel other people’s emotions and are easily affected by other people’s energies, it is easy to fall into the trap of emotional care-taking.

Signs you are an emotional caretaker:

  • You stop what you’re doing or change plans for someone who is upset or down.
  • If you ignore their needs, you feel guilty.
  • You’re upset because they are upset. You’re sad or angry because they’re sad and angry.
  • It feels like your job to help others feel better.
  • You listen to a lot of complaints and negativity from the same person.
  • You cringe when you see their name on your caller id. But, cave in and call them back.

Has someone set you up as their emotional caretaker?  Are you the dumping ground for their complaints?  Are you expected to cheer them up or take their mind off their problems?  Is there an unvoiced demand that you stop what you’re doing to take care of their emotional needs?

Their unhappiness or happiness is not your responsibility. It sounds heartless. But, many people create their suffering through the choices they make. They choose to stay stuck and complain.

As a society, we’ve been conditioned to put aside our needs when someone is in pain. We’re expected to be fixers or rescuers. That only disempowers the person who needs to make courageous choices or do the inner healing work required for lasting change.

If you’re an emotional caretaker, start creating appropriate, healthy boundaries. Here’s some tips to get your started:

  1. Separate their pain from your pain. Empaths tend to take on other people’s emotions and get stuck in them. You falling into their pain isn’t going to help them. A depressed person can’t help another depressed person.
  2. Acknowledge their pain. But, do not indulge it. Your compassion and presence is all that is needed. Don’t try to fix their pain. Don’t tell them what they should do. Don’t get sucked into their drama. Be a friend and show support while keeping your health and life intact.
  3. Set time limits. Let them know “I’m here for you.” And that means that you aren’t available 24 hours a day. When they call or text, kindly let them know when you’ll be able to talk or meet.
  4. Recognize when you make other people’s problems, your problems.  Do you make phone calls or research the answers to their problems?  Do you ruminate over their issues? Do you keep thinking about them?  

This isn’t a blanket statement. There are times when a friend or family member is in true crisis, such as a death, sudden illness or a breakup. You can still show up and be a compassionate listener.  You may want them to call you at 2am, if they are suffering alone. But, you still must recognize when it is too much for you.

Emotional Caretakers attract Emotional Manipulators

Most of the time emotional caretakers pair up with emotional manipulators. They demand your attention. They demand that they be your first priority. They demand that you say “Yes” all the time.  These demands can be silent. But, since you’re a sensitive empath you can feel them pulling on your energy field. If you don’t do what they want, you feel guilty.

Somehow you’ve made an energetic agreement with the manipulator that they come first. You’ve agreed that you can’t be okay unless they’re okay.  When did you become responsible for their happiness?

Sometimes empaths believe everyone else comes first. Everyone’s needs are more important than yours. That’s why so many empaths are suffering from exhaustion and autoimmune diseases. 

For your health and well-being, put yourself and your needs first. Don’t get tangled up in other people’s emotions and keep clear boundaries.

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