In my last post I wrote about how easy it is for caregivers to fall into patterns of self-neglect and not even realize it. I hope you took something away from reading it that nudged you into awareness from time to time when you were pushing yourself to exhaustion. Did you actually take a break, or at least breathe? Hope so! Each act of self-care contributes to building a regular practice that will make a huge difference.
Today’s topic is related, but goes a little deeper; it looks at why you might be falling into patterns like that in the first place. You can gain an even greater ability to direct your life in the direction you desire when you not only notice yourself doing something that’s self-sabotaging – you also know why you really chose to do it. When you understand previously hidden motivations behind what simply appears to be a serious of unrelated “logical” or even guilt-induced, in-the-moment decisions, you take back your power to choose something different next time.
I hope the following excerpt from the second chapter of my latest book, Take Back Your Life: A Caregiver’s Guide to Finding Freedom in the Midst of Overwhelm, gives you some clues about the kinds of underlying issues and experiences that may cause you to react in certain ways.
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From Take Back Your Life, Chapter 2:
For anyone who has ever flown on an airplane, you know that when the flight attendants are reviewing safety and emergency procedures, they will tell you that, should oxygen be required during the flight, oxygen masks will drop down, and, if you are traveling with a dependent, you are to place your own oxygen mask over your face first. This is a request that initially seems very counterintuitive. However, the reality is, if you are not breathing, then you will be unable to assist the very person or people you love. Deprivation grows from the feeling that everyone else has to have oxygen before you do. You really can reduce feelings of deprivation when you actually stop and take in your oxygen.
Whatever you’ve been doing in your caregiving duties, responsibilities or obligations may have started in small, insidious ways. Perhaps it started out as a temporary, stop-gap measure and became long-term. Maybe you took on responsibilities because you didn’t think about asking anyone else to help. You might not have known that you could ask for help or that there was even anyone to ask.
Maybe your role as a caregiver gave you a sense of importance and control in your family. To be valued, appreciated, and in control is a very heady feeling and one that becomes increasingly addictive – until it loses its sheen. When it does, whatever the reasons may be for taking on as much as you have, something has shifted for you so that you are not feeling the same degree of reward in your role as caregiver. Most people don’t change their behaviors unless a catalyst, be it internal or external, forces us to change. It is then we usually experience fear, anger, trepidation, anxiety, uncertainty, and – let’s not forget – guilt.
How did you become a caregiver? Have you always taken better care of others than of yourself? Are you the one who cringes at the thought of placing the oxygen mask over your face first? When did that start? These are very important questions because they will help you to look at what patterns have developed for you as well as for the people in your life. You’ve created patterns of behavior that others have come to expect and rely on, and they may react with anger, surprise, disappointment, maybe even guilt trips when you express even the possibility of changing your behavior.
If you’ve become fearful of others’ reactions to you making changes, then you will not make the changes necessary to take back your power and reclaim your life. This is not about not caring for anyone else anymore; it’s about making sure you appear on your list of priorities. When you look at your list of responsibilities for any given day, where do your needs show up? Do they show up at all? Do you consider taking care of yourself a responsibility you have?
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I’d love to hear what this short but intensive look into your own caregiver origins, assumptions and motivations brought to your awareness. Did you learn something new about your own caregiving style and workload?
Leave a comment below if this snapshot from the book helped you start to see something about the kind of caregiver you are, and how you came to be that way.
And if you haven’t done so already, be sure to download my complimentary Step By Step Guide with its companion audio and transcript, The Caregiver’s Step-By-Step Guide to Take Back Your Life. I created it for in-the-moment new perspectives and support. It provides a structure for walking yourself through the steps of a successful response to any challenging situation. Someone recently told me, “I use the Step-By-Step Guide every day!” Maybe you’ll find it equally helpful – hope so!
and we breathe…