Stop Caretaking the Borderline or Narcissist

Margalis Fjelstad, PhD, LMFT
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers; August 2014
Stop Caretaking the Borderline or Narcissist

This book is for members seeking to disentangle from an addictive high conflict, codependent, or caretaking relationship.

According to Fjelstad, an addictive relationship is one that brings you pain, embodies a love/hate dynamic, and is frequently disrupted by conflicts, dissatisfactions, and emotional or even physical violence. "It is addictive because despite being aware of how dysfunctional the relationship is, you keep buying into the dynamics, you keep participating in the conflict, you keep being focused on what the other person is doing wrong and what the other person needs to do to make things right".

One of the main ways we keep ourselves involved in addictive, negative and hurtful relationships is to pretend that this negative present moment isn’t happening. Fjelstad noted that her clients frequently say: “Oh, he really didn’t mean it that way”, “She’s not always so mean”, “He can’t help it”, “If I just give in, she’ll be nice again.” These are all ways to not be in the present moment.

In his book, Fjelstad shows that the only way out of an addictive relationship is to change how we function, what we are willing to put up with, and to develop the courage to make changes.

Margalis Fjelstad, PhD, LMFT, has a private psychotherapy practice in Ft. Collins, CO. Dr. Fjelstad has been an adjunct Faculty member with Regis University in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and at California State University in Sacramento, California, and a director at Threshold Educational and Counseling Services. Dr. Fjelstadis a professional member at

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Excerpts from Margalis Fjelstad's work:

  1. How is caretaking different from codependency? Caretaking may sound a lot like codependency. Codependency seems to be a more pervasive set of personality traits that are applied in every aspect of a person’s life, including at work, in friendships, at school, in parenting, and in intimate relationships. Codependent behaviors could be described quite similarly to those that Caretakers use. However, most Caretakers take on this role almost exclusively inside the family and primarily only with the borderline or narcissist. Often Caretakers are very independent, good decision makers, competent, and capable on their own when not in a relationship with a borderline or narcissist. It is almost as if the Caretaker lives in two different worlds with two different sets of behaviors, rules, and expectations, one set with the BP/NP and another with everyone else. You may even hide your caretaking behaviors from others and try to protect other family members from taking on caretaking behavior, much like child abuse victims try to protect siblings from being abused.
  1. Caretaking Gone Bad People who become Caretakers for a BP/NP also seem to have a certain set of personality traits. These traits do not constitute a “personality disorder.” In fact, they can be highly valued and useful to relationships and families, at work, and socially, especially when they are at moderate levels. They include a desire to do a good job, enjoyment in pleasing others, a desire to care for others, peacemaking, a gentle and mild temperament, and calm and reasonable behaviors. These traits can be the hallmark of someone who is easy to get along with, caring of others, and a good worker, spouse, and parent.  But when you use these behaviors as a means of counteracting the extreme behaviors of the BP/NP, they can morph into more toxic forms and become perfectionism, a need to please, overcompliance, extreme guilt, anxiety, overconcern, avoidance of conflict, fear of anger, low self-esteem, and passivity. At that point, these traits become detrimental to the mental, emotional, and physical health of the person and become Caretaker behaviors.
  1. Faulty Thinking  If they feel a certain way, BP/NPs will assume that someone or something outside of themselves made them feel that way. As the closest family member, the Caretaker is usually the one who must take the blame for how the BP/NP is feeling. The BP/NP often uses the phrase, “You made me feel . . .” Since the BP/NP’s feelings actually come from his or her own emotional reactions and internal chemistry, this can feel very confusing to you. The more confused you feel, the more vulnerable you are to discounting your own judgment, believing that you really are the cause, and going along with the BP/NP to keep the peace.  If the BP/NP feels better in response to what you do, you can get caught up in thinking that you do have the power to make the BP/NP feel worse or better. You buy into his or her delusion. This can reinforce you into continuing in the role of Caretaker. But the more you believe the delusion that you are responsible for how the BP/NP feels, the worse you feel about yourself. This leads to lower and lower self-esteem, more trying on your part to fix what cannot be fixed, and more entrapment in the Caretaker role.


Margalis Fjelstad PhD LMFT