Embracing the Complexities of Caregiving
When you enter the world of caregiving, it may feel as though you have been swept up into a tornado and dropped far from home with no survival kit. The decision to step up and support a loved one in need may come quickly or take weeks of difficult deliberation, but either way you find yourself in the same position–sprinting up a steep, daunting learning curve.
Your loved one’s medical providers will certainly do their best to prepare you for the task of caregiving. They will drop you a lifeline of education, supplies, and follow-up appointments. The business cards of physicians, equipment companies, and pharmacies will overflow from your wallet as a reminder that a highly qualified village stands behind you on this journey.
However, when it is time to return home at the end of the day and put plans into motion, the weight of your new responsibilities might become overwhelming. Caregiving can connect you to your community in huge ways, and it can also be one of the loneliest experiences of a lifetime. In the process of making sacrifices to protect and care for someone you love dearly, you may find yourself repeatedly setting your own feelings and needs aside with a hurried promise of revisiting them at a later date.
The reality is that it can be challenging to take your own wellbeing into consideration while honoring the needs of the person you are caring for. Sometimes your thoughts and feelings may be at odds with each other, and wrestling two opposing emotional realities at once is something we naturally tend to shy away from. As a caregiver, your emotions might often conflict with some preconceived notion of what you should be feeling or what you are allowed to feel. This can trigger shame, inspire the urge to withdraw socially, and even contribute to caregiver burnout that ultimately limits your capacity to support your loved one.
To help combat this, we can embrace the concept of a dialectic, or the idea that two seemingly contradictory realities can be true at the same time. Dialectics are commonly used in therapeutic settings to help people accept their complex thoughts, feelings, and beliefs as a whole package without assigning judgment or blame to the pieces that might seem conflicting. Reframing black-and-white thinking into dialectical thinking can allow us to express in more depth how we truly feel while practicing self-compassion.
Shifting to a dialectic frame of mind when reflecting on our own emotions takes practice in order to become a habit. One way to begin this exercise is to work on using “and” instead of “but” to connect your thoughts. These “and” statements serve as affirmations as well as detours from the all-or-nothing thinking that can keep us stuck in states of emotional suffering. See below for some examples of dialectics that may arise for somebody in a caregiving role:
I love the person I am caring for, and I feel frustrated with them when I do not get enough space to myself.
I would not trade this role for anything, and I am exhausted.
I feel that the sacrifices I am making are worth it, and making these sacrifices is difficult.
I have many essential responsibilities to somebody I care about, and I also deserve rest and support.
Everything may not be alright, and I will get through this.
I do not have the resources that I wish I had, and I am doing my best with what I do have.
Next time you find yourself questioning if your complicated feelings can co-exist, try practicing some dialectical thinking. It can help to write your “and” statements down or speak them aloud. After some practice, dialectics will come easier to you and allow you to find balance in life’s challenges more effectively.
If these ideas resonate with you and you feel you may benefit from a safe, individualized space to work toward emotional healing as you navigate life as a caregiver, feel free to request an appointment through our website to meet with one of our therapists.
Written by: Julia Nailor, LMSW