Do you have an epic nickname from when you were younger? Mine was Mom. I was the mom of the soccer team, the mom of the friends, I was/am the mom among siblings (to their chagrin), and now the “real” mom to my own kids. I have always gravitated toward the caretaker role so the nickname came naturally. Epic, right?
I learned to embrace the nickname because it meant people trusted me. They knew they could depend on me for whatever they needed. But because of that, it was confusing and frustrating to me from a young age that the people I cared so much for would frequently do so many dumb things and, as a result, lean even more on me. Sometimes, I felt the need to fix things that probably didn’t need fixing (cue the fights with sisters). Sometimes, I felt tired and burned out and would often remove myself from social situations to just avoid having to care for someone else. But in this situation, I’d feel immensely guilty and selfish and would go out of my way to make it up to whomever I let down (according to my own belief, of course).
This was my normal until I became a Life Coach and learned about a self-management tool that we call the Energy Funnel. Basically, the Energy Funnel illustrates that there are six different ways to respond to any situation, some catabolic (limiting) and some anabolic (growing). One of the anabolic or big energy levels is the caregiver. This is a response that is helping, healing, supporting, loving or nurturing others.
Notice, however, that there is no mention of “self” in that description. It can be a wonderful thing to be known as reliable and dependent, to be the trusted one in the group. But it can be exhausting.
This is why being self-managed is so important. Just like with other levels on the Energy Funnel, the benefits are also coupled with liabilities. Sometimes, you can care too much at the risk of forgetting to care for yourself. Sometimes, you can care so much that people will feel like you’re smothering them.
I recently read a fantastic blog on Scary Mommy about being the natural caretaker. Blogger Wendy Wisner wrote, “…I know there is beauty in stepping up to the role of nurturer, of being willing to put your own feelings and needs aside to serve others in your life…But therein lies the rub – and that’s where things can get dangerous. You see, there is dark side to being a natural caretaker. Natural caretakers want to jump in and cure everyone and everything, which is actually impossible. They want to take away everyone else’s problems, sometimes without recognizing that other people’s problems are primarily their own responsibility.”
Learning how to be self-managed, to recognize when to reign in the natural tendencies to care and love and heal, is critical to any natural caretaker’s well-being. But this goes for everyone, regardless of how you identify yourself. Learning and understanding that your strengths, when left unchecked, can become a liability is key. As we share in our coaching, your strengths and your energetic response shouldn’t be considered as an on-off switch. It should be more like a dimmer. Slide it up when the situations warrant it; slide it down when it doesn’t. The more aware and mindful you are, the more you will see that one-size-fits-all never works. Instead, know yourself and manage yourself. Just because it comes naturally doesn’t mean the situation you are in needs it.
Wendy closes her blog with some guidance to her natural caretaker readers: “The only way that you can continue to bring that incredible light and love to others – the light and love you’ve been blessed with always – is if you are health[y] and happy. And sometimes that means learning the fine art of saying no, holding your ground, and putting your own needs first.”
Take the time to understand your strengths and your liabilities. When you gain greater awareness and clarity around what activates and inspires you, and areas where you don’t feel you shine as bright, you can become a more well-rounded person. And this is the ultimate goal: to become a complete version of yourself. To recognize your strengths and use them, but to also manage them based on what any situation calls for.
Take 10-15 minutes today to ask yourself what your strengths are. Now ask a friend or family member. Do the same for your liabilities. You might find some eye-opening opportunities to make your next moment better.
Consider reading It’s Just Another Manic Monday