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The Caregiving Paradox

Updated: Feb 1

How to refuel when the servant heart leads to self-neglect.

- Teresa Jacobson, DBH, LPCC-S, NCC

June 19, 2020

An act of selfless love leads to others. The empathetic compassion of a caregiver is evident. But due to the very nature of a servant's heart, too much selflessness can lead to self-neglect.

Benevolence in a relationship can enhance relational harmony (Dambrun, 2017). But what might have begun as acts of love inside a relationship can actually lead to acts of servantry as a trait of personality.

Enter the caregiving paradox.

Sometimes the servant heart gives everything away, which can lead to vulnerability, exploitation, neglect of self, and physical and psychological consequences.

Too much selflessness in a relationship by one member can lead to drawbacks: "...personal well-being is maximized only to the extent that people are not self-neglecting in their communal care" (Le, Lemay, Impett, & Muise). These self-less acts that are repeated unequally can also unknowingly cause "learned helplessness" in the recipient, conditioning the recipient to become dependent on the giver.

The servant heart can become distressed by caregiving. "We have demonstrated that caregivers face considerable hidden challenges and that there are consequences of living with unmet needs and enduring anguish" (Winham, Frost, & Britten, 2017).

This "caregiver burden" can lurk in silence, which can be detrimental to the caregiver, and possibly lead to a volatile situation for the recipient of care. Caregivers, please take notice.

If you are running on empty, please begin to apply the same servant heart you give to others, to yourself. Self-preservation can feel selfish to the servant heart.

But self-care is not selfish; it is absolutely necessary.

If acts of benevolence are not in your nature, you may want to begin because research reveals that selfless contributions can lead to higher life satisfaction (Dambrun, 2017). The key becomes being intentional about the extent of caregiving that that is given, and giving attention to the need to build in self-care routines for the caregiver.

How to ensure your own well-being if you habitually put others first.

Building in realistic self-care routines to each day can help bring balance.

A great start to your self-care journey while being stretched with all the caregiving you do, is to give yourself permission -- and the prescription -- to dedicate 15 minutes each day to yourself. Ideas for the prescription include:

Self-compassion - be attentive to your needs and your thoughts, ensuring you are gently but firmly encourage the motivation you need to comfort and pamper yourself.

Mindfulness - breath awareness or deep diaphragmatic breathing can be helpful; paying attention to all 5 senses for a few minutes to recognize everything in that present moment without judgement.

Mind and body relaxation - what are your go to things that you have forgotten to do to relax. Listen to music, read for a few minutes, walk in nature, yoga, tai chi, dance.

Eat nutritiously - feed your body with all the colors, less processed food, and more healthy options to feed your soul and brain.

Find support - through connections or professional help, support can help (you know this because you embody support for others).

If you feel alone in your plight as a caregiver, please know you are not. By treating yourself with the same amount of compassion you give others; your health will thank you. "Endurance and persistence will be rewarded" and your life will feel even more fulfilling and serene.


Teresa Jacobson is a Doctor of Behavioral Health and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Supervisor who is counseling Ohio and Kentucky adults of all ages and life experiences via secure Telehealth/Video visits. A strength-based, person-centered multi-cultural counselor, with an existential philosophy, Teresa can be reached by emailing, calling (513) 206-3026, or visiting



Dambrun, M. (2017). Self-centeredness and selflessness: happiness correlates and mediating

psychological processes. PeerJ doi:10.7717/peerj.3306

Le, B.M., Lemay, E.P., Impett, E.A., and Muise, A. (2018). Communal motivation and well-being in

interpersonal relationships: An integrative review and meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin,

Wingham, J., Frost, J., & Britten, N. (2017). Behind the smile: qualitative study of caregivers' anguish and

management responses while caring for someone living with heart failure. BMJ Open.



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