In the last two posts I pointed out two very common patterns I have observed in family caregivers, especially those who represent the “first line of defense” in their loved one’s care:
- How they can fall into such a rut of feeling overwhelmed, burnt out and defeated that they’ve given up trying to carve out time to recharge their batteries, let alone have any fun!
- How they don’t even realize the reasons behind their ongoing choices and behavior patterns – including neglecting to care even adequately for themselves – that have become “normal” in their caregiver role.
In today’s excerpt, this one from the third chapter of my book Take Back Your Life: A Caregiver’s Guide to Finding Freedom in the Midst of Overwhelm, I want to emphasize a vitally important aspect of successful self-care. It’s one that we can’t even begin to provide for ourselves until we have become acutely aware of realities 1 and 2 above: you gotta love yourself!
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From Take Back Your Life, Chapter 3:
We all want and need to feel and be appreciated, and all too often caregivers feel taken for granted. Learning to speak up and say what you want, need and feel changes the dynamics of a relationship. This is not about your ego and needing attention. It is about being valued and appreciated for who you are. When you don’t set limits, no one learns that you need and deserve to be acknowledged, appreciated and respected. In fact, all too often even the medical community (doctors, nurses and therapists) do not consciously and purposefully pay attention to what is involved in the care of the patient. They do their jobs and assume everything will be taken care of at home without exploring how and by whom, thus further adding to your stress, overwhelm, and feelings of inadequacy and burn out.
Are you getting the point that, as challenging as it may be to create and maintain healthy boundaries, it is not only necessary, but it really is life-saving? Remember, the commandment that has been around for centuries, “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” doesn’t say more than yourself. As actor, journalist, editor, freelance writer and teacher Edward Albert said, “Sometimes you have to be selfish to be selfless.”
You are a loving, caring, compassionate and amazing individual. You are a caregiver, and these attributes go hand in hand with that role. However, you cannot effectively and lovingly care for someone else if you are not giving yourself enough love, care, affection, time and energy. Boundaries are not meant to punish, but are for your well-being and protection. They’re infinitely more effective when you are assertive, calm, firm and respectful. Achieving this requires practice, patience and perseverance, and courage. Take one step at a time and know that every time you set even a small boundary, you are one step closer to being able to do so more often and with greater feelings of love, respect, and compassion for yourself and for those you care for.
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As I alluded to in the sentence “Boundaries are not meant to punish“ above, many people feel uncomfortable with the whole subject of boundaries, because it feels like it’s necessarily about shutting out or pushing away people they deeply love and care about.
Perhaps that’s because boundaries in the physical world tend to be barriers that have been deliberately constructed to “keep mine in” and/or “keep yours out.” To firmly establish ownership of territory and control who is welcome and who isn’t, we build walls, fences, borders between nations…even castle moats! There’s a sense that it must require whoever created the boundary to feel a certain cold resolve to hold the line over time, and a certain lack of caring about the feelings of whoever they’re ordering to stay outside the barrier.
It stands to reason, then, when we’re talking about how to get more “me time,” or ask a family member to take on a few caregiver tasks that we normally handle, that we feel some discomfort calling that “boundaries.” No one wants to see themselves as being demanding, rejecting, or cold-blooded and calculating on behalf of themselves (is the word “selfish” creeping into your inner dialogue right about now?). So people tend to shy away from not just using the word “boundaries,” but also from creating any!
But guess what? Setting boundaries is precisely what you MUST be able to do to ensure that you allocate enough emotional and spiritual resources to feel loved, respected and appreciated by yourself.
From a practical standpoint, you must make enough room (literally – in time and space!) on a regular basis to pause, quiet your mind, breathe, and really feel love for yourself. If you don’t, the “care” part of “self-care” will always fall short of what you need to stay strong and resilient, keep a clear head, and make choices that are right for you as well as for your loved ones.
What thoughts, memories and emotions did this bring up for you? Can you see where not having maintained strong but loving boundaries has had a detrimental impact in your own life?
Leave a comment below to let me know what you can see now that you didn’t before, or what concerns you may have regaring making changes in your life…
For more ideas on tactful (yet still clear, firm and effective!) boundary-setting strategies and conversations, be sure to get the book and keep reading Chapter 3 and beyond!
And if you haven’t done so already, be sure to download my complimentary “stepping-stones” reaction processing roadmap, companion audio and transcript, The Caregiver’s Step-By-Step Guide to Take Back Your Life. I created it for in-the-moment new perspectives and support. It provides a structure for walking yourself through the steps of a successful response to any challenging situation. Someone recently told me, “I use the Step-By-Step Guide every day!” Maybe you’ll find it equally helpful – hope so!