A client recently called for an emergency session.  Here’s the gist of it.  

My mom is killing me. I swear I am not going to make it to Christmas this year. She asked me to come home for the weekend to help her with getting the house ready for Christmas and when I arrive, she already has everything done. I’m shocked but ask if I can help wrap presents or if there is anything else she needs. No, she says. Everything is done. I have just driven 2 hours to spend the day and there is nothing to do. I suggested we go out shopping to find a few things I want to buy for the house, and she says, no, you go ahead dear. I am way too tired. And don’t get me started on what she said when I asked what she wanted for Christmas, because it made me lose my mind. After a gigantic sigh, she said, “Oh, I don’t really need anything. I just wish for once that my children would help me get the house ready.”  

Sound familiar? No matter how you try, you can’t help and are made to look like you don’t care.  

Caring is a natural human instinct. We all tend to show love and support to people closest to us. We care about our families, friends, co-workers, even strangers in distress. We are ready to go that extra mile for our loved ones. But when caring becomes an obsession, not only does it cause you anxiety, but it can also take a serious toll on your relationships. Can you relate? 

What is the Caretaking Codependent Dysfunction? 

Definition of Careaholic: Someone who is addicted to taking care of others at the expense of themselves. 

Caretaking codependent behavior was one of the first behaviors associated with Codependence back when the caretaking behavior of the partner of an alcoholic was recognized as contributing to or enabling alcoholism. This is a strategy where one focuses on the needs of others, anticipating and taking care of them in order to feel safe. Being helpful and needed is a way of staying in control, the dominant partner, parent, and decision maker. They form relationships and friendships with people who are struggling in some way, taking the more dominant position. They become anxious should others show independence from them. 

Caretaking means that if someone else has a problem, you want to help them to the point that you give up yourself, your money, time and energy. While It’s normal and natural to feel empathy and sympathy for someone, codependents have their own agenda for helping over and above the needs of others. In fact, they might feel rejected if another person doesn’t want help or goes to someone else for advice. 

Caretaking Codependent Strategies 

Caretaking Codependents use a variety of tactics to ensure they others depend on them. It’s their agenda they are driving as they get their need met to have everyone connected, even if they have to do all the work themselves.   

Fosters Dependence   

This codependent strategy includes making others dependent on them by doing everything for them. This is the mother who is doing their adult children’s laundry despite having a full-time job. Or the father who is at their children’s beck and call any time of the night to pick them up from wherever they are stranded. They don’t expect their children who are actually young adults, to be responsible for themselves. Children end up believing they are much more competent and capable than they really are because of all of the behind-the-scenes work the Caretaking Codependent is doing for them.   

Manipulation & Martyrdom  

When acting from the Caretaker Codependent strategy, people use emotion to manipulate others to get them to do what they want. They will demonstrate sincere caring and use flattery or charm to get them to do things they want them to. They will also use guilt to get people to do things for them, bemoaning how much work they have on their plate. Their communication is indirect, never saying, “Hey, I haven’t seen you for a while. I miss you.” Instead, they say, “I guess you have more important things to do than visit me.” Or “I fell last week and sprained my hip and couldn’t get out of bed. If only you called once and a while, you might have helped me.”  

Lack Boundaries  

Caretaking codependents focus so much on meeting the needs of others that they extend themselves beyond what they want or need. They don’t just help, they take you over. If you ask to help them, they say no. If you get up to get something for yourself, they jump up and do it for you. They experience guilt should they be sick and need something from you. The Caretaker is often relentless in having to take care or worry about someone because they need to feel needed to validate them and increase their self-esteem.  

Are You a Careaholic? Get Tips for Letting Go of Control 

Learn more about the Caretaking Codependent Dysfunction and you can open the door to being cared for in Episode 43 of our ‘Dismantling Dysfunction’ Podcast. www.dismantlingdysfunction.com  

Make sure you sign up for our weekly newsletters for tips on how to dismantle dysfunction: https://bit.ly/dismantlingdysfunction  

What Can I Do If I Am in a Codependent Relationship?  

We specialize in helping clients identify codependent and other dysfunctional behaviors in relationships. We have several counseling approaches we take – individual, group, couples – to help individuals break free of the dysfunctional codependent behaviors that are destructive to relationships. Contact us for a consultation to find out how we can help. 

For more information about how you can develop as a leader through individual coaching or participating in a leadership coaching program, contact us at [email protected].


Anne and Heather are organizational and leadership development experts at Caliber Leadership Systems, a boutique consulting firm specializing in dismantling of dysfunction in organizations.  They are dedicated to empowering individuals, leaders, and organizations to achieve their potential by leveraging their expertise in the neurobiology of human development combined with system thinking approach. They wear many hats – Consultants, Executive Coaches, Trainers, Speakers and Authors – adapting their expertise and solutions to meet the needs of their clients. They bring a unique depth and breadth of knowledge and experience that gives clients the benefit of all of our disciplines to help them achieve their goals

As experts in human development and behavioral change, leadership and organizational transformation, interpersonal dynamics and the achievement of potential, Anne and Heather have worked with thousands of leaders and individuals from around the world, been featured in dozens of publications, spoken at professional conferences, and written several series of books on personality type and the brain based on the Striving Styles® and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®.

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