Why Does Everybody Assume That a Caregiver is Compassionate?

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holding hands with senior
Because the very word, care-giver, combines two words that independently imply compassion.

“Caregiver” is a hybrid of the verb “to give” and the noun “care” or the verb “to care.” The title carries an equal connotation of action and emotion, suggesting not only what a caregiver does but also who a caregiver is.

Caregiving is comprised of active services and support given to persons who, due to age, infirmity, or illness, cannot take care of themselves and rely upon someone else for assistance with personal or emotional needs.

“Care” implies attention to the welfare of another person that is motivated by feelings of genuine concern for the other.

Caregivers are usually motivated by such compassion, but admittedly that is not always the case.

Is Caregiving Always about Compassion?

Studies have shown that there is a paradox to “care.” Here are a few of the cited paradoxes of caregiving:

A caregiver faces existential challenges while regulating feelings during the performance of emotional labor.
When money is introduced into a caregiving exchange, altruistic motivations to care may become compromised.
It has been suggested that women’s gendered pre-disposition to care perpetuates the exploitation of women.
These paradoxical dimensions of the caring aspect of a caregiver’s role may be manifested in a wide range of situations, such as:

A caregiver hides disgust when cleaning up urine and feces.
The guilt, anger, or resentment a family caregiver feels is suppressed beneath the daily demands of caregiving.
A caregiver is expected to do something “extra” that involves significant self-sacrifice.
“Care” is used as an emotional appeal to induce the caregiver to operate outside the expected boundaries of the role.
Under the auspices of “care,” a caregiver exploits or abuses a care receiver.
Thus, it would be a nice but faulty assumption to assume that every caregiver is compassionate or that every act of caregiving is motivated by compassion.

Having said that, in my mind there is no question that caregiving is among the noblest of human endeavors. The compassion of many caregivers I know is demonstrated through daily sacrifices of time and energy, complete focus on the wellbeing of another, and obvious gestures of love.

Select References:

Bolton, S. C. (2001). Changing faces: nurses as emotional jugglers. Sociology of Health & Illness, 23(1), 85-100. doi: 10.1111/1467-9566.00242

Folbre, N., & Nelson, J. A. (2000). For love or money – Or both? Journal of Economic Perspectives, 14(4), 123-140. doi: 10.1257/jep.14.4.123

Husso, M., & Hirvonen, H. (2012). Gendered Agency and Emotions in the Field of Care Work. Gender Work and Organization, 19(1), 29-51. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-0432.2011.00565.x

Schofield, H., Murphy, B., Herrman, H., Bloch, S. and Singh, B. (1997). Family caregiving: Measurement of emotional well-being and various aspects of the caregiving role. Psychological Medicine, 27, 647-657.

Stacey, C. L. (2011). The caring self: the work experiences of home care aides. Ithaca, NY; Cornell University Press.

Posted in Caregiving