One of the most common questions our therapists get asked is: What is the difference between caretaking and caregiving?

In order to answer this question, we first need to talk about codependency. Codependency is a behavioral pattern, typically learned in childhood, that arises from difficult, traumatic, or unstable home environments. For example, a child living with a parent or family member who has substance abuse or is emotionally unavailable or abusive may develop codependent behaviors. These behaviors then go on to create a series of unhealthy future relationships. 

There are two common roles that partners play in a codependent relationship. The first is the role of the enabler or “caretaker”, the second is the role of the victim or “taker”. The result is an unhealthy, unbalanced relationship where one partner gives too much and the other takes. 


Caretaking vs. Caregiving: What’s the Difference?


As we mentioned, caretaking is a major indicator of a codependent relationship. A partner who is caretaking will give too much to their partner and to the relationship and too little to themselves. The result can be low self-esteem, emotional highs and lows, exhaustion, resentment, or anxiety. Caretaking behavior is rooted in fear and insecurity (not in love) and manifests as the need to control the other person or situation. 

Signs of caretaking include:

  • Putting other’s needs above your own.

  • Feeling stressed out and overwhelmed most of the time.

  • Intense emotional highs and lows.

  • Low self-esteem and self-confidence. 

  • A lack of personal boundaries; a lack of respect for the boundaries of others.

  • Feeling that other people are taking advantage of you; having strings attached when you give to others.

  • The need to please others.

  • Attracting dramatic relationships and needy or abusive people.

  • A lack of trust that other people can solve their own problems and take care of themselves.


Caregiving, on the other hand, is caring for another person out of love and kindness; no fear, no insecurity, no strings attached. It’s giving of oneself in a healthy, balanced way that serves all parties involved.  

Signs of caregiving include:

  • Having clear boundaries for yourself and respecting the boundaries of others.

  • Putting yourself and your needs first, knowing you can only help other people when you are taken care of.

  • Caring for others because it feels good; giving of your time and energy with no strings attached.

  • Trusting that other people can take care of themselves and handle their own problems; stepping in to help only if and when they ask for it.

In our culture today, many people are experiencing codependent relationships and caretaking behavior without knowing it. And because codependency affects all areas of our life – our relationships with others, our self-esteem and self-confidence, and the way we engage in the world – it’s essential we learn to identify codependent patterns and heal the core wounds causing it.

The first step towards healing from codependency and caretaking is to educate yourself on the signs and symptoms. Look out for the above indicators, observe yourself and identify whether your own behaviors and patterns with yourself and others are healthy or unhealthy. 

The next step is to begin replacing caretaking behaviors with caregiving behaviors. Put yourself first. Trust other people to take care of themselves. Explore and establish your own boundaries, while learning to respect the boundaries of others. Step in and give of yourself only when it feels good to you and is requested by others.

Healing from codependency can be painful and difficult. Many people find it helpful to seek the support of a group such as Al-Anon or one-on-one sessions with a mental health professional. At The Relationship Therapy Center, our professionally trained and licensed therapists are dedicated to helping you uncover and release codependency behaviors and develop compassionate self-care. Our mission is to empower our clients to positively transform their lives through healthy relationships with themselves and others. 

Choose from in-person counseling in Roseville or Fair Oaks, California, or online counseling for those located in the state of California. Speak with our client care coordinator today to schedule a free, twenty-minute consultation and see if codependency treatment is the right choice for you.

Other Services offered at The Relationship Therapy Center in California:

In addition to codependency counseling, Our Sacramento area counseling clinics located in Roseville and Fair Oaks, CA are pleased to offer a variety of mental health services. Our couples services include: Couples Counseling, Counseling after infidelity, sex therapy, co-parent counseling, family therapy, divorce counseling, intensive couples retreats, and premarital counseling. Our individual therapy services include anxiety treatment, therapy for children, teen therapy, depression treatment, codependency counseling and individual relationship counseling. Our therapists offer online counseling in California to treat a variety of mental health concerns. Please reach out to our Sacramento area therapy office to learn more about the many ways we can help you or your loved ones.