Caregiving can be an all-consuming, and occasionally a thankless task. Those for whom you care are inherently net takers, though not usually intentionally selfish. In the end, however, the caregiver gives more and gets less. In many cases that makes the caregiver attempt to provide more than the capacity he or she may have physically or emotionally.
Capacity Match. While it may seem obvious that one cannot give more than one has, many caregivers do not acknowledge personal limitations and attempt, not always successfully, to exceed that capacity. Sometimes that insistence on going it alone with unrealistic goals ends in a poor experience for the caregiver and the cared-for alike. Acknowledging capacity limitations and planning around them will create a calmer situation for all concerned.
Illusion of Control. Caregivers sometimes start their journey believing they are in control of the situation. Soon reality checks in. Caregivers take pride in believing they can make things happen but soon learn that they control less than they first thought. Understanding the limits of what the caregiver controls is an essential coping skill.
Expectations of Others. Once capacity and control limitations are acknowledged, caregivers are free to recalibrate expectations about responsibilities and outcomes. The problem can arise when non-contributing family members do not acknowledge the caregiver’s limitations and criticize the performance. Understanding and defending against unrealistic expectations of family members is another essential coping skill necessary for the committed caregiver.
Establishing Boundaries. When caregivers attempt to accomplish any or all of the above to retain control and sanity, there will be pushback and occasionally hostility. This, however, is an acceptable price to pay for establishing personal boundaries rather than becoming a “prisoner of the impossible.” Despite the anxiety, by firmly defending personal boundaries, the caregiver can establish an important coping mechanism.
Getting Help. While these ideas may help a caregiver to keep composure and mental health in dealing with the pressures of giving care to a loved one, sometimes the most straight-forward answer is to simply ask for help. Fortunately, professional home care is readily available. Whether respite care for a few hours or days or regularly scheduled help, it can stretch the primary caregiver’s abilities much further than if he or she attempts to go it alone. It is important to acknowledge the importance of a pressure valve.
Help notwithstanding, the coping strategies described above cannot be turned on and off. They must be practiced and sustained. The caregiver can expect blowback and little appreciation, but must remain resolute. It is not easy, but it is important.