M. Mayeroff


Caring: Finding Our Stable Place in the World

Meaning of Caring

Mayeroff (1971) speaks about caring as the antithesis of simply using the other person to satisfy one’s needs; it is not as an isolated feeling or momentary relationship, but a process of helping another grow and actualize oneself through mutual trust and through deepening and qualitative transformation of the relationship.

Basic pattern of caring in helping the other grow:

  1.  I experience what I care for as an extension of myself and at the same time as something separate from me that I respect on its own right.
  2. I experience the other’s development as bound up with my own sense of wellbeing.
  3. I experience the other as having potentialities and the need to grow.
  4. I experience an idea, for instance, as seminal, vital or promising.
  5. I experience the other as needing me in order to grow.
  6. I do not impose my own direction; rather, I allow the direction of the other’s growth to guide what I do, to help determine how I am to respond and hat is relevant to such response.
  7. I respond affirmatively and with devotion to the other’s need, guided by the direction of its growth.

Constructs of Caring

Mayeroff (1971) observed that caring is more than merely interest, finding that essence of caring is a deep regard for another and that caring is a crucial and vital component in nursing. He regarded care/caring as a process that offers both carers and cared for opportunities for personal growth. His caring process consists of:

  1. Getting knowledge – In order to care, I must understand the other’s needs and I must be able to respond properly to them, and clearly good intentions do not guarantee this. To care for someone, I must know many things.
  2. Alternating rhythms – I caring for a person, there are times when I do not inject myself into the situation, I don’t take a stand one way or the other, I do “nothing”. And when I undergo this “inactivity”, I see what resulted from it and may change my behavior accordingly.
  3. Patience – I enable other to grow in its own time and in its own way. By being patient I give time and thereby enable the other to find itself in its own time. But besides, being patient with the other, I must also be patient with myself.
  4. Honesty – To care for the other, I must see the other as it is and not as I would like it to be or feel it must be. But besides seeing other as it is, I must also see myself as I am: I must see what I am doing and whether what I am doing helps or hinders the growth of the other.
  5. Trust – Caring involves trusting the other to grow in its own time and in its own way. I appreciate the independent existence of the other, that the other is other. In caring for another person I trust him to make mistakes and learn from them. But besides trusting the other, I must also trust my own capacity to care. I must have confidence in my judgments and in my ability to learn from mistakes.
  6. Humility – Since caring is responsive to the growth of this other, caring involves continuous learning about the other: there is always something more to learn. Humility is also present in realizing that my particular caring is not in any way privileged. Humility also means overcoming pretentiousness: I am able to present myself as I am without self-display and concealment, without posing and indirection.
  7. Hope – There is hope that the other will grow through my caring which is more general than hope as specific expectation. It is an expression of the plenitude of the present, a present alive with a sense of the possible.
  8. Courage – Courage is also present in going into the unknown. Such courage is not blind: it is informed by insight from past experiences and it is open and sensitive to the present. And clearly, the greater the sense of going into the unknown, the more courage is called for in caring

Illuminating Aspects of Caring

  1. Self Actualization Through Caring

In caring, other is primary; the growth of the other is the center of my attention. Only by focusing on the other am I able to be responsive to its need to grow.

There is selflessness in caring that is very different from the loss of self in panic or through certain kinds of conformity. Such selflessness includes heightened awareness, greater responsiveness to both the other and myself, and the fuller use of my distinctive powers (trust, understanding, courage, responsibility, devotion and honesty).

  1. The Primacy of  the Process

The process rather than the product is primary in caring, for it is only in the present that I can attend to the other. In caring the present is not cut off from vital connections with the past and future, for it is informed by meanings and insights from the past and enriched by anticipations of the future. But at the same time the past and future make us more sensitive to opportunities for growth in the present, the interests and needs of the present help determine the general character of this past and future.

  1. The Ability to Care and the Ability to Be Cared For

Caring calls for unusual aptitudes and special trainings; besides being able to care in general, I must be able to care for this specific other.

If I am to care for the other, I must be able to cope with it; I must be “up to” caring for it. It is not enough merely to want to care for the other and desire its growth; I must be able to help it grow. And just as I must be capable of caring for this other, this other must be capable of being cared for.

  1. The Constancy of the Other

Caring assumes continuity, and is impossible if the other must remain constant, for caring is a developmental process. In caring, in committing ourselves, we feel the other to be constant, to be there for us to help. The other not only must be constant but must be experienced as constant.

  1. Guilt in Caring

In caring I commit myself to the other; I hold myself out as someone who can be depended on. If there is an acute break within this relation because of my indifference or neglect, I feel guilty. Like pain, guilt tells me that something is wrong; if it is felt deeply, understood, and accepted, it provides me with the opportunity to return to my responsibility for the other.

Guilt in caring is not simply an expression of my betrayal of the other; it is also an expression of self betrayal.


  1. Reciprocation

My caring for the other helps activate his caring for me; and similarly his caring for me helps activate my caring for him, it “strengthens” me to care for him. But to say that caring in this case is reciprocated does not imply that it is a trade – I care for you if you care for me. And this true even if I cease to care for another simply because my caring is not reciprocated.

Application and Significance of Caring in Nursing

Caring for Other People

To care for another person, I must be able to understand him and his world as if I were inside it. I must be able to see, as it were, with his eyes hat his world is like to him and how he sees himself. I must be able to be with him in his world. “going” into his world in order to sense from “inside” what life is like for him, what he is striving to be, and what he requires to grow.

In being with the other, I do not lose myself. I retain my own identity and am aware of my own reactions to him and his world. Seeing his world as it appears to him does not mean having his reactions to it, and thus I am able to help him in his world: something he is unable to do for himself.

In caring my being with the other person is bound up with being for him as well: I am for him in his striving to grow and be himself. I experience him as existing on the “same level” as I do. I neither condescend to him nor idolize him.

“Being with” like from the point of view of the one cared for:

  1. I feel I am not alone, I feel understood, not in some detached way but because I feel he knows what is like to be me.
  2. I realize that he wants me to see me as I am, not in order to pass judgment on me, but to help me.
  3. I do not have to conceal myself by trying to appear better than I am; instead, I can open myself up for him, let him get close to me and thereby make it easier for him to help me.

Caring for Myself

Just as I may be indifferent to myself, use myself as a thing, or to be stranger to myself, so I may care for myself by being responsive to my own needs to grow. To care for myself, I must be able to experience myself  as other (I must be able to see myself from the inside as I appear from the outside), and at the same time I must feel at one with myself rather than cut off and estranged from myself.

“In helping the other to grow, I grow as well” becomes “In helping myself to grow, I grow as well” or “In caring for another, we help him to care for himself” becomes “In caring for myself, I help myself to care for myself”

Major Characteristics of a Life Ordered Through Caring:

  1. Basic Certainty (Stability) – It requires outgrowing the need to feel certain, to have absolute guarantees as to what is or will be. Instead, if we think of basic certainty as including deep seated security, it also includes being vulnerable and giving up the preoccupation with trying to be secure.

The union between inner and outer is another ingredient of basic certainty. When I am in-place, there is a reasonable convergence between my professed values and how I actually live, between how I think and how I actually live, between how I see my behavior from inside and how it looks to others from outside.

In basic certainty e discover also the clarity that results from the elimination of clutter. With the elimination of clutter, living becomes less complicated; important connections between events are more easily seen, and the significance of experiences more readily comes home to us. There is a greater directness in life, and what is of real importance stands out more clearly.

  1. The Process of Life is Enough – Life is felt to be enough in the living, and what I want is simply the opportunity to live this life.

Being “good enough” does not imply the maximization of pleasure over pain. Caring is not always agreeable; it is sometimes frustrating and rarely easy. And “good enough” has nothing to do with stagnation or complacency, for the process is good enough only because of the creative way in which I live.

The process of living is felt not to be enough when:

  1. We are pretentious and present ourselves as being something we are not; we feel that what we are now is never quite enough, and we would rather be treated as we think we will be rather than as we are.
  2. We always seek rather than live the meaning of our life, when we feel there is something to be reached which constantly elude us.

The present living is enough when:

  1. I live the meaning of my life.
  2. I do not experience a need to get to life, as if it were something beyond or outside present living.
  3. I experience myself as being enough.
  4. Intelligibility and Unfathomability – It consists in understanding  what is relevant to my life, what it is that I live for, who I am and what I am about in actual day-to-day living , not in the abstract.

Intelligibility goes with feeling that:

  1.  We belong and are uniquely needed by something or someone, in contrast to the disquiet that comes with not quite fitting in anywhere and with continued and sometimes desperate attempts to find our place.
  2. Is not a once-and-for all thing, but is continuing function that goes with caring for my appropriate others.
  3. Does not diminish or do away with wonder. It is instead conducive to wonder because it makes me more open to myself and the world.

The unfathomable character of existence is not a matter of ignorance to be resolved, it is not something to overcome by knowing more or having some special knowledge. It is something to undergo, to realize and to appreciate. It brings me closer by making me more aware that whatever our powers or limitations, whatever our possessions or lack of possessions, we are all in the same boat.  It makes for a greater appreciation of the uniqueness of others and of myself.

  1. Autonomy – Equated with living the meaning of my life, for, within certain limits set by the social and physical conditions under which I live, I go my own way. In order to live “my own life” I must make it my own through caring and taking responsibility for it, just as I must act on an ideal and help to actualize it if I am to make it my own. Autonomy is an achievement like maturity or the growth of a significant friendship.


I am autonomous because:

  1.  Of my devotion to others and my dependence on them, when dependence is the kind that liberates both me and my others.
  2. In helping my appropriate others to grow I also grow.
  3. I experience myself as the initiator of my acts and as responsible for my own life.

Autonomy assumes self understanding:

  1. There is the understanding necessarily present in my actually caring for myself: understanding who I am, what I am striving for, what my needs are and what is required to satisfy these needs.
  2. There is more inclusive self-understanding found in being in place, which includes knowing what I am to serve, what is required of me, what complements me.

In being in place, I am:

  1. Significantly immersed in life and, at the same time, free of certain ways of living, widespread in our society, which are hostile to growth.
  2. I am free of experiencing life as a race in which I am concerned with how I compare with others.
  3. I am free of experiencing life as a marker place in which I see myself and others as commodities to be sold and try to make myself into the package that happens to be in demand at a particular time.
  4. I am free of the discontinuity and chaos of experiencing life as a mere succession of disconnected events, each unrelated to what went before and what is to come.
  5. Faith – In a narrow (faith in) sense, it is an ingredient of living the meaning of my life. Faith in myself is neither blind nor irrational; it is warranted by my experiences of caring and being cared for, just as my faith in another person’s concern for my growth is warranted by my experience of his caring for me.

There is also a broader (living in faith) sense in which faith can be equated with being in-place itself. Faith is a way of being, as a basic trust in life, goes with confidence in going into the unknown in the course of realizing ourselves and caring for our others.

  1. Gratitude – Is a normal expression of being in-place. Gratitude of being in-place makes me experience people and things as more precious, and I become more responsive to them and their need for me; gratitude further activates me to care for my appropriate others. Caring becomes my way of thanking for what I received; I thank by caring all the more for my appropriate others and the conditions of their existence.















Mayeroff, M. (1971). On Caring. New York: Harper and Row Publishers


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