7 Minute read

Outrage Column: Concern versus Care

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7 Minute Read

Does showing concern mean that you care?

Does caring mean that you must be concerned?

I am using these two words to illustrate some differences I see between two kinds of human behaviours, which often occur together or are mixed up with each other, and why my answers to the questions directly above are firmly NO.

But first I will tell you a story.

Not so long ago, my dear friend found himself locked out of his ground floor flat.

Well, he managed to get the large sash window open just enough to squeeze in. He decided that it would be better to go in feet first rather than headfirst. So, he got one leg through the window, was about to manoeuvre his other leg up as well and shimmy his way in, when his other leg got caught in a bramble patch by the window!

He phoned me at this point to call for assistance as he was well and truly stuck. But on my way over there (I am a good 10 minute drive away) he called again and said; ‘I’m in!’  When I got there, over a cup of coffee, he told me how he managed this feat.

One of his neighbours had happened along. A delightful young woman and also a climber. I mention that she is a climber because that means to me that she is someone who does physically challenging things. So she also probably has an understanding of the process of people facing physical challenges. As it turned out, she was very respectful too.

Anyway. He told me that she had been absolutely brilliant.

She had asked him if he would like some help.

When he said ‘Yes’, she then asked:

‘Tell me, what you would like me to do to help you?’

‘I would like you to get my leg out of the brambles and up onto the window sill for me.’

And she did precisely that and he managed to enter his flat, found his keys and all was well.

What this story showed to me was that the young woman acted with the utmost caring and respect. What she did not demonstrate was concern.

He clearly felt great about how it all happened.

Perhaps this begins to explain how I see the difference between caring and concern.

To me, caring is a deep empathy, respect and a preference to be of assistance to fellow humans (and other life forms) in whatever way that they may need and that you feel able to offer. It comes from the heart, from love and from our humanity.

Concern, on the other hand, is associated with worry, fear, anxiety and the projection of these emotions, and also beliefs about the person’s weakness, age, vulnerability and likelihood of getting hurt, being incapable and so on.

Sometimes when I have had people be concerned about me, I have experienced some irritation or other discomfort, as if it is an imposition. This is tricky to handle because caring and concern are often mixed together and come as a package. So, while I may feel uncomfortable about this concern, I feel I must do my best to hide my discomfort and be gracious and appreciative of the efforts of the concerned individual. I may also feel bad about feeling irritated!

So those less comfortable responses have to be dealt with internally. Though in less gracious moments they may inadvertently spill out!

Sometimes phoning a friend to have a bit of a rant helps! I received a call like that recently.

Something had happened on Facebook. A FB friend had posted that they were concerned as they hadn’t seen posts recently from this friend of mine. As you can imagine it set off a chain reaction with lots of comments including the suggestion that a friend be contacted. My friend read all this and felt various discomforts about it. Being talked about instead of personally contacted, having to do something about an escalating ‘bundle’ of concern being generated amongst a group, seeing people speaking about them rather than with them about their vulnerability. Not wanting to upset the person who started the posting and yet needing to communicate that it didn’t feel right and all the while having to deal with their own feelings about it.

It reminded me of ‘Does he take sugar?’ a phrase that was coined to illustrate how people sometimes do not address a wheelchair user but speak about them – in front of them to their ambulant companion – having made an assumption that because they cannot walk unaided they, therefore, cannot speak for themselves.

Has this ever happened to you or someone you know?

As we get older, get a few grey hairs and wrinkles and perhaps, as with my friend, our balance and gait change, people project their concern upon us more often, when actually what we really want is simple, practical, respectful care.

We all need help sometimes but would like the help, without this sense of people looking at us with thoughts such as: Oh no. They are weak, falling. Oh no. They are going to hurt themselves. They mustn’t do that dangerous thing. They cannot function properly /survive/take care of themselves.

I have sometimes observed that a show of concern does not always mean that someone cares. It may just mean they are reacting to something due to their own internal attitudes and/or feelings.

There is a parallel with people telling their kids; ‘You’re going to fall!’ Then the child falls and the adult says; ‘I told you so’ thinking they were right, not imagining that the child may have actually lost their balance because of the powerful statement that the influential adult just made! Children are especially impressionable. The adult thought they were taking care of the child. But they may have taken away some of their confidence and with it their ability to balance and trust their own abilities!

Yes, projections are influential. They do not have to be spoken either. Thoughts can also project.

So… concern can feel annoying, and an imposition, but also can actually be damaging. Because what you are doing when you get concerned is that you are throwing a powerful thought at the person. You may be expressing it verbally, or with facial expression, voice tone or body language. A thought which is founded on fear and based on expectations of harm, hurt, loss, or whatever else. I know I have done this, as well as having been on the receiving end!

We cannot help getting concerned at times, especially when someone seems to be struggling or suffering. I know it’s not easy to let go of our own fears and anxieties.

But most especially at these times it is better for them to feel the other’s caring and respect rather than their concern.

And to remember that if you are trying to help someone and they are getting irritated, perhaps they are feeling disempowered, disrespected, or patronised… even though that may not be your intention.

And if you feel that irritation when someone is being concerned about you… remember, behind all their weird projections they probably care.

Sadly, there are some who just want to exhibit concern in order to ‘be seen to care’. Those people you can tell firmly ‘Thank you, but no thank you.’ Or something less polite!

I would like to add a quote from my mother, who worked for many years as a social worker working specifically with older people who were leaving hospital. She helped them live where they wanted and needed to be as well as getting the support they required. She had a great respect for her clients. Some would move into sheltered housing or care homes, but some were absolutely insistent that they wanted to go back to their houses, perhaps after a fall, or a series of falls, while their families would be putting a lot of pressure on them to go into a supervised home because of their concern. Mum represented the interests of her clients as best she could and would have to deal not only diplomatically with the relatives but also with her own fears as to whether this fiercely independent person would fall again in their old terraced house, with an outside toilet that they were adamant they wanted to stay in. She had a few sleepless nights from time to time. But, one day she said something to us that I have always remembered.

‘If you cannot live dangerously when you’re eighty-five or ninety-five, when the bloody hell can you?’

1 thought on “Outrage Column: Concern versus Care

  1. Brilliant Ruth .. subtle and pointed. There’s a wonderful essay by Rabbi Naomi Remon I share with my Psychotherapy students called How May I Help? in which she defines the difference between Help and Service. The very similar energies expressed by Concern and Care.

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