Picking up on where we left off in the last post….
Let’s say you’ve been caring for someone you’ve known for a long time (maybe your whole life if they’re a family member), and because of age or illness they are no longer the person they used to be. There’s no loving communication coming from them, no appreciation, just complaining and resistance…yet you don’t feel ready or able to leave and let someone else take over as their caregiver.
If you are a professional caregiver, your heart may be breaking because your client is a very special person…but alone in the world, or neglected by their family. So when they don’t seem to appreciate you being there, trying to make their life better, it can still sting.
Whatever your circumstances, the first thing to do is acknowledge to yourself what has changed, or what bothers you so much.
Then call upon your natural empathy, by imagining yourself in their place for a moment. And there is a way to do it that works really well, even when you least feel like it because they’re driving you a little bonkers right about then!
What Might Life Feel Like For Them Right Now?
Imagine the feelings someone may have when they find themselves in the position of needing help, especially if that is occurring after a lifetime of self-sufficiency.
They may feel deeply sad or angry about their loss of independence, embarrassed at the deterioration of abilities they once had, ashamed of needing help, and frustrated about not being able to perform daily tasks that used to be easy for them.
They could also be suffering from well-concealed depression over experiencing multiple losses of friends and others in their age group, which can bring up the fear of their own mortality…. And they may be really good at appearing stoic, and not show any of these feelings to anyone around them – though the impact of those feelings might show up as crankiness, complaining, criticizing or refusal to cooperate. If you’re a family caregiver and you know this person has always been somewhat ornery or unpleasant, you may be seeing an exaggeration of this behavior.
So how DO you continue to lovingly care for someone even after he or she has changed so much and the connection you used to count on is gone?
You can’t turn back the clock and re-create “how it used to be” – but you absolutely can reduce the ache you feel in your heart.
Try the following 5 steps, in the order shown (and one at a time, as needed in future situations), and see if the hurt doesn’t begin to soften…
5 Steps To Ease A Caregiver’s Broken Heart
- BREATHE!!! Before responding to anything your parents say or do, STOP! BREATHE! FOCUS! Those of you who have been following me for any length of time know that this is always the first step. It prevents you from reacting to the gut feelings that rip through you in those moments of upset, aggravation, anger frustration, etc.
- Acknowledge the feelings behind their behavior. Whatever the circumstance, acknowledge the feelings you think they may be experiencing, with a simple statement of “I can understand how this situation must be challenging / upsetting / frustrating / painful for you (choose the descriptive word that most closely matches how you think they may be feeling…).” Then take a slow deep breath, and simply let that message sink in…. There’s no need to “solve” it or try to make it better. Your simple acknowledgement, and being willing to “walk in their shoes” without judgment for that moment, is powerful in and of itself.
- Know that their behavior is NOT about you!! While it is a challenge to not take their negative, hurtful words or behavior personally, it is imperative that you remember that their attitude and behavior is really not about you. If it’s your parent you are caring for, you may find it helpful to review and reaffirm to yourself that you are a good son or daughter. Acknowledge to yourself that you do the best you can for them, that their lack of appreciation is not a reflection of who you are or are not, nor what you do or don’t do.
- Set healthy boundaries. This means that when your parents or client speak to you in a nasty or hurtful way and you’ve done steps 1 through 3, you can say “While I understand how you feel, and why you feel the way you do, I don’t deserve to be treated this way, so I’m going to hang up now / I’m leaving now.” If you live together or are visiting for an extended period of time, it’s still perfectly okay to leave the room, take a break, or call a time out…. in other words, you always get to take care of you by walking away from the behavior when you need a break. If you can manage to add, I’ll talk to you later” that’s great – if not, that’s okay too!
- Get support! Providing loving care, support and help for aging parents isn’t easy and is often a thankless job. It’s important that you get ongoing help, support, guidance and encouragement to help you through the difficult and challenging times. That’s something we ALL need and deserve!
One possible option is a weekly support group where you can share your frustrations – and successes! – and learn new ways to handle the challenges that come up.
If you have been struggling with a similar situation in your life, know that you don’t have to go it alone… Get a complimentary chapter of my book, Take Back Your Life: A Caregiver’s Guide to Finding Freedom in the Midst of Overwhelm to learn some additional solutions. I’m always open to hearing from you, so leave your comments or questions below…. and remember to breathe…