Snakes and lizards don't need a complex CARE system, but human children, and other baby mammals, would simply not survive without caregivers investing time and energy devoting themselves to their growth and wellbeing long term. Parents, extended families and communities, use a solid set of instinctual brain urges to nurture the young and those in need. Receiving effective CARE early on creates healthy offspring, and healthy communities, to grow and thrive.

“It only takes one woman to bear a child, but it takes a whole village to raise it”

Effective CARE systems encourage interdependence, growth and development of individuals, couples, families and communities – they are flexible and responsive to need, pragmatic not rigidly dogmatic. In early years, CARE can be expressed by responding to physical needs like grooming and feeding, or to more emotional needs - being intensely interested and helping the more vulnerable feel safe.

Activation and Expression

An activated CARE system brings us closer together. It can be shown at all ages in a variety of ways by taking care of physical or emotional well-being, showing affection, and responding to feedback.

Responding to feedback is a powerful indicator of an effective CARE system. Being aware of the impact we have, listening and attending to what we find, sometimes gently, sometimes firmly; gives a clear message that we care.

The most effective expression of the CARE system involves consistency and tender, loving long-term involvement. Getting the balance between caring for others and looking after self as well as being cared for is also important for the healthy expression of this system.

Mild activation of this system leads to…

A desire to show care and affection, we may feel warmth rising in our torso and a desire to be close to, do something physically or emotionally caring for the other.

Intense activation of this systems leads to…

A strong urge to care for the other, feeling warmth and compassion activated in our body, with perhaps a yearn to touch, stroke or hold the other person, or to be near to them. We may also feel a desire to ask questions, know more about the person, get to know them better.

Blocked expression

When care leads to control, stifling the other rather than caring for them; or the CARE system is not active when needed, causing neglect of the other or the self.

Mild block: Might show up as nagging, discouraging independence or encouraging dependence. Not accepting care from others or caring for self well.

Intense: Caring too much for others; fostering dependence or squashing others independence; not responding to own needs; being unable to put own needs first; or blocking caring responses towards others’; narcissism; arrogance; self-absorption; not letting others take responsibility.

Drives: Autonomy and Belonging

It is helpful to consider two drives that motivate us and influence our emotional systems:

  • Our desire to be autonomous (independent, being ourselves, who we are)
  • Our desire to belong, and to be a valuable part of, the community, family, group.

In an ideal world, we might represent our balance of these two drives like this:

In an ideal world, we might represent our balance of these two drives like the diagram above. These drives may feel pretty attuned balanced in this way whilst adjusting for different situations. Having a good mix of a) being able to do our own thing, b) being myself and fitting into my groups and c) doing what is needed in the group even when it isn’t so in tune with being myself.

Instead, the autonomy and belonging systems may be more in conflict and the way that we resolve these can be seen in our CARE systems activation. We can express CARE for the group, for others, and not ourselves; we can CARE for ourselves and not others. If opportunities for self-expression are low, over significant periods of time, where others need prioritising – like in the early years after starting a family – we might be at risk of depression. Research tells us that women with three or more children under 5 years have an increased risk of depression, as do young and older carers of people with long term health problems.

A further risk comes when belonging to our community or group means we cannot express ourselves as an autonomous individual. Risk of depression again has been found to be higher in the UK in particular ethnic minority groups, where there is a significant difference between the minority and majority culture; in people identifying as LGBQT; and in other situations where people can be ostracised. When a solid, stable and flexible group develops for the ‘minority’ group, enabling diversity and individuality within this group, this can significantly reduce the sense of alienation. Increasing a coherent narrative between our sense of individual self and the community that we belong to, is a vital aspect to feeling balanced.

Finally, when we have a disproportionate focus on our self, and do not have opportunities, or do not use opportunities, to show care and consideration for others; the impact on our wellbeing is significant. Over longer periods a prolonged focus on the self over family, community, society and planet, is likely to increase anxiety and even paranoia. Giving to others, brings an increased sense of wellbeing over giving to ourselves. Healthy societies, whether individualist or collectivist, are built on a balance between care for ourselves and care for others. The more out of balance we get - individually or socially - the more dangerous and damaging to our wellbeing.

Find out more about your relationship with the system that looks after you and those you love, as well as the constraints that get in your way, in our online courses.