Become a Caretaker, not a Dependent

Why it is really in your best interest to take care of yourself and others

In the human world — where a large part of activities are based on trades and exchanges — our collective well-being often hinges upon us regularly reaching out to another.

For example, when we're in trouble, we might find ourselves on the receiving end of a good deed, while in other cases, we can also be the one initiating the deed.

On the surface, it might seem that those who're doing the giving are clearly on the losing end of the bargain, but the fact is, it is actually much more beneficial to give than it is to receive.

In fact, this is a theme that will become increasingly apparent — as we dwell into the nature of caretaking and the nature of being taken care of.

Caretaker vs. Dependent

If you are like most of us, you have people in your life who are important to you. Most likely, they've done a lot of good deeds to deserve your trust and gratitude. For example:

  • They could be your parents, who provide you with nourishment and financial support.
  • They could be your children, who provide you with joy and companionship.
  • They could be your friends, who provide you with personal advice and insight. 
  • They could be your heroes, who provide you with vision and hope.

Whoever they are, these people fall into the category of what we'd like to call the caretakers. That is:

Someone who regularly takes care of a place, a thing, or a person.

And then, there's also the dependents on the other side of the spectrum, who regularly depend on others to get their needs met — whether the needs be physical, emotional, financial or spiritual.

Under these broad definitions, we can see that in our society, both caretakers and dependents can assume different roles and forms. For example:

  • In the context of senior care, nurses could be the caretakers and seniors could be the dependents.
  • In the context of parenting, parents could be the caretakers and children could be the dependents. 
  • In the context of art, artists could be the caretakers and fans could be the dependents (even though the reverse could also be true).
  • In the context of romance, one party could assume the role of an emotional caretaker, while the other the dependent.

Of course, these attributes are by no means fixed. In fact, it is very common for one to assume the role of a caretaker in one area and a dependent in another.

Being a Caretaker

So, what is it actually like to be a caretaker? And what are the benefits — if any — to actually being one?

For starters, a person usually doesn't become a caretaker from day one, not to mention that the benefits are usually the last thing they have in mind. If anything, they might only embark on that role for some deeply-rooted psychological reasons such as:

  • Wanting to be in a position to help out those who they hold dear to heart
  • Wanting to follow similar people who've left indelible mark in their life
  • Wanting to be able to contribute to a worthy cause
  • Wanting to use caretaking as a proxy for self-improvement

The interesting thing is, selectively taking care of others is not just altruistic, but highly sell-fulfilling as well. After all, humans are for the most part hard-wired to derive happiness from being useful, and this is a beautiful thing.

Moreover, your desire to assist those around you can prompt you to develop valuable skills that you might not have been able to develop otherwise. These can include, for instance:

  • Earning more income
  • Learning to cook
  • Developing caregiving skills
  • Providing emotional support

What's more, by taking care of others, you'll also feel stronger, more confident and more reliable. You'll become a productive member of the society — rather than a mindless consumer who has no input of their own.

💡 Pathological Caretaking

Of course, here we're not talking about the more pathological forms of caretaking (as in some romantic or domestic relationships), where one is compelled to help out to maintain their emotional stability or control of others, leading to either codependency or exploitation.

Being a Dependent

If you're like most people, there are also times where you need to depend on others to keep things afloat. This can happen for instance if:

  • You're still young and has yet to learn the skills to stand up on your own.
  • You find yourself in an emergency or a change of trend, which puts you in great financial trouble.
  • You accidentally lose someone important to you, which brings you great pain and emotional distress.
  • Your body is in one way or another preventing you from living independently on your own.

And if you have a similar experience to the ones above, you'd know how it feels like to be a dependent to someone else: you feel grateful, because that someone allows you to stay afloat, and guilty, because you're unfairly taking advantage of their resources.

In fact, it might even seem that the more you're being helped, the more you'd realize that it can't continue forever: you might feel angry, you might feel helpless, it might betray your sense of justice, or you might end up saying something like this:

Shouldn't I be the one doing the helping, instead of the one being helped?

But then, there is also the possibility that none of these rings any bell to you. Maybe you feel that others are responsible for your misfortune, or maybe you're simply too used to being helped. Either way, there's neither guilt or gratitude coming from you.

Shifting Towards Caretaking

So far, we've seen how caretakers and dependents both have their advantages and disadvantages. For simplicity, here's a visual rundown of the pros and cons from multiple angles:


  • Physical: Regular loss of short-term resources
  • Cognitive: Acquisition or reinforcement of resource-acquisition skills
  • Emotional: More fulfillment, satisfaction, pride and confidence


  • Physical: Regular gain of short-term resources (food, physical care, money, emotional support)
  • Cognitive: No acquisition or reinformcement of resource-acquisition skills
  • Emotional: Gratitude, guilt, helplessness, discomfort

In particular, since caretakers get more of their higher-level needs met from their work while dependents only get their lowest-level needs met by being idle, this shows that the world is indeed structured in such a way that encourages taking care of others as a way of taking care of oneself.

Moreover, since caretaking is itself a positive feedback loop and humans are hard-wired to believe in fairness, one can expect that caretakers would continue to inspire more caretakers, while dependents would continue to convert to caretakers out of both positive and negative pressures.

But then, why wait patiently for nature to take its course when the benefits are this clear? After all, taking care of others is a decision that can be made at any moment — even now.

To do so, all you have to do is to look at the areas in your life where you are dependent on others, and reverse your role:

  • Instead of depending on others financially, be a financial provider to others.
  • Instead of relying on your relatives for food, learn to cook for them.
  • Instead of relying on your loved ones for emotional support, be the emotional support to them.
  • Instead of feeling sorry for your physical frailty, become committed to strengthening your body and showing up for others.

While doing so, you can also try to identify the things you want to protect — and the things you need to do to protect them. This will allow you to extend your effort from your inner circle to the larger world, and which can include, for example:

  • Hanging out with your grandparents
  • Helping out marginalized women

So whenever you're in doubt, choose self-sufficiency over external reliance, and whenever someone deserves help, choose caretaking as a way to enrich yourself.

One day, when the world is composed of a majority of caretakers, it will become stronger and more resilient. And when that happens, there will be much less unnecessary suffering in this world.

But until then, the world needs you to stand up for yourself and others, to become someone who can take care of others — instead of someone who's being taken care of.

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