The Tyranny of Supercarer

“If you don’t want to offend, don’t get up in the morning!”

We women are notoriously caught up in guilt around keeping our best interests at heart.

Are you easily swayed into taking care of other people at the expense of your own health and prosperity? Unable to say No to others demands however overworked or overwhelmed you are? Watch out – Supercarer is about!

You men are not immune but tend to be much more comfortable with setting boundaries on your time and energies without feeling “selfish”. Read on to understand what is happening with the women in your life.


Have you noticed the effect that little 2 syllable word can have on a woman? If not on you, then on friends and colleagues. Just call a woman selfish and a tide of guilt sweeps over her to an astonishing degree.

Of course caring for others is important, can be enjoyable, fulfilling and a valuable career choice, but often it is just a role from childhood we continue playing without question into adulthood. Now might be a good time to think about whether you are in the right movie!

You may feel you must meet all requests and demands with a Yes, or no-one will like you. Maybe you even rush in unasked to help. You end up stressed, exhausted and disappointed with your self-esteem in tatters. Feeling like a doormat is a painful place to be.

Supercarer doormat

If this is you, you can change this. I know your relationships are very important to you or you would not be in this position. What you may not realise is that your relationships suffer when you get stuck in Supercarer mode; the opposite of what you wanted.

Breathe again! You can reclaim your energies and improve your relationships at the same time.

Here are 3 of my Tips to Improve your Relationships by Saying No

Tip #1 Avoid Resentment

Supercarer causes resentment. Hard to believe I know, but there are reasons for this.

Hmm…I don’t want to get into deep psychological waters here but there are hidden dynamics in relationships which apply. Let me try to explain.

It hurts when all your efforts at caring and aiming to please backfire. Where is the reciprocal concern for you? You are bewildered by the lack of appreciation for your efforts.

If you say Yes when you really want to say No, you quite naturally feel resentment which you try to hide because it doesn’t fit with your sense of identity as a nice caring person. But make no mistake, the other person will not only pick up your resentment, but resent feeling indebted to you.

Or when you aid unasked, you may treat people as incapable. Eventually they resent you for disempowering them.

That creates a vicious cycle and it’s definitely not nice!

Guilt and Resentment are 2 sides of the same coin. For most people this is a good enough reason to shift that old habit of saying Yes too often.

Tip # 2 Create Healthy Boundaries

The inability to say No is about having poor boundaries. Healthy boundaries aren’t just keeping unwanted stuff out, but keeping the good stuff in, and you have more to give when you take good care of yourself.

If you never say No, your Yes has no Value. Creating good boundaries is a sign of self-esteem and helps others to Value you.

Tip # 3 Say No with Grace and Ease

After years of Supercarer, it is tempting to make a drama of saying No with emotional appeals or aggressive changes in behaviour. Don’t do that! It is not empowering you. After the initial rush from expressing yourself you will probably feel bad and boomerang right back into old behaviour patterns

Instead say No calmly and easily, not in a defensive way. Delegate or hand responsibilities back where they belong. Rehearse scenarios or role-play with someone you trust. On the phone, smile before you speak. When face-to-face, smile on the inside. Your voice tone (very important) will come across in a comfortable open way, which leaves little room for the manipulation that can happen when people pick up on your discomfort.

If you’ve played Supercarer role for years people may not initially respond well, but you will be pleasantly surprised how many do! They may try to get you to change back and they know your triggers! Keep going with small steps. I know it takes courage, patience and persistence in your new freedom to say Yes or No. But remember that what feels awkward to you now is just normal for other people and you will soon feel comfortable and natural with it too.

Most people will come to enjoy the better, clearer relationship with you. But you can’t win ‘em all. It may be time to let go of relationships which drain you rather than enhance your life.

Success Story

Here’s a vignette of one woman’s success at getting free of the tyranny of Supercarer: A client – let’s call her Joanne – ran a business with her husband, as well as sharing a home and child. She came to me stressed and frustrated because the more she took on domestically the less her husband did. He was getting depressed and uncommunicative. I explained that she was over-functioning, which like a see-saw caused husband to under-function.

I worked with her to understand that if she wanted an improvement in the marital relationship she would have to stop the Supercarer takeover. After small steps domestically, he was more proactive; his mood improved and consequently so did their relationship.

She took what felt like the big step of relinquishing responsibility for his family ties. Her husband was not close to his parents, and was happy to live at a distance from them. Joanne didn’t understand this as she had a close-knit family nearby. Joanne went to great efforts to arrange regular 3 monthly family visits to her in-laws with a grudging husband driving them the long distance in a black mood.

Difficult as it was, after rehearsal with me, she calmly said she would no longer organise trips to his parents. It was up to him if and when he made the journey but she would be happy to accompany him. She refrained from mentioning it as the usual 3 month mark came and went. Six months later her husband organised a trip.

Joanne who had done good work on her boundaries felt quite free of guilt when her husband’s gloom descended on the journey. She told me “It was such a relief for the first time to know that it had nothing to do with me. His mood was his mood. And I was not responsible.” Although it is never pleasant to be around someone in a bad mood, she used boundary mindset techniques I taught her to detach and feel free to enjoy the view with nothing in particular to do – a rare treat. Best of all she let go of guilt.

“Giving out of guilt is like sharing an apple full of worms. We have to take care of ourselves before we can clearly and cleanly give to others.” Anne Wilson Schaef

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