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“I Need You–I Don’t Need You:” The Push-Pull of Caregiving

Posted Aug 29 2012 8:35am

“Why haven’t you called?” “I want to be independent and live by myself.” “You’ll miss me when I’m gone.” The push-pull of caregiving can send you into an emotional whiplash. Yet, it’s what we do–as family. We send mix messages. Caregivers feel guilty that they’re not doing enough, and then get whapped with “Back off, I don’t want you all up in my business!” What’s a caregiver to do?

It’s tough, but the healthiest thing a caregiver can do is to stay present in their own lives and refuse to get tangled in the emotional web of someone else’s volatile unpredictability. What would you do for your loved one if you could step away from the guilt, resentment, worry, and fear?

Some of us are afraid we’d just walk away. Some of us can’t even begin to imagine a life without these negative feelings driving us. Most of us forget to start and end our day with a sense of calm presence realizing that the only person we can truly give anything to–is ourselves. Until our own cups are full we have nothing true and good to give.

We can’t drive a car without gas. It simply can’t be done (not counting electric, of course, and even they need charging regularly). When our tanks are empty we’re stuck. In the end, we sputter, panic, and then find ourselves stranded on the side of the road. That’s what it’s like when we continue to give and give without adequate sleep, without renewing our joy, without taking care of our own health. We sputter just before we burn out.

Most of us enter adulthood with a complete set of emotional baggage. Our parents got us to do what they wanted mostly by fear tactics: stay in bed or the boogie monster will get you, make good grades or you’ll be grounded, don’t get pregnant or you’ll be disgraced…from little things to big we learned to live in fear. Fear of failing, fear of displeasing those we love. It may have worked (temporarily), but there’s a price to pay for living in that much fear. We either cower or rebel. Or…we learn to stand up for ourselves.

The challenge is to stand up and say loud and clear, “Wait a minute…wait just one darn minute. I’m tired of being afraid all the time. I’m tired of trying to please everybody else, even when it’s not good for me.”

And that may be the irony that comes with caregiving. It gives us yet one more chance to grow up. To really grow up. We no longer need to cower or rebel. We can speak in love, and stand in our own truth. We choose to no longer be controlled by fear. We can love because we choose to. We can give, and at times, even sacrifice our time, money, and energy for the good of someone else, but it’s with clarity and choice, and often short-term that we step into that place of sacrificial love.

We learn to say no. We learn to stay present in our own lives first. We learn to allow someone else to feel anything they want to feel without dragging us into their vortex.

It’s one of the last and greatest gifts our parents/loved ones can give us. The opportunity to revisit old issues with new eyes.


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