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The Red Flags - Caretaking

The Red Flags of Romance

Our feelings, whether good or bad, are our property. They fall within our boundaries. Our feelings are our responsibility; others’ feelings are their responsibility. If other people feel sad, it is their sadness. This does not mean that they do not need someone else to be with them in their sadness and empathize with them. It does mean that the person who is feeling sad must take responsibility for that feeling.

Don’t ever let someone make you feel guilty because they are suffering the consequences of their own actions and behaviour. No matter what ploy they try, remember that you are not responsible for anyone else’s happiness other than your own.

Dr Henry Cloud. Boundaries.Me


As we continue with Noluthando’s Navigating Romance Series, we will raise Red Flags to alert you to areas within yourself that need attention.  The mirror they offer is an opportunity for self-reflection.  This week’s talking point is Caretaking.


Caretakers elevate their low self-worth by engaging in complex entanglements that allow them to attend to the unmet needs of others. By assuming parental roles they assert authoritative measures that undermine the emotional growth of others.

This is tragic relational role-play where implicit acts of indebtedness establish a reward system that offers the enabler and enabled multiple pay-offs. A crippling dance of co-dependence ensures the one feels incomplete without the other.

If you are taking care of a grown person, understand that the primary service you offer them is the ability to avoid taking responsibility for their own life. This is crash reality.

The emotional undertow that drives two perfectly capable people into co-dependent coupling is subtle. Personal and relational dysfunction hides behind the glossy façade of benevolence. At face value, any outsider would be impressed; even tend toward applause. The caretaker appears self-effacing and charitable; certainly by comparison to the disabled person they play amateur providence with.

The Bible is very clear. When our Creator breathed life into Adam, he became a living soul who carried the Spirit of God. As pioneers of humankind, Adam and Eve were entrusted with a divine commission. They were to steward creation. Their brief was specific: do not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; leave your father and mother; cleave to your wife; be fruitful and multiply. As descendants of Adam, our command is to cover the earth with the image of God.

Other biblical passages assure us of His eternal provision. We are not to worry about our lives. As we access the spiritual gifts God has placed within our hearts, we have all the authority, power and wisdom that we need to fulfil our purpose.

In real life, it is expected that we separate from our parents and individuate; grow up and mature; cultivate our potential; become equipped to play our part in God’s bigger picture. Our life is not our own. God has no interest in our pursuit of personal pleasure. We are to uphold values intrinsic to our royal heritage. In the Kingdom of God, the currency is always character.

Nowhere were we told to go and settle on a couch with our feet up; establish agreements that enable avoidance; clutch onto the purse strings of other people; make elaborate excuses; claim incompetence; refuse responsibility; ignore accountability.

How on earth did we decide that we were entitled to remain dependent? God Almighty’s instruction is to arise and act. What gives us the right to disobey; to exclude ourselves from our valuable part in the eternal tapestry that is testament to Jesus Christ?

Galatians 6:5 says that every man should bear his own burden. We are to answer directly to God for our actions, not shift responsibility onto other people. We are to companion each other on this journey called life, enjoy and encourage each other, offer empathetic support.

We are not to carry, feed off, enable, manipulate or imprison each other. It is entirely self-serving to promote our strengths at the expense of another; to measure our good against their bad. Everything about the co-dependent reward system is rogue. We cannot hold each other hostage.

When God asks what you did with your one and only precious life, what will you answer? The fact is there is nothing we cannot overcome. There is no adversity we will face or affliction we will suffer that need kneecap our ability to uphold our own spiritual, emotional, intellectual, physical, relational and functional responsibilities.

Luke 9:23 instructs us to take up our cross daily; Philippians 2:12 says we are to work out our own salvation (healing) with fear and trembling: we are to work out what God’s Word works in, with concentration and care. We are to deal with our own issues. God wants our hearts to be restored to wholeness. He knows where we hurt. He is our healer.

There is a void within. It is a sacred God-shaped space that the Holy Spirit wants to sanctify; so He can set us free from ungodly agreements that drive our dysfunction. It was never intended that people should fill up our emptiness, nor be our source. Our spirit within seeks union with God and substitutes and substances will never subdue our song of longing. Every question we ask will always be answered in Him.

Many people stay in unhealthy relationships out a personal need to fix their partner. For some, the caretaker role has been a life-long pattern, first modelled to them in childhood. The positive pay-off they experienced as they mimicked dysfunctional role-playing integrated into their perception. This set them off on a life-long quest for the same hit of pleasure. When we enter into co-dependence, we are effectively mainlining people – they become our drug of choice.

Biblical truth is that love is an act of the will, not a feeling. We decide to love, no matter how we feel. No matter what we face. We are kind, expansive, generous and patient with the people in our life. We are present to their pain, but we do not rescue them.

It is when loving results in emotional highs and lows that we enter into dangerous territory. We become bound to effect rather than being motivated by purpose.

In co-dependent people, the catalyst that activated relational dysfunction can often be tracked back to a childhood home where an incapacitated parent required active attention and care. The child learned that if they offered of themselves, they would please them. The response they received, no matter how distant, inconsistent or transient was interpreted as love.

As this caretaking connection was repeatedly modelled, a false belief forged. Lie-based thinking etched into the child’s impressionable mind, establishing a dysfunctional relational blueprint. As an adult, it is the ongoing pursuit of the dopamine high attached to high-volume pleasure that drives the unhealed child within to seek out more of the same. No matter how painful this temporary pleasure attached ends up being.

If a person agrees to inhabit a caretaker role in relationship, it will require that they set aside their own essential needs to cater for the person who is presenting as incapable. In most cases, this is their motivator. When their partners needs pitch to high volume, their own emotional turmoil is silenced.

Exposure to caretaking patterns in childhood cultivates early-onset responsibility patterns, which so easily transform into controlling behaviors. A saintly tone of self-righteousness slips in. The impacted adult self-elects as both savior and victim and a sacrifice-orientated sense of entitlement shores up their unsteady self-worth.

Big Truth: No matter what any of us struggle with, we are each called to face ourselves and become actively involved in our thought life; wellness and sickness; retrenchments; addictions; heartbreaks; every good time and bad time. We never have the luxury to lay down our lives in order that another person may step into our responsibilities.

The resistance factor here is that if the caretaker acknowledges their part in the co-dependent drama, they are going to have to face the fact that they feel invisible and unworthy when not in service to others. Or, perhaps they have no idea that they have core needs that must be met, and can be met, in healthy and constructive ways that afford them life-enhancing connection.

If they extricate from their entanglements, they will also need to accept that they are not all-powerful, and that their god-complex is actually killing the very person they believe they are indispensable to; recognize that emotional blackmail is at the centre of their union, not love at all.

It is never necessary to become servile to someone in order to experience that you are special.

By Noluthando Mthoba

Adult Centre Case Manager

Noluthando Mthoba originally came through our Youth Centre. She was then raised up as a Volunteer and now acts as Adminstrator. She is also a Case Manager for our Adult Female Centre. She models a magnificent mix of authenticity, integrity and super cool style, every day.

This article continues on from her Navigating Romance series. Stay posted and we will guide you into solutions around typical Relational Red Flags that arise for all of us. Previous pieces on Self Esteem and Loneliness are available on our blog archives.

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