Reviewed By Cara Swanston - Registered Member MBACP Adv. Dip.
11 March 2023
“As long as I can remember my mother has been this strong, proud, courageous woman and now all I see is a shadow of who she was. It terrifies me and makes me think about things I wish I didn't have to think about. I'm irritable with my mother, my children and I don't like myself most of the time.”
Seeing those we care for become ill can be extremely difficult. Depending on who they are to us the emotions felt can be terrifying, the awareness of our own existence and the fear it brings can be almost too much to bear at times.
Clients often talk about the many people in their lives they need to care for. Often for parents their caring responsibilities can go in two directions, to the young and to the elderly. Some need support to thrive, and others need it to survive.
It can be a lot of responsibility. The one thing that is almost always first to go is the carer's compassion for themselves, often because they put their caring responsibilities for others ahead of caring for themselves. The coffee time with friends become fewer and farther between, and families and friendships are tested. Recreational walks now give way to frantic dashes from place to place. On occasion, they are combined and it's the walk in the park with coffee to go.
So, what's right and what's wrong?
The truth, as experience has taught me, is it all depends on the person. We don't all gain emotional respite from the same things. What is important, is to identify in our own lives the sacrifices made at the cost to yourself.
Set boundaries with those you care for i.e do only what they need you to do. “It’s quicker and easier for me to just do it for them, watching them try to button their cardigan drives me crazy!” We can often take away the few areas of independence a person still has in frustration, rather than try to understand how hard it can be for both the carer and the person needing care. Often when experiencing strong emotions, our inability to process them can be one of the factors that can lead to Compassion Fatigue, commonly known as the cost of caring! This can cause a secondary traumatic stress.
How do you set boundaries in a situation you feel you have no control over? First, of all try and accept this is your perception of the situation. Consider if realistically, there are other options or help available to you. It can be easy to lose your sense of self in these difficult times.
Say yes when you must, and no when you can.
Be kind to yourself in the moments when you consider giving yet more of yourself, when you feel it's the only way you can meet these escalating demands. You matter too, and you must consider your own self care as a priority in this decision. How long can you really continue putting yourself last, before you become the one needing care.
Remember that your self care is as important as those you care for. You can only do the best you can in your role as a carer. Compassion fatigue is the biggest risk factor to yourself when caring for others.
Understand, you feel what you feel!
Your emotions are generated by your experiences. In turn they can and do contribute to faulty thinking, and less than helpful behaviour. Setting boundaries can help with this and reduce the associated stress and anxiety.
In closing, as I have already mentioned, be kind to yourself. This is important to remember, as it can influence your decisions and help reduce the risks associated with Compassion Fatigue and the cost of caring.
uHub is a counselling service with a multi-disciplinary approach to emotional health and well-being. We provide a safe and confidential environment where feelings can be explored. We work from an integrated approach, psychodynamic/person centred which we tailor to meet the needs of each individual so they can get the best possible service and experience from their counselling.
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