Caretaking & Co-Dependency

Build your relationships first….then your dentistry. ~ Bob Barkley

Caretaking & Co-Dependency

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Co-dependency is represented by a group of behaviors which can either cause -or lead us into- unhealthy relationships with others. And the level of co-dependency present varies from one patient to the next. To better visualize this issue, imagine dependency existing on a behavioral continuum, with minimal dependency represented on the right side under the word “Caregiving” and maximal dependency on the left side under the word “Care-taking”:

Care-taking <———-> Caregiving
Dependent -Co-dependent -Interdependent

When we are mostly Caretaking, we are in a some form of a dependency relationship. When we are mostly in Caregiving mode, we are functioning mostly out of an INTERdependent relationship, where responsibilities and ownership are much more co-equal.

In reality, we can both Caretake and Caregive at the same time, with one behavior being more dominant than the other depending on the area of a relationship. And historically, we are somewhat used-to, if not expectant of –  a dependency relationship with a highly educated doctor. But the internet and other broad cultural changes has shifted that expectation in the mind of much of the public. And in its place is now a reservation of trust and skepticism (which paradoxically promotes more dependency in spite of the intention to avoid it).

Our goal as health-centered dentists should be to reduce Caretaking behavior as much as possible, as dependency in many cases it is a learned behavior which can be changed via a truly helping relationship.

So how can we tell how each particular relationship is trending? Hints:

-Caretaking (dependency) tends to be stressful, where Caregiving tends to be energizing.

-Caretaking (dependency) violates interpersonal boundaries, where Caregiving tends to respect them.

-Caretaking (dependency) tends to attract needy people who do not value collaborative relationships very highly.

-Caregiving tends to attract more health-oriented  people who are more willing to listen, learn, grow, and change IF they perceive what they are learning is in their best interest.

-Caretakers tend to start fixing problems (or selling the need for immediate fixing) when problems arise which tends to create or maintain dependency. On the other hand, Caregivers tend to respectfully wait to be asked for help while facilitating awareness of the need for it, and thus encourage self-responsibility, growth, and ownership where appropriate.

With this in mind, consider the patients you would rather avoid, and I’ll bet you are in a Caretaking relationship with them. Conversely, consider the patient’s you most enjoy being around, and I’ll bet you are in a caregiving, co-equal, and mutually respectful relationship with them.

Clearly, there will always be patients with whom we will always be in a dependency/caretaking relationship due to their physical or mental disability, but we do have a choice regarding the others; we do have a choice regarding whether or not we we will maintain our co-dependency relationship with them.

The toughest question to ask ourselves: Do we maintain too many co-dependency relationships because they benefit us financially, or emotionally? If the candid answer is “yes”, then it may be ourselves refusing to grow and develop; it may be ourselves lacking in the courage to challenge the status quo and move forward toward greater health.

Paul A Henny DDS

Thought Experiments LLC, ©2017


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