I recently posted about making a major life decision and how difficult it can be when perfectionism or the fear of making a mistake is a dominant, controlling factor. Another element that hinders my own healthy decision-making is the desire to protect other people from their hurt feelings.
The decision I made to return to Canada directly impacted a number of people, and one person in particular, whom I shall call Maura, was especially affected. She and I had been living together in community for 8 months and I knew that if I left she would be alone, hurt and even betrayed by my choosing to go. The thought of inflicting these feelings upon Maura was enough to make me stay. The voices of dissent were pretty loud: How could I do this to her? Leaving her was totally unconscionable; an unforgivable, selfish act.
These negative thoughts plagued me and I wavered, thinking it would be better to sacrifice my own well-being to save Maura from her pain.
Red-flag moment. Save Maura? When I get into saving someone else I know I am in big trouble. I have moved out of the relative safety of taking care of someone and into the dangerous territory of care-taking. There is a big difference between the two.
“Taking care” involves looking after someone’s needs, being of service, helping out. Care-taking is about looking after someone else’s needs at the cost of my own and serving the ego’s desire for approval and esteem. It is not helpful. To anyone.
If I had stayed to protect Maura from her grief not only would I have been compromising my own needs, making me emotionally sick (and possibly even physically), I would also have been depriving Maura of her own life process. Not my job.
Care-taking is controlling behaviour at its most subtle. I tell myself I am protecting Maura therefore I am doing a good thing. I am noble. I am a saint! In fact, I am simply trying to orchestrate an outcome over which I am entirely powerless. I cannot save Maura from herself.
The consequences of care-taking can be dire because in trying to protect the other person I eventually become angry and resentful. If I had stayed in community with Maura I would have begun to see her as the one now keeping me from living my fullest and best life. And even though she didn’t ask me to protect her, even though I took it upon myself to save her, she would have been the one to blame for my faulty thinking. See the insanity? I sacrifice myself and it’s her fault.
Leaving Maura was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I wrestled with the question of what was right and agonized over whether I was wrong. In the end, I chose to put my own well-being first. (Even writing that sentence feels uncomfortable.) Doing so required an enormous amount of trust that my own liberation would somehow mean Maura’s liberation, too. Even if it caused her pain.
Inspiring Message of the Day: Am I able to embrace the concept of self-care? Do I attend to what is life-giving for me? If I am putting myself last on the list and it is costing me too much I will begin to trust that my own deepest needs can come first.