If you have a loved one who is sick or otherwise relies on you for care, you know what a tough position this can be. It can be hard to feel like you're doing right by this person while still addressing all of your own needs. It can help a lot to learn about the caretaker vs. caregiver distinction.

A lot of people may think a caretaker and caregiver are the same thing. It's actually kind of funny, given that the difference in the two words is the word "take" instead of "give" and vice versa. These words are opposites. Despite the words inside them, they appear to be the same thing on the surface.

However, they're really not. Choosing to be a caretaker or caregiver to the person in your life who needs care makes a huge difference in your own quality of life.

You should really take the time to understand the concept of caretaker vs. caregiver and how it can affect you.

The Typical Caretaker

You may think being a caretaker is a good thing. Perhaps, on the surface it is. However, it's actually full of codependent behaviors.

Codependency is never a good thing for a relationship. It's a set of behaviors that lead to unhealthy relationships, one of these behaviors being caretaking.

Typical caretakers cross other people's boundaries. They don't trust other people's abilities to take care of themselves. When the person they're caring for has some sort of problem, they start fixing immediately, rather than giving the person room to work on it themselves.

Caretakers can often be dramatic in this role and focus a lot on problems, rather than solutions. They also tend to be judgmental of the way the people in their lives deal with their issues.

Plus, they often think they know what's best for everyone else. Caretakers have a tendency to attract people who are needy and demanding on their time.

The caretaking role is very stressful for a person and easily creates problems, such as depression and anxiety. Caretakers often make the mistake of believing that taking care of themselves is selfish. The role is exhausting and stressful.

Smiling caregiver take care of female patient

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The Typical Caregiver

If you want to know about the caretaker vs. caregiver distinction, caregiving is very different from caretaking. Typical caregivers respect boundaries and give freely without expecting anything in return.

They don't presume to know what's best for others, acknowledging that they only know what's best for themselves. And they don't start fixing other people's problems for them as soon as they arise.

Instead, they empathize and let the other person know he or she is not alone.

Caregivers focus on solutions rather than problems. They live and let live, understanding that there's no logic in judging others. They tend to attract healthier people.

Caregiving tends to decrease depression and anxiety in a person. Caregivers practice self-care, always keeping in mind that being happy and healthy allows them to be a better service to others.

The act of caregiving isn't stressful, instead it's re-energizing.

Caretaker Vs. Caregiver: What's The Difference?

From the descriptions you've just read, it might seem like caretakers and caregivers are two completely different categories of people.

However, this is usually not the case. Most people will actually fall somewhere along a continuum between the two.

The Main Difference

The main difference between caretaking and caregiving can be summed up as codependency or a lack thereof. Caretaking is characteristic of a codependent relationship, while caregiving isn't.

Let's say the person you're caring for has a problem. Are you going to tell them what to do, or are you just going to be there for them and allow them to figure out what's right themselves?

The answer to this question will tell you about where you fall on the caretaker vs. caregiver continuum.

A significant difference between caretaking and caregiving is establishing healthy boundaries. If you don't set boundaries, this can lead to a long-term relationship where you're doing a lot of caretaking.

Caretaking and codependency are closely related, and they are the case when a person who is in the carer role feels like they are ultimately responsible for the other person.


Overall, a codependent relationship is an unhealthy one. When you've assumed responsibility for the problems of a person you're caring for, he or she can end up manipulating you into assuming even more responsibility. And the vicious cycle will continue until you do something to break it.

The caretaker will start anticipating problems before they even arise and take on more control over the other person's life than the person even wants.

Then, they'll feel upset or angry when the person they're caring for doesn't really appreciate their help. This can easily lead to carer fatigue, where the caretaker is overextended and overwhelmed with the job of caretaking.

Versus Healthy

Caregivers tend to have healthier relationships and be happier in their personal lives. Because they don't assume too much responsibility for other people's problems, they're less likely to become overwhelmed by the duties of being a carer.

These relationships are healthy, rather than codependent.

Caregiving involves both people respecting each other's boundaries. That way, the caregiver doesn't intrude on the boundaries of the person he or she is caring for.

Also, the caregiver is a lot less likely to become overwhelmed with the caring duties.

Person holding a stress ball

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How To Gravitate More Towards Caregiving

It can be hard to be on the positive side of the caretaker vs. caregiver continuum. People all over this continuum do genuinely have love for those they are caring for, but it's always possible for it to be expressed in unhealthy ways.

Work On Your Self-Esteem

In order to avoid being a caretaker as much as you can, self-love is essential. Caretakers often need to be needed. If you love yourself and have your own interests outside of being a carer, you're less likely to depend on someone else needing you in order to feel fulfilled.

Caretakers often have low self-esteem. They get their validation out of their codependent relationship when they should be getting it from within.

They're often giving to get something in return, meaning they're helping someone so that the person likes or accepts them more.

If they're in a caregiving role, in contrast, they'll be helping the person out of genuine concern or compassion with no strings attached.

Caretakers frequently lavish others with praise in the hopes of being liked, while caregivers will only give praise when it's genuine.

Self-Care Is A Good Thing

Many caretakers have a hard time saying no to people. They feel a sense of guilt, even though there's no real obligation to say yes. They consistently put other people's needs above their own.

This may sound selfless, but it ultimately leads to negative results. These people often end up resenting the people they're caring for and feel like martyrs.

Caregivers, on the other hand, live balanced lives and only give others what they can.

In order to be the best at caring for someone, you must first care for yourself.

Set And Maintain Boundaries

It's not only the caretaker who suffers in the relationship. The caretaker will also have the tendency to intrude upon the boundaries of the recipient. They tend to get overly involved in others' lives.

They'll often offer help and advice even when the person never asked for it. Caretakers also assume that they always know what's best for the other person. As a result, they'll often force their views on the recipient of their care.

Caregivers, on the other hand, respect boundaries and don't get too involved in people's lives. They respect the recipient's choices and opinions, whether or not they actually agree with them.

Caretakers are more likely to offend their recipients and make them feel like their boundaries are being violated, while caregivers will help maintain an atmosphere of mutual respect.

Caregiver holding red heart symbol

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Read, Read, Read

You might not believe this is helpful, but there are many self-help books out there for caregivers. These books can actually give you a lot of valuable information and insights on how to maintain the necessary boundaries for both you and the recipient of your caring.

One option is "The Conscious Caregiver: A Mindful Approach to Caring for Your Loved One Without Losing Yourself," by Linda Abbit.

The author and founder of Tender Loving Eldercare and an expert caregiver herself, talks about how demanding the role can be and how it can be counterproductive not to attend to your own needs.

Another excellent read for caregivers is "Living With Dying: A Complete Guide for Caregivers," by Katie Ortlip, RN, LCSW and Jahnna Beecham.

It's an informative piece of literature that gives all sorts of practical advice to caregivers, including how to have tough conversations with the recipients of their care.

It also compassionately guides you in dealing with the impending death of someone you care for, as well as how to get through the entire trying process of caregiving without losing yourself.

The Takeaway

As a caregiver, you need to be striving to set and maintain boundaries at all times. You need to make sure you take care of yourself first and foremost, and that you don't intrude inappropriately on the lives of the people for whom you're caring.

That can be difficult and can feel wrong at first, but it will ultimately lead to more happiness on both sides of the relationship.

Two hands holding each other

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It's Not All About Showing You Care

If you don't really think about it, it can be hard to distinguish caretaker vs. caregiver. However, there are definite differences. These differences could make a huge difference in your quality of life.

It's definitely healthier mentally to gravitate more towards being a caregiver. It can be difficult not to have caretaker tendencies now and then, but you just need to be mindful of what you're doing at all times.

That way, you can be aware when you start acting more as a caretaker and reinforce healthy boundaries.

Learning the caretaker vs. caregiver distinction can be important not only for you but also for the person for whom you're caring. It'll even be better for them because they'll understand that they can't use you as a crutch.

And they won't be able to burden you with unrealistic expectations. Setting and reinforcing boundaries is often great for everyone involved!

What do you have to say about everything you've just learned about the caretaker vs. caregiver distinction? Let us know in the comments section!

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