When Being the Caregiver Is Not an Option

Self-Empathy Word Cloud
Self-Empathy word cloud on a white background.

 

According to The National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, there are 66 million unpaid adult family caregivers (29% of the adult population in the US) providing care to someone who is ill, disabled or aged. While the number of male caregivers is steadily growing, female caregivers still outnumber their male counterparts two to one.

As the age of the population in the US increases, so is the mean age of caregivers.  In 2012, female family caregivers, on average, were 48 years old and lived alone. They rendered approximately 25 hours of care per week. This is the equivalent to the hours of a part time job. Caregiving is rarely a sprint. It is most often a marathon of planning, adjusting, attending, and doing. Not everyone is capable of staying in the race.

What happens when being a caregiver is not an option? What do you do when your own health, personal and career commitments, or relationship with the person in need of care leave little room for you to take on the added responsibility that comes with the role? Many struggle with this relentless internal conflict and the onslaught of negative emotions that often result in a profound sense of isolation. The comments and judgment from outsiders add your confusion and perhaps toxic sense of self.

What is called for at this crossroad is Self-Compassion. Surprised? You thought that I was going to suggest that you listen to your harsh self-criticism and dig down deep to find a way to be available and accommodating. Actually, I want you to honor your sense of personal limits and not make a commitment when committing to just one more thing could invite undue hardship or risk your health and wellbeing.

Just what is self-compassion? It is responding to yourself (and your situation) with kindness rather than criticism. It is stopping the loop of derogatory self-talk that often takes on the tone we imagine we would hear from some authority figure in our life. Rather, it is the extension of kindness, care, warmth, and understanding toward oneself when we are faced with the reality of our human shortcomings, inadequacies, or perceived failures.

Self-compassion is not self-pity and does not perpetuating a sense of being a victim. It offers you the sense of objectivity and control earned by being an adult. Self-compassion is giving yourself the time and space to make a choice that honors your needs as well as the needs of others. Individuals who are self-compassionate are more likely to learn and grow from the challenges in their lives.

Self-compassion provides the foundation for developing personal resilience. It helps us to maintain a healthy prospective when we are bombarded by those on the periphery of the decision. Those who are all too often unwilling to lend a hand but all too free with judgments and rhetoric designed to manipulating you into thinking that you’re the best or only person who can do the caring when others cannot.

So my recommendation is to stay strong.  Honor your understanding of what is best. Do not make a noble sacrifice by ignoring what you intuitively know is right, wrong, healthy or destructive. Respond to the challenge of caregiving with critical thinking rather than judgement clouded by emotion. Put your own oxygen on first.

 

Resources:

  • Share the Care Organization: sharethecare.org
    • A not-for-profit organization that trains groups to create care circles for an individual.
  • Veterans Benefits Administration: http://www.benefits.va.gov/benefits/
    • This site contains organizational information that can connect the Vet to benefits and services.
  • HOMETEAM: http://join.hometeamcare.com/
    • Find highly rated In-Home care providers
  • Nursing Home Compare: medicare.gov
    • Site designed to help individuals and family shop for the best long-term services in your area.
  • Care Navigators: https://www.healthcare.gov/glossary/navigator/
    • Individual/organization trained to help consumers look for health coverage options through the Marketplace, including completing eligibility and enrollment forms. These individuals and organizations are required to be unbiased. Their services are free to consumers.

 

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