This is the fifth and final part in a series on self-care for care-givers. Physicians, nurses, mommas, pastors, teachers and unsung care-givers of every stripe I hope you find something restorative here. Post 1, Caregiver, Love Thyself, Post 2, Thick Line in the Sand, Part 1, Post 3, Thick Line in the Sand, Part 2, Post 4, But...The Lord Told Me To, Post 5, Tapped Out.
As we wrap up this series, I want to pose a few questions all caregivers need to face. The answers to these questions help you know/see yourself more fully, and that makes your work most meaningful and fulfilling.
Question 1: Why do I want to be a _________?
Knowing why you're a caregiver is critical to how you do that work. In counseling school they made us write out our answer to "why do you want to be a counselor." I think every caregiving profession should make this a requisite. The truth is, an honest assessment of yourself will reveal some altruistic motives, and some deep personal needs. You need to know both. Unacknowledged needs drive us. They take over our actions. It's no crime. It's entirely human to be helping others for personal reasons. However, when we have no way of owning that truth, and understanding those motivators, they undermine us and put an unfair pressure on the recipient of our care to perform in ways they can't know, and we may not even be able to articulate.
Owning the truth of our needs helps us put an emotional check in place when we see ourselves place those demands on others. All of us have places that need healing. Sometimes we use our work to keep from confronting that pain.
Question 2: What do I do if someone rejects my help?
Think about the last time someone didn't want your help. How did you respond? Your answer will fall somewhere on a continuum from "I did nothing" to "I chased them down and with my dying breath pushed that medicine in their mouth/food in their hand/prayer over their head/bottle away." This reveals whether you have more work to do answering question one.
Those of us who have had moments closer to the second end of that spectrum needed to be needed. We only expend that amount of energy on someone who doesn't want it because for some reason we want/need it. The focus is no longer on the other person, but on us. It's just really difficult to see that misplaced emotional-focus, because the action-focus still ostensibly affects the other.
Question 3: What am I doing to fill my needs?
I know gifted caregivers who can't trust others to give care to them. It limits their capacity to do their work, because they keep running out of love and energy and hope. We all need to be the object of care at some point. This is why I'm such an advocate for counseling or therapy. At least in my home state of Oklahoma, that still has a lot of negative connotations. Even worse, I see this attitude held tightly among caregivers.
After you've performed the honest assessment in number one, it's time to start looking for places to make sure your needs are met. We need to be loved. We need to be heard. We need to see we matter. I believe we also need to hold a positive view of self (don't confuse that with the dishonesty of a narcissistic view). We cannot place these needs on the objects of our care -- at least not solely on them. We can get a secondary fulfillment of these needs through our success at caregiving, but the primary fulfillment must be actively pursued in healthy relationships.
Wrestling with these questions may bring up other questions. If possible, spend a couple days (or more) following out the answers and subsequent riddles. Write things down. This could create a complex network of streams -- tricky to track mentally.
Also, hopefully as you've read through the series each post has given you a little insight on ways to care for yourself. We started out saying that most of us are experts in Other, and a relative stranger to self. These questions and posts can counter that trend.
That title up there? It's true. You are lovely. In my faith tradition, you're a unique expression of the divine image of God. The impulse to heal, to create a better world (in Christianity we call this Kingdom Come), to inspire ultimate human behavior, is beautiful and godly.
I hope you've come to cherish that beauty in yourself. And, that you'll tend to it as carefully as you would any Other who needed you.
God bless lovely you and your wonderful work.