What is the difference between ‘caring for’ and ‘taking care of’?

Caring for means that someone – an employee, a friend, a partner – is important to you, that you value them. If that someone is in trouble, you may worry about them or fear for their wellbeing. This is natural.

Taking care of someone means you take responsibility for a task that lies with the other. In some cases this is natural, such as when someone is temporarily less capable due to circumstances such as illness.

In some cases, however, we take structurally care of people when we have really no business taking care of them. On the surface it may seem like we’re doing a good deed, but our work is not properly motivated and the effects are far from beneficial.

To feel loved

Because sometimes we take care of someone in order to feel loved by them. We feel shame or inadequate if we do not, or fear the other will leave us or withhold their affection from us.

Instead of loving ourselves for who we are, we rely on the love of others to feel worthy and whole. This breeds the dependence and subservience of a child, rather than the autonomy and individuality of an adult.

Such relationships are unequal and uneasy, and often lead both parties to resent one another. The caring party resents not being adequately seen and valued for who they are, while the other party feels resentment at having a clingy and overbearing partner or boss.

Sometimes the purpose of taking care is not to be loved, but to feel safe and in control. “Let me do that for you” really means “I need to do it, because if I manage the process and outcome, no one can control me and make me feel small.”

Unconditional love and safety

Such caring for is not based on autonomy, centered strength or wisdom, but may stem from an underlying sense of vulnerability. It creates relationships based on power instead of love, in which the caring partner resents the other for their weakness and the receiving partner resents the other for overpowering and weakening them.

If you really care for someone, you won’t take care of them when they are or should be able to take care of themselves. If you take responsibility for embedding a sense of unconditional love and safety in yourself, you enable the other to find their own inner path and power.

Ilja van Roon

Hungry for more? Then perhaps read this blog on The Most Important Relationship You Will Ever Have or the fact that We Have An Outer Life And An Inner Life. Or have a look at how the Life Foundation programme can give you a strong inner foundation for life.