Horne: Dealing with emotions associated with caregiving

Caregiving…accentuates the usual gamut of our mind’s foray into limbic system overload…

Marjorie HorneOur emotional energy is ever present with us.

We have days when our emotions are over the moon on the joyful side, up in the 10/10 end of the scale and then there are the days in between that run down the scale from nine to one.

Some even qualify for the minus scale.  When we are facing circumstances that challenge our beliefs about ourselves and the world around us, when we are given very stressful situations to deal with, our emotional register can become a topsy-turvy roller coaster that can often feel like a ride you don’t want to be on.

Caregiving, whether this is something that has occurred gradually or whether you have been thrown into crisis management quite unexpectedly, accentuates the usual gamut of our mind’s foray into limbic system overload and these emotions can become very overwhelming. I have talked before about the “gifts of imperfection,” coming to realize how we think about ourselves at the core when life forces us out of control and into a time of learning to accept the fact that we can’t do everything perfectly all the time.

Often in this swirling atmosphere of chaos we can find a new place of acceptance that can be life changing.  I am not going to say that it is a path that does not come with some resistance and many moments of wanting to get off the train you find yourself on, but if you follow down it the gifts are there, kind of like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

Not dealing with all of the emotions that surface is often a first choice that happens protectively. Just do what needs to be done, don’t leave any space for entering the chasm of the unknown.

The emotions are likely to overtake me and I won’t be able to deal with all that I have to stay in control to do, is often how our logical mind approaches it.

Creating a space, a presence with what we sometimes consider “negative” emotions is very necessary or we suffer the consequences.  What are those? Not acknowledging these feelings results in an avalanche of expected imperfections: crankiness, irritability, overeating, over indulging in addictive behaviors, projecting on others, making others and then mostly yourself wrong.

All of this often leads to an inability to sleep well. I am sure some of you are quite familiar with the downward spiral that often takes you into the prime caregiver trap of guilt.

Guilt is virtually unavoidable as you try to do it all. It stems from doing or saying what you believe is the wrong thing, not doing what you perceive to be enough, or otherwise not behaving in the “right” way, whether or not your perceptions are accurate.

Mostly they’re not. This caregiver trap begins within a place in your own mind that does not feel good enough or sometimes lovable enough, and a role of “doing for others before yourself” has become a longstanding way of overriding that belief.

Being still and posing some inquiry on this may help you to listen to the answers that find their way to you if you allow it.

Relieving some of the burden of “shoulds” and “musts” is an important practice on the road to accepting imperfection.

Caregiver guilt is an especially corrosive emotion because you’re beating yourself up over faults that are imagined, unavoidable…..or simply a part of being human. It can become very counterproductive at a time when you may not only need to be the advocate for someone you love, but you must be a loving advocate for yourself.

So what can you do?  Begin by lowering your standards from ideal to real; aim for a B+ in the many aspects of your life rather than consistently falling into a Type A pace of being everything to everyone.

When guilt nags at your door, fully let it in and explore what is triggering it. Create a space of stillness and presence and ask yourself if you are moving into a place of unrealistic belief about your abilities.  I call this unrealistic guilt as opposed to a realistic guilt when you have hurt or wronged someone and need to make amends to correct it.

Sometimes you have to ask yourself what you need to let go of or it is likely time to reach out and ask for support from someone else. Let others help you and the person you are caring for.

They might not do it as well, or as perfectly as you, but let them do it anyway.

Just letting yourself have a pity-party for half a day sometimes relieves the stress, but give yourself an end time to the clock on this one.

I sometimes say, “I will let myself sink into a pit, go under the covers and let it all just “be there”, but when I wake up tomorrow morning, I will embrace the day with renewed hope and gratitude and start fresh.  And that is what happens. Name it to tame it is a good approach to remember.

Don’t keep the emotions you judge a secret.

That is when they surface in ways that are hurtful to yourself and to others. Focus on your intention, which is most often to be loving and caring, but let it be okay that your time, resources, and skills have limitations and try to get comfortable with that gap between perfection and reality.