Are You A Narcissist? Or A Detrimental Caretaker?
I recently published several columns about narcissism and relationships. These blog posts received a flurry of reader responses: Some people felt they were dealing with a narcissist, and some deemed themselves narcissists. If you’re just now tuning in, take a look at the visual below. From selfless to selfish, see what’s on the far left. See what’s on the far right. See what’s in the middle.
The more we trend away from a balanced life, toward the extreme far-left detrimental caretaking (DC), the more discomfort 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.
Neither extreme is good. Both extremes are emotionally destructive and make for destructive, unhealthy relationships.
Meet Cora: Extreme, selfless giver. As a dedicated nurse, Cora works hard every day taking care of other people. She tries really hard to get so much accomplished with her patients. She doesn’t turn down requests from her colleagues when they are feeling overwhelmed. She wants to be known as helpful, not mean. Cora volunteers at her kids’ school, even if she knows she is too busy that month. Cora has gained 20 pounds over the last 5 years, and she is secretly very unhappy. Some of the time, she even realizes she is unhappy. Her husband constantly criticizes her. When she heated up a latenight plate of nachos, he said “God, Cora! Are you really gonna eat all that? I thought you just said you needed to drop a few pounds. What is wrong with you?!”
Cora knows her husband doesn’t mean to sound mean, he has just had a really rough week at work. Besides, who could blame him, she thinks. It has been a long time since she has felt good about herself. The busy schedule, the not being able to say “no” for fear of making people mad: This has all taken a toll on Cora. The nachos she’s scarfing down after 9 at night is about the only time she feels good. Cora is a detrimental caretaker.
Meet John: Extreme, selfish taker. Cora’s husband, John, is totally the opposite. When he goes to work, he is thinking about how he can make himself look as good as he knows he is. He is the first to manipulate others into doing his job, while he manages to take all the credit. John isn’t that interested in his children. He believes it is his wife’s job to handle those menial childrearing tasks. Of course he can’t tell her that is what he thinks, or she might stop doing everything….
As long as his kids are getting good grades and letting the world know what a successful guy he is by their achievements, John has no complaints about them. His wife, however, he has much to complain about. Her weight gain embarrasses him. He is a guy who needs to make a certain impression! How are people going to know how special he is if they think she is connected with him? Her physical appearance annoys him. In addition, he is disgusted with how she gets all flustered and insecure around their mutual acquaintances. He deserves more!
Interestingly, the selfless and the selfish often are attracted to each other. For the women out there who fall into the extreme end of caretaking/codependency, it is important that you start moving toward the center—healthy life, balance and self-care. One of the best ways to begin is by establishing boundaries. Usually, a competent therapist can help with either of these extremes. I have a colleague who talks about this dynamic much more in depthly in his work. Check out his book, The Human Magnet Syndrome, for added insight.
In addition, one of my commenters asked that I include a “healthy version” of a person in the middle. What a great idea! I will do that on my next posting.
Where are you on the lifeline? How is it working for you? We would love to hear about it.
Cherilynn Veland is a therapist living in Chicago. She also blogs about home, work, life and love at www.stopgivingitaway.com.