- JD Mason / Unsplash
- Highly empathetic people may be “caretakers.”
- These people have a lot of sympathy for others, but often don’t take care of themselves.
- Toxic people like narcissists attract caretakers because they have so much to give.
- One way to stop the cycle is to have a strong support system of people around you.
- This Valentine’s Day, make sure you remember to take care of yourself too.
There’s no end of different qualities that people find alluring about each other, but some particular types of people are attracted to each other like moths to flames.
If you have very high levels of empathy for others, you might be at risk of attracting somebody toxic.
According to therapist Margalis Fjelstad, sometimes people care about others to the detriment of themselves – she calls these people “caretakers” in her book “Stop Caretaking the Borderline or Narcissist: How to End the Drama and Get On.”
“It is a person who is focusing all of their energy to taking care of the emotional needs of someone else,” Fjelstad told Business Insider. “And giving up, quite honestly, on their own emotional needs in order to do that.”
Someone who is a caretaker is naturally very easy going and flexible, as well as being highly empathetic and caring.
“They’re always looking for someone they can help,” Fjelstad said. “So that makes them terribly attractive to someone who is emotionally focused on themselves… someone who is so self-focused they don’t really have a lot of energy to give someone else, except sporadically.”
Fjelstad came up with the term because there is a magnetic attraction between people who are caretakers and those who have a desperate need to be taken care of, such as narcissists.
A caretaker will be willing to put up with the kind of push and pull behaviour of a narcissist, when they have good days and bad days. An empathetic and caring person will think: “I’m so sorry you’re having a bad day, let me help you.”
It can be exhausting
Caretakers often find themselves exhausted by their relationships, because they over-give all the time, Fjelstad said. You can never give narcissists enough, so they’re always asking for more. This triggers caretakers to believe they are selfish, always trying to do more and more, and ending up feeling very depleted.
As for how they got this way, it depends. Some people are born with these traits, and others learn them from their upbringing. For example, some people are raised by parents who are very self-focused – maybe with a substance abuse problem or a mental health issue – and thus they work out they have to take care of their parent to survive.
According to Lisa Aronson Fontes, a psychologist and author of “Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship,” most girls are raised to be caretakers.
“Even when we raise our daughters to have a career and strive for economic independence, we typically also raise them to take care of other’s needs,” she told Business Insider.
“Girls become acutely aware of the moods of those around them, and feel responsible for making others feel happy. Girls feel responsible for meeting others’ needs, whereas boys are typically raised to get their own needs met. From the start, this creates a gender imbalance in a relationship, which is one of several reasons why women are much more likely to be abused by their partners than men.”
Once they are out of the toxic relationship, one way caretakers can stop the cycle is by making sure they have a strong support system of people around them.
For a long time they may have been isolated from others by their controlling partner, so to avoid getting into this situation again, they need to learn they have a right to be who they are, and have people in their life who care about them.