Discovering Yourself While Caring For Another

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Dr. James D. Huysman

Caring for the Caregiver /


Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging. ~ Joseph Campbell

One of my favorite Eleanor Roosevelt quotes is, “Women are like tea bags; you never know how strong they are until they’re put in hot water.”  I think the same can be said of caregivers.  There is no question that becoming a caregiver can turn your world on its ear and that the rigors of providing care on a daily basis can impact the caregiver in some not so positive ways.  But the consequences aren’t always negative.  Unknown stores of strength and character can be revealed in times of crisis.  On this journey, you will discover things about yourself that you never knew.  When our “issues” are triggered by life circumstances, we react.  The key to discovery is to find out why we react the way we do.  Once we put all of this together, we can create resiliency.

I can hear you complaining that you have enough to do as it is and there is really no time left in your busy day to embark on a journey of self-discovery!  That’s ok, I will indulge you.  The good news and the bad news will be the same, so you may as well prepare.  The news is you get to feel your feelings, no matter what they are.  “Great”, you say?  Although you may not have meant it that way, I heartily agree!

What you might find…

Know that in every circumstance, life offers us an opportunity to grow or practice what we’ve learned.  As Gail Sheehy has so wisely stated, Growth demands a temporary surrender of security."

 For those of you who don’t feel that secure to begin with, take heart.  As you get to really know yourself, your confidence will grow.  As you confidence grows so does your self-esteem. You are not useless, hopeless, incapable or an idiot.  You are just a human being in transition.  You’re not supposed to know everything all at once.  Give yourself a break and find out what you need to know.  It’s a process.  It won’t happen overnight, but you will make progress every time you try.  Remember, success is not in failing.  It’s in never trying.

Feeling angry or resentful?  It goes with the territory.  It’s important to find out who you are angry at or what you’re resentful about.   The fact is that you might just be in some fear about the new role you’re playing and it’s manifesting by being projected onto someone or something.  Or you may have a legitimate reason to be angry.  That’s OK, too.  Whatever the reason, a little self acceptance, love and forgiveness can make all the difference.  A good caregiver adage to take away from the world of resentments and anger is that “resentments are like chain smoking hate”.  That is no fun and as we know can lead to much worse medical conditions.

Guilt and shame are classic responses too.  The effects of coping with chronic illness changes people and it can be difficult to distinguish your loved one from the effects of their disease.  However, it is important to acknowledge this divide because doing so will help you not to take hurtful things someone may say personally.

Have some control issues?  Relax.  You can’t be everything to everybody and you will make yourself sick trying to convince everybody to do it your way.  Let other people have a say to.  Would it kill you to be cooperative or at least give someone else’s opinion an open-minded hearing?  The answer is NO, it wouldn’t.

The relationship between caregiver and caree is an intimate one.   In order to find and maintain balance, the caregiver must claim some breathing room for him/herself; a safe place to process and honor your feelings.  Whether you take a walk, journal, attend a support group, see a therapist, sit in the car and scream or all of the above – DO SOMETHING.  Or as Eleanor would say, “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”  YES, you can.

"Learning to be aware of feelings, how they arise and how to use them creatively so they guide us to happiness, is an essential lifetime skill." -- Joan Borysenko


About The Author
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James D “Dr. Jamie” Huysman, PsyD, LCSW is well-known for his work fiercely advocating on behalf of family and professional caregivers. From running a national caregiver support foundation, contributing to the AARP Foundation/NASW’s collective “New Guidelines for Caregivers of Older Adults” and co-authoring “Take Your Oxygen First”, to his expert videos on Caregiver Connections for UHC TV, he is a champion of behavioral health and a patient-centered medical culture that is prepared to meet the needs of those they serve.  A popular speaker, he works as VP of Provider Relations and Government Affairs for WellMed Medical Management.

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