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The Caregiver Archetype

Archetypes are characters, situations and objects in myths, art, literature, religion, and fairytales that are universally identified. For example, Warrior, Teacher and Servant are experienced in most cultures yet in different forms.

There are no good or bad, better or worse archetypes. They all bring qualities worthy of incorporating into our lives at certain times and yet, they need to be in balance. When out of balance, archetypal energy feels as if something has taken over us, becoming possessive and controlling.

The Caregiver archetype is also known as the Saint, Altruist, Parent, Helper, Supporter and Nurturer. It shows up as nurse, social/personal support worker, Mr. Fix-It, Maria (Julie Andrews) in The Sound of Music, and in a negative form as Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) in Misery.

The positive side of the Caregiver is that he or she unselfishly and compassionately gives care. They are supportive, understanding, empathetic, encouraging and optimistic. They draw people to them by their innate altruistic personalities, dedication and patience.

Caregivers are most fulfilled when they are making a difference in the life of someone else. They are dedicated to supporting others which is found in their ability to listen, stay positive, advocate for others and provide counsel, and externally expect very little in return. These traits often show up as an inability to say ‘no’ to others.

In their pursuit to help others, Caregivers end up hurting themselves, as seen in the form of burnout or feeling as if they are being taken advantage of.  Some Caregivers have a hard time with balancing self-care with caring for others, and can work themselves into exhaustion.

This placing of others first often leads to resentment – a signal to question, “What am I doing to myself that I resent?” When Caregivers continually and undiscerningly respond to others’ requests and needs (aka ‘being nice’), the psyche takes a hit. This over compromising can lead to self-martyrdom, and soon we are hearing, “Look at all I’ve done for you.”

Caregivers, in their underlying pursuit of fixing and even controlling others, may engage in guilt-tripping or pushing a personal agenda onto others. Some Caregivers might only help others for personal gain or may infer that they are the only means of helping others achieve, taking on the Saviour role/complex. Now the Caregiver archetype has raised its ugly head!

The Caregiver often tries to please everyone and be everything to everyone. However, this insatiable need to fix, care for and make everyone happy is an impossibly task. The lesson for the Caregiver is to learn when to help and when not to. The Caregiver needs to learn that it is healthy at times not to help others and to let go of the fear of feeling selfish or losing a sense of control by not helping.  We are not responsible for others’ journeys; we can only witness them, detach and take ownership of our lives.

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Diane Hancox, MA, CCC provides counselling services to Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Nanaimo and Vancouver Island.