Caring for, or caring about???….Same difference. That’s what I’d have told you not so long ago. In my thinking they were all lumped together. You care “about” someone, so you care “for” them….right!? Aren’t we supposed to care FOR the people we care ABOUT? Isn’t that the way it works? Maybe not – at least not ALWAYS.
When we care FOR someone, we get control. When we care ABOUT someone, we give support. Let me “splain Lucy”. When kids are little we take care of them – we’re supposed to, they’re incapable. This means we get to control their decisions, choices and situations. As they become more capable we start turning control over to them. Basically, we have to shift from caring FOR to caring ABOUT. That’s always been a struggle for me. As I said, I was blind to the difference. To me, caring about someone meant taking OF them – which looked like protecting them from discomfort, solving their problems, rescuing then from their own emotional struggles, and taking responsibility for their sense of okay-ness. And it wasn’t just my kids. It was anyone in my circle.
This has been one of the trickiest lessons for me to learn. It took a lot of unwinding of old embedded beliefs about what love looks like and what loving someone means. Still does. Actually, I was kinda forced to learn. I ran smack into it. Or maybe as I think about it now…it was more like a really in-my-face persistent invitation. Either way – I learned it…kicking and screaming, but I learned it.
Addiction was my teacher, and damn, she’s relentless. Loving someone in the stranglehold of addiction brings the difference into focus in terrible and liberating ways. You’re forced to figure it out. Because the cost of your ignorance is too great. In 12 step language, they call it enabling or codependency. The rest of us call it by a much gentler, friendlier, up beat names…like People Pleasing, or as I used to call it, being a “really caring person”. Then I learned what I was doing was actually called codependency, and not such a great thing for them or me…ouch! So I had to learn the difference, because the difference mattered.
Here’s what I learned. Caring for means taking care of the needs of the other that they are NOT capable of taking care of for themselves. It means stepping in and taking over responsibility and control. It says, “I know you’re not capable, but I am. So (because I love you), I’ll take over.” On the other hand - caring about means giving support and love for the other as they journey to take care of their own needs. It looks like celebrating their victories with them, reminding them they are capable, being a compassionate witness to their struggle, and a wise guide when consulted. It means cheering them on as they fall – figure things out- rise and fall again. It means loving them enough to let them struggle, and honoring them enough to allow them to become their own hero. It says, " I see you. I love you. I know this is hard, AND I also know you are capable of doing hard things."
Here’s the other important thing I learned…. When we over function in codependent ways we rob our people of the chance to be their own hero. And in truth – we do it because we can’t handle the pain it creates in us to see our person hurting or struggling. That was a hard truth I had to look at…man was it hard to see!! It still stings to think that in reality, my “taking care of” was about protecting myself from pain as much as helping my person.
I’m happy to say that my someone is now living a happy sober life. He got the chance to be his own hero. To discover that he’s always been his own hero. And that’s why this difference matters…in ALL our relationships, not just the ones that involve addiction. Because yes, there are time we all need to be cared for…but mostly we just need to be cared about. To be seen, heard, held, loved, cheered on and supported. To know that we matter, no matter what. And most of all… we all deserve to be our own hero in life- whatever it is we're facing.
Here’s to love, light and a brave heart.