Can We Care Too Much?

Recently, a new friend texted me his concern about me. He wrote that he was worried that if something happened to him, I would have more heartbreak in my life. I wrote back that I am a grown woman and I am choosing to connect with him, and to please let me make that choice and take care of myself.

I’ve been pondering the question raised above: “Can we care too much?” My answer is “Yes.” The idea of co-dependence has been around for decades and is categorized as an addiction by many. It is the action of focusing so intently on another person that we do not focus on ourselves. We may buy them health books, vitamins and schedule their doctors’ appointments, but not pay attention to our own health and wellbeing. In fact, for those of us who tend to become absorbed in others’ needs, doing so is a way to avoid our own issues, our own feelings and our own pain. It is often easier to help someone else and do so compulsively, than to look at ourselves in the mirror.

From my experience as a co-dependent with my partners and my children, I can say that it is fear that drove me to such an addiction, fear of my own stuffed emotions, fear that my life was not going well, fear that I might need to change myself and my life. I was also afraid of seeing my loved ones suffer, afraid ultimately that something terrible might happen to them, so I, in a sense, played God. I tried to fix situations, give them unlimited support, emotional as well as financial, suggest, hint, offer, advise, tell and in every sense try to control the outcome for them.

What I know now after years of 12-step work, is I must stay on my own side of the street, stay tuned-into my feelings and thoughts, and the only person I can save is myself. One of my favorite poets is May Oliver, who ends her poem “The Journey” with these words:

“…and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

…determined to do

the only thing you could do—

determined to save

the only life you could save.”

And so, does this mean we don’t care for others, don’t spend time listening, supporting and loving them? No. Most of us who have the tendency to be co-dependent are very empathic, kind, compassionate and loving. Often, we are in service in our professions and in our personal lives. We feel deeply the pain of others, whether it is a stranger in Africa, a homeless person on the street or those we know well. We care. The trick, and it takes practice, is to just love people by listening and helping them make their own choices and decisions, but not try to do that for them. We have enough to do, just managing ourselves, dealing with our own issues and trying to be the best humans we can be.

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