Person A: “I’m in pain. I need help.”
Person B: “OK… I see,”
Person A: “OK??! Well, I’m telling you because I need you to be here for me. I need someone to care… and possibly help me too!”
Right here, at this point, any number of things might happen between Persons A and B, depending on their relationship. What if it’s a patient and a doctor? 14-year-old daughter and mother? 44-year-old daughter and mother? Husband and wife? Church-goer and Pastor?
There is no doubt that caring for another is a deeply sacred and human act. Some say the opposite of LOVE is not hate, but APATHY.
APATHY basically says, ‘I’m not concerned’, or ‘I don’t care.’ The word ‘apathy’ comes from the Greek apathos ‘without feeling’, or ‘without suffering’. To be apathetic is to not suffer/feel with the other.
A life filled with people who don’t care is a cruel world, indeed. After all, we come into the world hopeless and relying on the care of a mother or primary carer who… well, cares for us and ultimately keeps us alive. Our capacity to care and be cared for is hard-wired into our very being.
So what of the mother of the newborn with mastitis? She cares with her heart, but can’t care with her milk.
What about the single dad who must work the night of his son’s school graduation? He cares with his good intentions but can’t care with his time.
Desire to care and avail/ability to care don’t always meet, do they? And it can be painful for both parties.
The hungry baby and her sick mum.
The disappointed son and his working dad.
The complex medical patient and the fatigued surgeon.
The lonely parishioner and her busy minister.
The overwhelmed divorcee and his burnt-out therapist.
The struggling football team and their sick volunteer coach.
The list goes on…
For those of us who work in caregiving spaces and vocations, it’s important for us to know when we can’t care. We are finite beings; wisdom, circumstances, priorities and supply all dictate our capacity to be present and to give.
Repeat after me, “I’m not a super-human. I have limits. I matter too. I DO care. I mean well. I just can’t always care.”
People who are in pain are generally concerned with one thing: Relief. They will do what they can to not be in pain. When someone or something is not available, pain may well want to discharge through blame. So when you can’t care, and therefore won’t care, you may hear, “You DON’T care.” In most cases, this is pain talking and looking for some relief; therefore, consideration for you and your scenario is being overruled by their pain and immediate need.
They probably don’t know what sort of day, week or year you have had. They probably aren’t aware of the fact that you may be depleted, overworked or overwhelmed. They probably don’t know you’re struggling physically or financially or emotionally. They probably don’t know (or want to know) that you have other commitments that are important to you unless you tell them, and even then, their pain and need is probably going to seem bigger and more important.
It takes some practice but giving that accusing voice that says ‘you don’t care, no space in your heart is important because it is lying. The truth is, you are compassionate and you do care. You just can’t care in the way the other person requires at this point in time.
It’s important to note also that sometimes, the person looking to you for help is NOT going to think it’s a big deal if you cannot help them, especially if there are other options and/or they carry a level of emotional maturity into the situation. But this doesn’t mean WE may not feel guilty. It doesn’t mean we won’t hear an INNER voice that says ‘You don’t care!’. Those of us who’ve struggled with codependency know how this feels, and it can be hard inner work discovering where that inner voice is coming from and how it became part of us. And no, it’s not the devil, it’s most likely a part of your soul/heart that needs some love, truth and integration… But that’s a whole other thing.
So the next time you can’t meet the need or demand of another OR they can’t help you, consider that Don’t Care and Can’t Care are not the same thing.
You may also like: Accountability Shift. When it is good to care less.