Caring too much can be more harmful than helpful. The idea that we should be caring and compassionate individuals is not a new concept. We are taught at a very young age to care about others but the problem is that there is more importance placed on caring about what others think, do, and have. We are often programmed to care more about other people’s lives and their opinions than our own lives and opinions.
“What will the neighbours think?”
“Stop doing that—everyone is watching.”
We learn to care so much that we are in constant judgment or fear of judgment, judging whether others are good or bad, rich or poor, kind or mean, healthy or unhealthy; judging whether they like us or not and whether they approve of what we are doing or not doing. Caring more about others becomes a distraction from caring about ourselves and it also opens us up to deep hurt and more harm than good.
When I was knee-deep into the fitness and wellness industry, I was a sponge for knowledge. I was constantly taking courses, reading books, and studying research. Finding out how the body works and what makes it tick consumed me. I was addicted to health and sharing that message with others. It fed my childhood desire to save the world. In truth, it wasn’t just a strong desire—it became my responsibility. In other words, I made it my mission, my responsibility. It was on my shoulders to save the world and everyone in it, including the animals. Just a small burden to bear!
When people were interested in what I had to teach them, it was easy, fulfilling, and I felt a deep sense of purpose and impact. But my desire to save the world wasn’t just for those who were interested or ready to be saved. I wanted to help EVERYONE whether they wanted help or not. What I thought was if I could just teach them what I knew they would see how important it was and they would make the changes they needed to make to become healthy. I would give advice when it wasn’t welcome or I would invest much time and energy in trying to make others see the truth. I wanted them to “get it” so badly it consumed me. My love for them was fierce and I would stop at nothing.
I cared so much that if they didn’t change, I felt responsible. Then I cared so much that I became attached to whether they changed or not. I cared so much that I became attached to them taking the information and doing something with it. Then I cared so much that I became anxious and I worried about others constantly. I cared so much that I alienated some people in my life because I just wanted so badly for them to be healthy, happy, and live a long life.
When they didn’t “get it” or I wasn’t able to help them, I was devastated and carried them with me as one of my failures. After all, I had failed to help them. I had failed to help them see, to change their mind. Then I started to realize that caring too much was a heavy burden full of disappointment and suffering.
Shortly after I healed from cancer, I became obsessively worried about my family’s health. I was eating mostly organic super clean food with no sugar, no wheat, no gluten, and no dairy; I was green juicing every day. After receiving a diagnosis of a genetic liver disorder, I was more aware of what I put in my mouth and how it would affect my health.
My worry started to grow exponentially when I would compare how I was eating to how my husband and kids were eating. They had already said my diet was too extreme for them, but my fear kept growing and I felt heavy and responsible for keeping them healthy and safe. At the same time, I felt out of control because I couldn’t control everything they put in their mouths and their resistance to eating my way was strong. They ate mostly healthfully, but my fear-filled mind had me convinced it wasn’t healthy enough.
One morning in meditation I started to feel a huge layer of fear rising up around the health of my husband. He was stressed at work, he had gained some weight, and I kept being pointed to his heart. I felt this huge mountain of responsibility for keeping him healthy. I had a painful vision of him dying, and of me standing over his grave with a “guilty” sign strung around my neck. Tears streamed down my cheeks as though a faucet were pouring uncontrollably. I felt responsible for his health and I believed that if he died it would be all my fault. I would be responsible for his death because I hadn’t been able to convince him to change his ways. The burden was unbearable and it cracked my heart open.
My ego-mind had convinced me I was responsible for the health of my family because I bought the groceries. So if something would have happened to them, it would have been all my fault. Later that night, I shared my vision with my husband and told him the burden I was carrying. I explained how if he died it would be all my fault. His words were such a gift as they landed in a way that shifted everything for me. He said, “You are not responsible for me or anyone else’s health. My health choices are my health choices, not yours.”
I suddenly saw an opening in my mind and the terrifying grip of fear let go; a huge sense of relief washed over me. I couldn’t force them to eat a certain way. Trust me—I had tried and it hadn’t worked. Forcing them is not empowering them. It is not up to me; it is up to them. They must make the choice for themselves.
I felt a freedom I never felt before. It was as though I let go of a lifetime of attachment to the choices others make or don’t make. It is not up to me. I can empower them with knowledge but ultimately they need to feel empowered by making their own choices. I can show up and play my part but the rest is not up to me. It is like that old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.”
In my life and in my home, I lead by example. I buy healthy foods and make healthy meals, but my family doesn’t need to eat a hundred percent healthy all the time unless they want to. By processing my fears, I let go of my attachments around their health and accept their choices. I have also slowly let go of my judgments about their choices and freed them to empower themselves. Still, I do make decisions for my son around food, only because he would eat sugar all day long if I let him. The difference is when I do say no or yes to certain foods, it is now coming from a place of love not paralyzing fear and control disguised as caring.
We are programmed to care so much that we want to help, give advice, fix, change, and make right what we think is wrong in other people’s lives. The truth is that other people’s lives are none of our business, but we make them our business and that can come at a great sacrifice and much suffering.
Let’s take a look at the news for a moment. Do you feel better or worse after watching, reading, or listening to the news? I believe CNN is short for “constant negative news.” We are bombarded with images and stories that build fear and make us feel guilty for what we have, bad for what we don’t, and even worse for others. When we care so much that we feel sick to our stomach or we develop chronic anxiety about everything that is going wrong in the world, we are not helping; we are causing more harm. We are causing more harm to our own well-being, but we are also adding more fear to an already fear-filled world.
I used to believe that caring showed others that I loved them. People don’t need you to care in the form of worry. That is the same as sprinkling them with fear. People want to feel loved, and caring too much is not an expression of love: it is an expression of fear. So not only are we adding more fear to the pot, we are causing more suffering inside our own minds as we learn to chronically fret and worry about others. That is not loving to others or ourselves.
The world doesn’t need more fear and neither do we. We need more authentic genuine expressions of love sprinkled with empathy and compassion. Empathy calls us to imagine how they must be feeling and loving them in spite of those feelings. It is about being present for them to express and share how they feel without our judging them or trying to fix them or change how they feel. Just loving them in that moment and holding space for them to feel fully so they can heal is enough.
Instead, we are taught to sympathize by feeling sorry for others and their situations. People don’t need us to feel sorry for them and it only leaves us feeling bad at the same time. Meeting them in fear with our own fear is not helpful. Meeting their fear with your unconditional love and being a compassionate witness allows them to feel heard, seen, and understood and at the same time allows us to hold the high note and stand strong in the energy of love.
Today, I do my best to see everyone through the lens of love. I honour where they are and accept that some are willing to heal and some are not. The difference from the way I used to be is I now see everyone as capable. I see everyone’s potential and I focus on that without attachment.
I know that beyond their fear is all the love they could ever need or ever ask for. We all have access to that love. Some will turn toward the love and say YES and others will turn away from it and say no. I accept and honour them either way. I love them just the same. Now that doesn’t mean I devote my time and energy trying to help them all. I simply love them and I trust my heart to lead me. Either I will guide them or I won’t.
My responsibility is not to save the world anymore. I support those I am meant to support and free everyone else to live their life. I trust I will work with those I am meant to or they will find someone else. The pressure is off my shoulders because I took it off. The burden is no longer mine to carry because I put it down. I no longer care too much, but I have learned to love deeply without attachment and that has been the biggest gift I could have ever given myself and the world.
Stay tuned next week for chapter 2 ~ We Are More Connected Than We Are Separate
***This is an excerpt from Sue Dumais’ book “Stand UP Stand OUT Stand STRONG ~ A 30 Day Guide to Navigate Life When the SHIFT Hits the Fan”
Published on atfortyfive.com with permission from © Sue Dumais
If you’ve enjoyed this article share it. If you have thoughts on the content leave a comment below. Do you have expertise, knowledge, or a life experience to share? Visit the Contributor tab for more information.