Over the past couple weeks in my Take Back Your Life Group Program, the topic has been anger that sometimes comes up when you’re a caregiver, and how to handle it in new, healthier ways. One of the participants raised a great question about a particular anger issue she struggles with – and because it’s so common and a big self-esteem challenger, I wanted to be sure and share it with you.
Here’s that Group Member’s Question:
“I feel incredibly angry and resentful that I no longer have a life outside of caring for my mother. Every time I choose to do something for myself, some crisis occurs involving my mother’s needs that ends up interfering with my plans. I have siblings who never seem to have a problem making and keeping their plans – so what’s wrong with me, that I keep giving up what I want in order to care for my mother?”
~ Obligated [names made up to preserve anonymity!
…and here’s My Response:
Setting and maintaining boundaries, and giving equal value to your time and plans, are issues many caregivers struggle with. I promise, it’s NOT because there is something wrong with you! It’s because setting boundaries and limits is a new concept for many people, and a behavior that they need to learn because it doesn’t come naturally to them. Let your anger be the signal that it’s time for you to learn this skill – now, before you sacrifice any more time that you need for YOU!
A family member’s role in taking care of others, and putting their needs above all else, may start as the result of a loved one’s health crisis, or may be a long-standing habit based on the family roles we take on as children. Whatever placed you in this role, shifting gears and making your needs a consistent priority feels uncomfortable. And because of messages most of us receive while growing up about how “it’s wrong to be selfish” we decide we must be being doing something “wrong.”
I want to assure you, It’s not wrong, it’s just different.
Are your siblings (who I’m sure are very comfortable with you continuing to remain your mother’s sole caregiver) doing or saying anything to reinforce the notion that you’re doing something wrong when you don’t make mom’s care your only priority? Don’t underestimate the impact of that – when other family members judge your behavior, whether overtly or covertly, it contributes to keeping you stuck in that habit.
I repeat: it’s not wrong to make yourself an equal priority, and you’re not doing anything wrong when you take care of your needs and make other plans!
But because the attitudes, feelings and self-judgments are so set in stone in our brains, it can take some getting used to, even if your siblings are supportive.
Steps to Follow as You Make Self-Care a Priority:
Acknowledge YOUR Feelings and Needs – Many caregivers become numb to their own feelings and needs, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. The first step in moving forward in a new direction is to become aware of how you feel.
Place the Oxygen Mask Over YOUR face – As instructed on airplanes, should oxygen be required (and you are traveling with a dependent!), place the oxygen mask over your face first. You cannot help anyone – them or yourself – if you are not breathing!
BREATHE! Even though you feel uncomfortable, breathe through the discomfort of making this change in your habits. It’s not your feelings that get you into trouble, it’s your actions – and in this case I’m defining “trouble” as continuing to neglect your own wellbeing. It’s your choice: 1) You can give up on your plans and feel the same anger and resentment that you described above, OR 2) You can feel the discomfort of doing something that’s different. Don’t wait until you’re sick before you take care of yourself, and then have NO choice but to take time off!
Explore ALL the Options – Oftentimes caregivers do not believe they can get away because they are the only ones providing care. It’s time to think outside the box. Who else can step in? Maybe there are family members, volunteers, respite care centers, or your parent can go to visit relatives… put all options on the table, without immediately rejecting anything. Be open to possibilities.
Do Not Explain, Defend, or Justify – Simple statements, without defensiveness, work best. Let family members know that you will be away – whether it’s for an hour, a day, a weekend, or longer – by stating it clearly and directly, without defensiveness. (HINT: Taking slow, deep breaths beforehand helps you reset your energy level, and release any defensiveness and tension, so when you talk to them you’ll feel more relaxed!) Have a meeting with them to discuss options if that’s feasible – and if isn’t, then let them know what options you’ve explored that could work.
Focus on Your Desired Outcome…and Be Positive! – Stay focused and clear on what you want, because that will help prevent you from falling into the traps of old self-sacrificing habits, or any guilt trips you might be tempted to take based on things your parents or family members may say.
While the above may sound easier said than done, it really is that straightforward and completely possible to make changes that create greater ease and comfort for you. That in turn can reduce or even eliminate your anger and resentment.
Remember also that you do not have to go it alone! Take a half hour or so to use my Caregivers Step-By-Step Guide and audio, to get some clarity and begin to shift your mindset around this.
You can find that freedom in the midst of the overwhelm…really!
Leave your comments, questions or concerns below… I look forward to hearing from you.
And we breathe…