Caring Currents

12 Signs of an Over-Involved Caregiver

Last updated:

February 26, 2009
Christmas #5
Image by kevindooley used under the creative commons attribution license.

Can a person "care too much?" Perhaps not emotionally -- hearts are pretty boundless -- but in practical terms, definitely, yes. It is possible to do too much for the person you look after.

Obviously, aging relatives need lots of assistance, and more in some situations than others. Providing help is both necessary and good -- even lifesaving. But sometimes well-intentioned caregivers overdo the role without realizing it.

Net result: Three not-so-great things:

  1. You hurt yourself by becoming at risk for chronic stress, burnout, or ill health from not taking good care of yourself
  2. The rest of your life suffers: A spouse grows resentful and distant, you're less attentive or fall behind at work, your child feels neglected, your friends think you've dropped off the planet.
  3. The person on whose behalf you're working so tirelessly also is negatively affected. He or she may feel resentment over what's perceived as invasiveness, may become depressed over a lack of control in his or her life, or may develop "learned helplessness" and mental and physical skills suffer from lack of practice.

How do you know when you've crossed the line from good intentions to brink-of-backfiring? Every situation is different, but the following clues can give you some idea:

  • You handle all the details of the person's life so effectively that they complain of feeling "bored" and having "nothing to do."
  • You're regularly in doctors' offices – but they're the doctors of the person you look after. You can't remember the last time you had a check-up of your own.
  • You can't remember the last time you took a "day off"  -- that is a day in which you left the house, left your everyday life, and did not do the majority of caregiving yourself.
  • Pretty much your main hobby is eldercare.
  • You prepare all the meals, even though the person could do some of the prep work or cooking – even if it took longer or wasn't done quite the way you'd prefer.
  • You'll drop everything to take a call from Mom or Dad multiple times a day and then resist bringing the conversation to a close once you realize it's not an emergency.
  • You have more fixed appointments in your weekly calendar for the person you take care of than just for you --i.e. no lunch dates, standing walks with a friend, visits to a gym.
  • You've never even checked into eldercare resources in your area – just to see what kinds of programs and services are out there. (Transportation? Meal delivery? Adult day classes?)
  • You offer to do things for others reflexively -- but you'd really never think of asking someone to do something very specific for you.
  • You cater to the person's special diet needs (low salt, for example) but don't pay any special attention to your own nutrition.
  • The last time you took a vacation was before the last election cycle began.
  • A friend or relative slips and calls you a "control freak." It may sting, but before you get too insulted, ask why. They might just have a point.