I can’t tell you how often this dilemma comes up in client sessions and my conversations with colleagues. It occurs very frequently among people who are taking care of family members (but professional caregivers are not immune!).
It’s an issue that’s important to deal with head-on, because ignoring it will only make it worse.
So here is the $65,000 question for family caregivers:
How do you stop your heart from breaking when the parent you have known and loved is no longer who they used to be? *
Well, first It’s important to know what’s behind your broken heart:
We all want desperately to love, and be loved by, our parents, no matter how old they or we are!
All too often as parents age, and their medical and physical needs increase, they are not who they used to be…or, in some cases, they become even more of who they used to be…!
Maybe your parents were independent, loving, strong, vibrant individuals – and now they are dependent, frail and constantly cranky. Maybe they don’t act appreciative of all the help you are providing and actually act like they resent it! Perhaps they find fault with everything you do. Somehow nothing you do is ever enough.
You probably tell yourself “…It’s ok, I know she loves me – she’s just frustrated right now…” all the time, in an attempt to feel better…right? Meanwhile you’re feeling stressed and frustrated yourself…and on top of that, deeply hurt.
The problem often is that it isn’t enough to “know” they love you on a thinking level. Knowing just doesn’t cut it; you want to feel the love as well…
So you try to be a “good soldier” and make allowances and excuses for that missing feeling. You feel compassion for them, but frequently out of everyone involved in their care, you are the one taking the brunt of their anger and frustration.
There are reasons for their “targeting” of you that include feeling safer letting off steam with you because you are someone in their “inner circle.” Believe it or not, it’s actually a sign of their trust and confidence in you!
And while I am not condoning hurtful and negative behavior, it is important to realize that…
- their behavior is not likely to change, since their mechanism for remembering who you are to them is now, in a sense, “broken”
- you won’t be able to get them to stop doing the things that hurt your feelings
- they are essentially a different person now – though remembering who they were, to remind yourself why you love them, and
- You are grieving the loss of that former version of them, and that will make the “insults and digs” smart even more. So it’s not just their behavior now – it’s that a formerly sweet/fun/loving companion has “turned on you” – and that wonderful connection you used to share is gone from your life!
What to do about it?
For now, of course, I recommend you start by taking several SLOW, DEEP BREATHS.
Just let the realization sink in that this is what you’re dealing with, and that having a broken heart is the very understandable reaction to the situation.
Take a moment to recall how things used to be, and feel gratitude for having had that experience in your life.
Honor yourself, your desire for their love and your ongoing commitment to them. Commit to using the memory of the relationship you once enjoyed to help you sustain a more peaceful heart from this point forward.
…And stay tuned for a powerful 5-step process I’ll share with you next week!
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(* Please Note that this article is not about dealing with the added challenge of dementia, as strategies for self–care in that circumstance are somewhat different. Feel free to contact me at Loren@BeingWellWithin.com for some appropriate strategies, or if you have any questions about caring for a loved one.)