Trapped In The Role Of Being An Emotional Caretaker

By Randi Kreger

Are you who are overly empathetic, self-sacrificing, generous, perfectionistic, deferential, more willing to put other’s needs before your own, and uncomfortable with conflict? Then you are more vulnerable to being emotional caretaker, according to Margalis Fjelstad’s new book, Stop Caretaking The Borderline/Narcissist In Your Life: Let Go Of Their Life And get a Life of Your Own (Rowman & Littlefield, Feb 2013).

“Yes” answers to these questions may indicate you’re an emotional caretaker:


  1. Do you have trouble knowing what your limits are?
  2. Do you trust someone else’s view of reality better than you do your own?
  3. Do you hope that sacrificing yourself will make your partner want to fill your needs?
  4. Do you believe that your love can heal your partner?
  5. Do you see your job as fixing others and/or making them happy?
  6. Do you aspire to perfection you never can seem to reach?
  7. Is “selfish” the worst thing a person could can say about you?
  8. Do you believe in a lot of “should’s” and “shouldn’ts” and other rules?
  9. Do you believe it’s your obligation to continually “prove” that you love your partner?
  10. Do you believe in rigid roles for males and females?


  1. Do you feel guilty if you talk about your partner to other people?
  2. Do you feel like nothing without a partner? Is a bad relationship better than none at all?
  3. Do you have low self-esteem; unworthy as you are?
  4. Are you angry a lot of the time?
  5. Do you distrust your partner, even though you think trust is essential for good relationships?
  6. Do you usually lack chemistry with kind, stable, reliable people?
  7. Do you need to be needed, or are you attracted to needy people?
  8. Do you seek approval from others?
  9. Do fear, obligation and guilt guide the way you behave in relationships?
  10. Do you have more empathy for your partner than she has for you?
  11. Do you feel responsible for other people’s emotions?
  12. Do you obsess about your partner?
  13. Do you feel isolated, depressed, hopeless, or helpless?
  14. Do you feel guilty for having thoughts and feelings that are different from those of your partner?
  15. Do you love your partner for who they are right now, or who you wish them to be?
  16. Are you preoccupied with dreams and wishes that could be rather than the reality of your relationship now?
  17. Do you detest conflict and try to avoid it?


  1. Do you have a hard time setting boundaries?
  2. Do you routinely give more than you get in relationships in an effort to try to please?
  3. Do you ignore your own needs or have trouble taking care of yourself?
  4. Have you ever lied or kept secrets about your partner’ behavior?
  5. Do you usually defer to your partner’s wants even though he rare does the same for you?
  6. Do you usually bow to your partner’s demands even when it hurts, such as cutting people out of your life?
  7. Do you protect your partner from the consequences of his negative behaviors?
  8. Do other people tell you that you shouldn’t put up with your partner’s behavior?
  9. Do you distrust this advice, even though you agree with them about most things?
  10. Do you make excuses for your partner’s behavior?
  11. When the excuse no longer applies, do you come up with a new one?
  12. Do you assume most of the responsibility for household chores and daily responsibilities?
  13. If you are a man, does your partner lay her hands on you in any way?
  14. Do you tell yourself you can take it because you’re bigger than her?
  15. Do you have trouble standing up for yourself and acting in your own best interests?
  16. Do you do things for other people that they can do for themselves?
  17. Have you gone back to the relationship after spending time with the authorities for false accusations?
  18. Do you stay fiercely attached to other people and situations even when you know you’re being damaged?

According to Dr. Fjelstad, who has a private psychotherapy practice in Ft. Collins, CO, emotional caretakers are fixers and rescuers who often have had a borderline or narcissistic family member.

As a caretaker, she says, it is your job to please and take care of the BP/NP first and foremost. To do this you will have learned to ignore your own needs, adapted to a highly emotional tense and chaoticenvironment, and become hyper-vigilant to the BP/NP’s emotional reactions. Your job is to do everything that the BP/NP is not willing or able to do, give in to whatever the BP/NP wants, and carefully monitor the family’s image in the community.

CLICK HERE to read more.