Pathological Caregiving

When a person grows up in a chaotic home- a home with addiction, abuse, mental illness, or compulsive behaviors of any kind, children try to adapt to their environment in order to get their basic needs met. They become caregivers of the people who are supposed to be caring for them…. and later in life, they often wind up becoming therapists or healers of some kind.

“The child’s attachment schema becomes dedicated to attuning to the moods and needs of the parent and, then, to others. The child grows into self-awareness not just with the emotions of others experienced as its own, but also with a compulsion to regulate the emotions of others. Taking care of others serves as a substitute for self-soothing and inner emotional organization. For pathological caretakers, to feel is to feel bad. The result is that being alone is difficult and being with others requires a lot of work.

A one-sided, or even abusive relationship may be less frightening than solitude and the feelings that might follow. Caretakers make difficult clients because they learned early that when they are in distress, help is not forthcoming. At the core of their attachment relationships is the belief that others can be a source of responsibility, but not nurturance.

As clients, pathological caretakers present as depressed and exhausted by their inability to keep up with the needs of others and the defenses they employ in order to stay one step ahead of their feelings. At the same time, as clients, they will try to turn the table on their therapists and attempt to take care of them.

Some indications that you may be a pathological caretaker include:

• Having to keep busy all of the time
• Finding it easy to stand up for others but impossible to advocate for yourself
• Finding it difficult to refuse the demands of others
• Experiencing other peoples’ needs as your responsibilities • Not being able to take help from others
• Having friends that require much of you but are unable to provide for you
• Finding socializing and relationships to be exhausting or avoiding them altogether
• Believing that “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself”’


“Therapists often come out of childhood with strong conscious and unconscious needs to:

• Be perfect
• Be liked
• Avoid conflict
• Not have negative emotions
• Protect others from negative feelings
• Have few needs and no strong opinions

These tendencies are expressed in the therapeutic relationship as:

• Feeling total responsibility for the client’s improvement
• Difficulties coping with silence
• Needing to be liked or be a friend to the client
• Siding with the client against others in his or her life
• Inability to tolerate the client’s affect
• Keeping interactions at an intellectual level
• Giving advice”

(From Making of a Therapist by Louis Cozolino)

Do you recognize yourself in any of this? If so, Cellular Release Therapy® can be a very powerful tool to heal out of these patterns of relating to others.