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WHO TAKES CARE OF THE CARETAKERS?

Deepening Intimacy in Psychotherapy: Using the Erotic Transference and Countertransference
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This article was published in dr. rosiello's sedona times psychology column in 2009.

Getting ourselves grown up is a fairly fascinating process, both to watch as a child develops and to hear from the adult’s recall of early memory.

When listening to people’s narratives on who they were as children, who they are now, and what they still want to become in the future, there is a message that gets repeated in each and every story told.

Hidden in all lived stories is a mantra of sorts that we create about ourselves in our early years as an attempt to sooth the ruffled feelings of the life we’re experiencing.

We may develop varying expressions of the same mantra, but each mantra holds one constant, one consistent feeling that is always present no matter how we reword it. 

In our mantra the words we use provide us with the potential for ‘hope.’

Most of us are usually pretty good at holding hope for ourselves and for the people we care about. 

Certainly anyone who is in a caretaking role in life, fits right in. 

Perhaps the most hopeful people in our world include anyone in health care, pastoral care, anyone holding spirituality, mentoring, teaching, and supervising. 

So we could say all people who feels empathy toward another’s emotional state maintains a sense of hope that everything will be ok. 

Sometimes, though, this hope for another’s wellbeing gets complicated.

To my way of thinking, there are two types of hope: magic hope and real hope. 

Magic hope occurs in people who want something to change in life, but they seem to be waiting for a formula or something they wish for could ‘happen’ to them.

"There is inactivity to this magic type of hope, an embeddeness in waiting for hope or waiting to be hopeful.

'If I just wait long enough.' 'If I’m just good enough.' 'If I don’t create any problems.' 'If I just make sure I don’t say the wrong thing.'” ~fr 

There is inactivity to this magic type of hope, an embeddeness in waiting for hope or waiting to be hopeful.

“If I just wait long enough.” “If I’m just good enough.” “If I don’t create any problems.” “If I just make sure I don’t say the wrong thing.” 

There is very little real hope in these statements, very little movement in the words, and you can see emptiness in them, as well.

Real hope, on the other hand, engages the individual in activity. 

Real hope is based on the attempt to understand the limitations and boundaries of the environment we live in and yet, real hope lets our mind create possibilities that can be achieved to make real changes actually happen. 

There is one group of us, one type of personality, often found in one type of family or couple who truly confuses real hope with magic hope. 

It’s the individual who lives with the alcoholic, the drug user, the gambler,or the abusive partner. 

It’s the individual who permits the addictive or abusive behavior to exist in their loved one and they hope that the addiction will somehow magically change, they hope that when the addictive or abusive person says they will stop their addiction, that they won’t gamble, use drugs, or use alcohol - the caregiver holds out hope that this time ‘things will be different.’ 

This type of holding hope for another describes a magical hope and it is often attributed to people who enable the addicted person to continue to destroy themselves, because the enabler has a sense of hope that doesn’t fit into the real world.

They hold hope when they hear the addicted person say: “Hey, I’m going to the casino tonight and, don’t worry, I’m only going to spend $100.00 because that’s all I’ve got on me.” “I’m just going out with the guys for one drink and I’ll be right home.” “I told you I’m not using pot anymore and I’m just going to hang out with the other kids.” “I’ll never again hit you and I’m so, so sorry that it happened because I didn’t mean it.”

It’s the person who 'enables' who lets the addictive or abusive behaviors of the other endure. 

And, it is this type of hope, magic hope that maintains the crux of addictive behaviors.      

We tend to focus on the behavior we see - we look at the drinker, the drug abuser, the individual who gambles away the mortgage money. 

But, what about the person who allows it to happen, who holds out hope that everything will magically change…because the other person ‘said’ it would?

It always takes two to create an addiction or an abuse.

If we don’t live in the real world, if we decide to not see destructive behaviors in front of us, then we are doing just as much damage as the addict is doing to himself, we are allowing just as much abuse as the abuser can dole out.

We tend to see the enabler as the victim and we’ve got a mantra for that: don’t victimize the victim.

But, who’s the victim when neither person is willing to live in the real world?

Is the victim the individual who wants to escape through addictive behaviors, or is the victim the person who wants to live in a world infused with magic hope that 'abusive behaviors' will just somehow change.

Both these types of individuals are addicted.

The enabler is the silent addict who gets high on the chaos of the alcoholic or on the crisis of the gambler or on the emotional intrusiveness of the abuser. 

None of us are free from addiction, as human beings we all have the ability to be addicted to something (maybe it’s sports or an addiction to collecting things, or shopping) because we’re just merely human and because we unconsciously develop our own special brand of addictions to self sooth, and use our mantra to repeat it to ourselves that we hope it’s okay.

What’s most important in taking care of someone else is that we have hope for their wellbeing, but it impossible to take care of others if we’re neglecting a sense of hope for change in our own selves. 

If there are people around you who are addicted to gambling, alcohol, drugs and if you keep hoping that they will change and yet, repeatedly see that they aren’t – then you need to redirect your hope from them onto yourself and go through a withdrawal from the addicted person. 

Only then will the person addicted to gambling, alcohol, or drugs have a possible glimpse that they, too, must create a real hope for themselves.

It’s hope for our self that enables the best and most effective caretaking of others.