As a provider, I have come to understand the importance of providing care to others. In many walks of life, we all engage in providing care in one form or another.
Caregiving is a benevolent and altruistic practice. Caregiving can range from providing care to children and adults, helping meet the needs of others, or providing support.
Caregiving has many forms, variations, and levels of depth. Some individuals require more support and others need less. Every individual and situation is unique to its circumstances and necessities. In some cases, there are seasons where individuals may need more or less from us.
Normally, when inquiring about why caregivers engage in such practice, it derives from values such as kindness, a deep sense of contribution, and a desire to help others.
However, what happens when the role of caregiving becomes all-consuming or encompassing?
In some cases, the caregiver may over-function, overwork, over give, and hurt.
Dr. Gabor Maté eloquently points out in a lecture how caregivers are honored in obituaries for selflessness, always being there for others and putting themselves last, and working until the last minute of their death. In his lecture, he cautions the audience of how these individuals needed to receive care when receiving fatal diagnosis and continued to perform in caregiving roles at the expense of their health, and prioritizing others when they themselves needed support.
This is a grim and sobering observation of the caregiving spectrum. On one end, it can have a positive and adaptive function, and on the other it can lead to maladaptive and negative consequences.
It reveals the cost and impacts caregiving may lead to when over-functioning, over giving, and not taking the time necessary to rest or recover. Dr. Maté’s message emphasizes the importance of caregiving for the self.
Now, if you are in a role where you are providing care to another individual, the following items are signs that you might need to prioritize your own self-care:
If you find yourself resenting others who are receiving of your care, this might be a sign that you are likely over giving or over functioning. Resentment is an important emotion that signals the body that we need something. In some cases, both the mind and body may need physical or emotional nourishment, care, and rest.
One way to address resentment is by recognizing and understanding that we are emotional human beings who have needs. Of course, this begins with self-awareness and listening to ourselves. Our body, mind, and heart are talking to us all the time. Once a need is acknowledged, boundaries can be established, and needs can be expressed.
- Sickness and Illness
This occurs when a primary doctor or provider has pointed out the importance of taking time off, self-care, or reducing stress. This might mean that the body needs time to recover or rest. There is a strong correlation between inflammation, stress, and chronic illness. In some cases, stress can exacerbate the symptoms of sickness or illness.
A way to address this is by asking for help. Like mentioned above, it starts with recognizing what we need. When this occurs, we might recognize that we need help and that’s okay: we are human. This may mean that some tasks or projects need to be delegated appropriately, revised, or entirely removed.
- Misplaced Responsibility
This normally occurs when we feel a deep sense of responsibility for others. Granted, there are real and valid situations where we do hold a responsibility for others’ wellbeing such as parenting or leadership roles. However, misplaced responsibility occurs when we feel responsible for things that are truly outside of our control. This can lead us to feeling exhausted, discouraged, and hurt.
One way to address this is by accepting both what is within and outside of our control. Acceptance is an antidote to those things which are not within our control. This does not mean we are giving up; however, it may mean that we can redirect our efforts in a more adaptive or helpful ways.
- Insatiable Expectations
No matter what we do, it feels as if it’s not enough. As human beings we have a potential to do extraordinary things; however, if unaware it can lead individuals to over perform or overwork. Like mentioned before, this may be due to misplaced responsibility on ourselves such as things are truly outside of our control. This can lead us to limiting our ability to be present and enjoy the process.
A way to address this by setting realistic and achievable expectations. To do so, we may start by prioritizing and clarifying what is truly important for us. Ideally, the goal would be to shift our expectations from focusing on the outcomes and instead focusing on the quality of the process. In other words, enjoying the journey.
- Over-Identifying with the Caregiving Role
This can occur when we confuse our identity with the caregiver role. The self is made up from different parts, values, and life experiences. However, in some cases either because of adverse childhood experiences or through social learning experiences we might forget who we are. Hence, we might confuse the caregiving role as a form of identity. Very reasonably, it might be a very important part of who we are, however, the invitation is to take into consideration that even then, it’s not all of who we are.
A way to reframe this, is to make room for other parts. This requires awareness of ourselves: to make room for both the caregiving part of ourselves and other parts. Hence, this may begin by exploring all our parts such as our strengths, our roots, our values, and needs. There is more to us than the caregiving role.
In closing, caregiving is a beautiful and rewarding experience. However, the caregiver needs love, too. My intent is to invite the caregiver part in you to make room for inner care. Like Maya Angelou once said, “Love liberates,” it does not confine. Caregiving is an act of love that liberates the self to express and receive love. In essence, my hope for you is to live the life your heart longs for.
With warmth and kindness,
A., V. D. (2015). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. New York (New York): Penguin Books.
Martinez, M. E. (2016). The mindbody code: how to change the beliefs that limit your health, longevity, and success. Sounds True.
SCSASmithers. (2013, March 6). When the body says no — caring for ourselves while caring for others. dr. Gabor Maté. YouTube. Retrieved August 11, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c6IL8WVyMMs&t=2309s