As a former nurse, mother, wife, friend, and someone who valued caring, I’ve had lots of opportunities over the years to wrestle with the idea that perhaps my caring for others was too much.
When I was a nurse, I cared so deeply about my clients that I would spend a lot of mental and emotional energy focused on their well-being.
With my kids, especially as they became teenagers, I cared SO much that I would try and control what they were doing so that they wouldn’t make the same mistakes that I did.
I put a lot of time and energy into what other people were and were not doing.
When people didn’t follow through on what I believed was the best course of action, I would become judgmental and either increased my efforts to get them to change or withdraw with a sense of frustration and/or resentment.
As I look back now, I realize that even though my intentions were always good, I somehow felt that I knew what was best for the other person.
I began to wonder whether I was actually caring too much for others.
And then the universe gave me what I needed to make a shift and gain some insights into my relationship with caring for and about others.
It gave me a crisis of my own. It gave me an opportunity to experience the dark night of the soul which forced me to turn the spotlight back on myself.
It was a crisis precipitated by the fact that I had been so concerned and focused on others and what they should or shouldn’t do that I had lost my sense of self. All this outwardly focused energy in the name of “caring” left me feeling drained and with stress-related health issues.
The truth is that many of us feel selfish when we turn our attention back on ourselves.
We feel like we’re not caring or helping enough.
Here’s what the universe and my wake-up call taught me about that belief.
Other people cannot learn from our mistakes and will need to make their own mistakes. This is a particularly hard pill to swallow when it’s our children or those closest to us.
From a spiritual perspective, the Universe will provide us with what we need and often not what we want in order to grow. If we don’t get the lesson from one experience, the universe will repeat the same lesson in a different experience. And it will be like groundhog day until we finally get it.
As much as we may want to, and as hard as it is, we can’t prevent other people from suffering.
If we look at it another way- suffering is often the trigger for much-needed growth. Without the discomfort of illness, a relationship ending, or some other crisis, we wouldn’t grow.
Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist who was best known for creating Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, put it this way in the book Toward a Psychology of Being,
“Not allowing people to go through their pain, and protecting them from it, may turn out to be a kind of over-protection, which in turn implies a certain lack of respect for the integrity and intrinsic nature and the future development of the individual” (p. 8).
In other words, when we’re caring too much we may be stunting other people’s growth. And, I also happen to believe we are stunting our own growth because we are overly other-person-focused.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to help another. There is, however, a fine line between being there for others in a way that promotes growth and intervening in a way that stunts or prevents growth.
And, more importantly, when we try and intervene when not asked, even though our intentions are good we are interfering with the spiritual principle and the lessons we are meant to learn related to reaping what we sow.
I now realize that it’s more “helpful” to have learned how to sit with the discomfort of suffering- both my own and others than it is to put energy into trying to determine which lessons people should have and trying to prevent the hard ones from happening.
5 tips you may find helpful:
1. Spend some time reflecting and developing awareness about the root motivation of your need to help, fix, solve or impart your advice or wisdom.
Although this may sound counter-intuitive, don’t be too quick in trying to “let go” of your worry for/about the other person. There are soul lessons that are embedded in caring too much and that’s Why Telling Yourself To “Let That Go” Doesn’t Work.
View it as an opportunity for self-exploration and discovery for personal growth.
2. Use a God or worry box.
After you’ve spent enough time on step 1, create a ritual to let it go. You can write out your worries on a piece of paper, pop it in a box and turn it over to a higher power. I have used this practice in my life and find it to be effective for letting go of worries that are out of my control.
3. Notice when your mind is making up stories.
When you notice you’re ruminating, bring your attention back to the present moment by taking some long, slow, deep breaths and grounding yourself in your body. Once grounded back in your body, turn your worrying thoughts into a prayer- in whatever form of prayer feels meaningful to you.
4. Remember we all have a life force energy that flows through us.
This energy needs to be directed somewhere. Put your energy back into your own life and create more space for the other person to live and accept responsibility for their own life and choices. I explore this further in the post, Why It’s Not Always A Good Idea To “Go With The Flow.”
5. Practice self-compassion and kindness.
Self-compassion is the practice of being kind to ourselves when we’re having a hard time and are suffering in some way. It is natural to want to reach out and help alleviate others’ suffering. The challenge arises when they either don’t want our help or our help prevents them from developing their own growth path. This inner desire to do something when we intuitively know that it isn’t ours to do can be channeled into self-compassion. You can learn how to do that HERE.
Finding this delicate balance is a challenge for many of us. You are definitely not alone! Share a comment below – our community would love to hear from you.
Please leave a comment below. Our community would love to hear from you!
(Originally published November 7, 2019; Updated November 13, 2020)