In my book, Stop Giving It Away, coming soon, I talk about my concept of detrimental caretaking (DC). Giveaway Girls are detrimental caretakers. They are self-sacrificers who find it impossible or very, very hard to speak their voices, set boundaries and say no, fearing what others might think of them (“she’s mean” or “she’s a bitch”) or what others might do to them if they don’t go along.
Detrimental caretaking is rooted in codependency. Women who are codependent are caring, compassionate people. They give too much of themselves. They’re far from mean. They’re far from bitches.
The more we trend toward extreme detrimental caretaking (DC), the more disconnected we feel in daily life. What we give of ourselves feels increasingly out of balance. Putting first the needs, wants and whims of others becomes detrimental to our own well-being.
Which way are you trending?
Adra – The Giver
Adra, a teacher, is a giver and extremely codependent. She doesn’t set limits on her care taking of others. That is how she defines herself. So, she won’t say no when she is asked to take on too many responsibilities at work. She is very competent. She can’t set boundaries with her husband or her kids. When her husband makes fun of the 20 pounds she has gained in the last 10 years, she just grimaces or offers a weak, “Cut it out.”
Adra often does everything herself at home, despite having kids old enough to take on some responsibility. She talks to herself in really demeaning and negative ways too. “Why am I so tired? Why do I say such stupid things? What is wrong with me that my husband treats me this way?”
Alf – The Taker
Adra’s husband, Alf, falls into the other end of the continuum. He is all about himself, very narcissistic. He works a lot. He is extremely critical of Adra, his kids, and other people. He doesn’t participate in much childrearing, and when he does, he makes sure to fumble so that Adra won’t ask him to help very often (which she doesn’t). He works out every day, doesn’t miss a golf game, and has plenty of time to watch football on the weekends. He has a drinking problem and often wonders why he got stuck with such a lousy, nagging wife. I mean, he knows he’s a great guy.
Both Adra and Alf are extremes, on opposite ends of the Give Away Girl Lifeline. They are caricatures. And, we could easily reverse the gender of these two as well.
What is a healthy middle ground?
Where is the healthy balance? So let’s look at Adra a year later, after doing powerful work on her codependency and her over-giving.
The New Adra – A Healthier, More Balanced Life
Adra is enjoying her life so much better. She still gets up early and goes to work, but she makes sure to limit her projects. She told her boss that she would be happy to do his request, but that she wouldn’t be able to commit to it until after the holiday season. She started requesting family meetings, and even though her husband refused to attend, she and the kids worked out an agreement for them to take more house responsibilities. Adra made sure to assign jobs to Alf (since he refused to discuss these issues).
She knows he will intentionally botch the jobs so she refused to set herself up to be resentful. She picked jobs that would affect him if he decides not to help. For example, he can now do his own laundry. Adra doesn’t cook two nights a week, but has quick healthy dinners available so that she can get a jog in with her oldest child, or walk with girlfriends. She has lost weight, started seeing a therapist and is now stopping the negative self-talk. Her husband knows better than to comment on her weight because, then, she just sleeps in the guest room, and he doesn’t like sleeping alone. She is feeling better, being kinder to herself and by the way, Alf isn’t looking so good to her anymore.
Now, interestingly, when one person changes, it will affect the relationship, many times for the better. I wouldn’t lose hope on Alf. He may go to AA or decide that he needs help for his selfishness. Who knows?
People are so miraculous and unique in their ability and willingness to make changes.