Caring for the Caregiver: The Mystical Virtue of Caring

Dr. Phyllis Quinlan
Dr. Phyllis Quinlan

Lessons Learned from the ancient book of wisdom; The Toa Te Ching: Verse Fifty-One

Tao produces them Virtue raises them Things shape them Forces perfect them

Therefore all things respect the Tao and value virtue The respect for Tao, the value of virtue Not due to command but to constant nature

Thus Tao produces them Virtue raises them Grows them, educates them Perfects them, matures them Nurtures them, protects them

Produces but does not possess Acts but does not flaunt Nurtures but does not dominate This is called Mystic Virtue


                                                                                                       Lao Tzu


I have always held that anyone who actually gives of themselves to help another person who is in need has a wonderful quality to their character that is often overlooked. Those who have chosen to do this as a profession or have answered the call to be a family caregiver are simply amazing souls. No doubt this was a driving force in my decision to take on this project in the name of caring for caregivers.

In this fifty-first verse of the Tao, I believe Lao Tzu is offering guidance to those of us who have may have the tendency or need to blur the boundaries between Caring and Codependence. Discussing the delicate issue of codependency raises much trepidation for me but; I would not be true to this project’s  mission of raising awareness if I ignored any subject that once addressed, may prove helpful. 

Codependency is a behavioral syndrome usually attributed to individuals in a dysfunctional relationship with another involving substance abuse. However, in recent years, the term has been used more broadly to apply to anyone who has a pattern of dysfunctional relationships involving focusing on the needs of others more than one’s own needs. The key descriptive word here is pattern.

We have all been faced with those occasions when it was necessary, needed and appropriate to put the interest of someone else before our own. A caring relationship becomes codependent when the relationship becomes more important to you than you are to yourself. At that moment, the once therapeutic partnership morphs into a toxic need for self-sacrifice that is ultimately self-destructive.

Anyone who steps into or is placed into the role of caregiver can exhibit the symptoms of codependency at some point. The signs are subtle: denial, perfectionism, inability to accept appropriate help when offered, difficulty expressing anger appropriately, repression of one’s own needs, excessive advice giving, or operating in behavioral extremes.

The person caught up in codependence is continuously over committed, constantly under a sense of pressured, feels safe and in control only when giving but is unsettles or even anxious when someone tries to offer care or support to them. However, the real warning sign is when the attachment to the role of caregiver becomes your identity and it is difficult or impossible to think of yourself otherwise.

The tools to protecting yourself are awareness and the ability to recognize the insidious symptoms.  Clearly, developing the discipline of good self-care is at the heart of prevention. It takes a great deal of personal courage to let go of any attachment let alone an attachment that may define you. It is much like taking that first step into the abyss armed with only your faith that a better way awaits you.

Caregivers are not one dimensional beings. The length, breadth and depth of who we are and all that we can become can never be realized if we blind ourselves to the peripheral view of what may be possible. Put effort into finding the Middle Way. Make balance a must. Offer yourself loving kindness first. Keep in mind what Loa Tzu so lovingly writes; the Universe (Tao) produces but does not possess; nurtures but does not dominate. In this way you will be able to develop the Mystical Virtue of Caregiving.

Respectfully submitted by:

Phyllis Quinlan, RN-Bc, PhD    718 661 498


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