Counseling Center- Self Help
While we all tend to view our caring relationships as important to us, we don't often stop to think exactly why they matter so much. Take a moment to think about the caring relationships in your life. What do these relationships offer you? What would you be missing if you didn't have them? Did the following come to mind? -a chance to feel appreciated for who we are -a feeling of stability -a sense of renewal -an increased ability to tolerate stress and frustration -a feeling of being connected to something outside of ourselves.
Successful caring (TOP)
There is no magical formula for succeeding in your caring relationships--there is no single "best" way to care. Because of the many differences between people, ways of expressing care in one relationship may be unsuccessful in another. However, it is still possible to offer a few general suggestions about the kinds of caring attitudes and behaviors which tend to promote healthy relationships and those that can lead to problems. Here are six suggestions for caring successfully:
- Cultivate different kinds of caring relationships. Different relationships can and should serve different needs. With some friends, we may be able to talk about anything. With others, we may discuss little but enjoy participating in common activities. With still other friends, we may rarely see each other but know that the friends would be there to offer assistance at a moment's notice. With our spouses or lovers we may be able to feel a sense of free abandon--of letting go--that we cannot experience with anyone else. And with parents, grandparents, or teachers, we may receive guidance and role modeling in ways which our romantic partner and friends cannot provide. Because one relationship is less intimate, less personal, or less intense than another does not mean it lacks value or that something is necessarily wrong or "missing" from it.
- Ask ourselves, "What would life be like without the people I care about?" It is human nature to notice change and to pay little attention to aspects of our environment which stay the same. As a result, we often fail to fully notice and appreciate life's blessings, including our caring relationships. When we are made to think about what life would be like without our loved ones--for instance, when we dream of losing someone special or hear that someone we care for has had a close brush with death--we realize just how much these people mean to us. And in such instances we can rejoice in the fact that we still have them. We do not need to wait for dreams, close calls, or other external events to cause us to think about how much we value the people we care about. We can increase our appreciation for them by considering what life would be like without them.
- Risk being honest about our feelings. When we fail to be open and honest about what we're feeling, there can be many negative consequences: We can prevent other people from understanding and appreciating us; we can fail to give them the chance to consider changing what bothers us; and we can miss out on the opportunity to see if our relationships could withstand anger and other feelings. Furthermore, when we hold our feelings in, they can build up inside us so that even a small frustration can trigger an emotional outburst. Honest communication does not mean constantly having to express every feeling which arises, nor does it mean that feelings must always be shared immediately. We have the right to some privacy, and withholding certain rude or critical comments is common human courtesy. In wrestling with whether or not we should share our feelings, the important consideration should be the consequences--both immediate and long term--for ourselves and those we care about.
- Invite the people we care about to be honest with us. Honest communication, like other kinds of giving, is a two-way street. Encouraging the people we care about to risk sharing their feelings can enhance our relationships just as being honest about our own feelings can. Listening with interest and respect and responding to feedback without attacking, criticizing, or ridiculing are two ways of creating a sense of safety that will help others to be open with us. As others feel comfortable in being open and honest with us, they may sometimes say things that are difficult for us to hear. For instance, they may say things which sound critical or overly demanding. We may be tempted to react with anger or hurt in these situations, reactions which tend to break off communication. To keep communication open, we need to make sure that we've heard others correctly. We can do this by first telling them what we think they've said and then asking them to correct any misunderstandings.
- Never stop giving to ourselves. Caring relationships are usually most successful when they allow for "give and take" to occur. When we care in a manner which involves continually giving to others-- and not "taking" for ourselves--we often feel used and used up. We miss out on opportunities to replenish ourselves and to be replenished by others. As one psychologist has said, "By giving to yourself you will feel more able to give of yourself to others." Continual giving not only depletes us, it also deprives others of the joy which can accompany giving.
- Give up the expectation that caring will always be easy and pleasant. It is a commonly held disbelief that when we care for another, our feelings are supposed to be entirely positive. It is quite normal to experience many different feelings toward the people we care about. We can dislike certain qualities, attitudes, and behaviors in others and still deeply care for them. Similarly, we can sometimes experience anger and even hateful feelings toward others and still care. The key issue in caring is not whether we have such feelings, for we sometimes will. What is important to consider is how often such feelings arise, how we choose to deal with them, and how much they interfere with our enjoyment of our lives and of other people.
Unsuccessful caring (TOP)
Sometimes we try to demonstrate our caring feelings for others by acting in ways that are based on mistaken assumptions of what caring involves. Unsuccessful caring occurs when we:
- Constantly criticize the minor shortcomings of others. By focusing excessively on the frustrating behaviors of those whom we care about, we fail to notice positive, desirable qualities in other persons. Such a focus can prevent us from appreciating the value of our relationships.
- Accept destructive behavior. Genuine caring does not require us to always accept another's behavior, particularly when that behavior is emotionally or physically harmful to us or the person we care about. Urging someone we care about to seek professional help for personal problems can demonstrate caring, but to personally try to change the person's behavior rarely works.
- Require that others always do things our way. When we have extensive rigid rules for how others must act if they truly care about us, we give people little freedom to make decisions for themselves. They can then feel provoked to do just the opposite of what we want as a way of proving (to themselves and to us) that they are free to make their own decisions. They can also resent us for demanding too much, and this resentment can prevent them from noticing their positive feelings toward us. While it is both normal and appropriate for us to have certain expectations of other people, these expectations should be reasonable and should respect the need of others to take responsibility for their own welfare.
- Interpret disagreements as a lack of caring. If we believe that differing opinions, occasional disagreements, and conflict are incompatible with caring, we may force ourselves to deny our own feelings, wishes, and needs when they differ from others. If someone we care about also believes that disagreement is wrong, then we may find ourselves doing things together that neither of us really wants to do. Alternatively, if people we care about do not share our belief that differences interfere with caring, they may frequently act in ways which leave us resenting their "selfish, insensitive" expressions of their feelings.
- Neglect other priorities. If pizza happened to be your favorite food, would that mean you would want to have it for every meal, every day? Probably not. Similarly, when we care about someone, we do not give up our right to devote time to other priorities. In a caring relationship, the amount of time two people spend together will vary depending upon their personalities, their living arrangements, and the demands on their time. Two people are probably spending too much time together when important priorities such as sleep, other relationships, or job responsibilities are continually being ignored. Another sign of trouble is when one or both persons in a relationship repeatedly feel pressured into being with the other against their will--a perfect setup for resentment. In healthy caring relationships, people usually spend time together because they feel they want to, not because they have to. Healthy caring allows for time spent apart.
- Give until it hurts. As with denying ourselves the right to have outside priorities and the right to differ in our feelings and opinions, continually catering to others can prevent us from adequately taking care of ourselves. When our caring involves always doing what others wish regardless of our own needs, we can begin to resent others for taking advantage of us. We can also feel burdened with too much responsibility for others' welfare rather than respecting and supporting their ability to care for themselves. And, when we expect that other people will do as we do and cater to our every whim, then we inappropriately place responsibility for our well-being into their hands.
Conclusion (TOP )
Successful caring presents us with a number of complex challenges: it challenges us to balance our needs with those of others, to work toward compromises, and, in some instances, to determine whose needs and feelings require more immediate attention. Relationships which meet these challenges are not always easy or fun. They rarely serve to meet our every need or whim and they sometimes include negative as well as positive feelings. However, even though caring has its limitations, it also has its rewards. Caring relationships tend to give us an extra boost through good times and to cushion us when we fall. When we care in successful ways, our relationships can energize and enrich us and the people we care about.
(Written by: Craig J. Vickio, Ph.D. & Claudia A. Clark, Ph.D., BGSU Counseling Center)