Caregiver’s Curse

Being in a profession that is focused on the well-being of others, it is easy to neglect the well-being of myself. As a mental health professional & social worker, I feel it’s in my second nature to be concerned with how those around me are feeling and to do what I can to help them in whatever capacity possible. However, when I do that constantly, without taking time to check in with myself and how much energy I have available to expend on others, I become DRAINED (or “prickly”-remember that from the previous blog). Then I am no good for anyone.

Since I care sincerely and love deeply, I can feel like I’m neglecting others when I choose to put my own needs first. Feeling guilty and like I’m letting others down, can be hard to reconcile, especially because I’ve realized that I get some self-value or worth from helping others. There are times that I see others as more important and having greater value than me. I will venture to say that I’m not alone in this. I will also propose that this is more common for women than men as we are often socialized this way.

I have recently begun calling this the Caregiver’s Curse. It’s when you feel responsible for everyone, their happiness and health before thinking about your own needs. You tell yourself that “everyone is counting on you” and/or “what would they do without you” and/or “there is no one else to take care of this”, the rationalizations go on and on….

After decades of neglecting my own needs, I began a self-improvement journey in my late 30’s and early 40’s after a mini emotional breakdown and awakening. Through this new approach, I’ve learned that my needs do matter, that I have value regardless of what I’m doing or who I’m helping. I’m beginning to SLOW down and think about what I need. It isn’t always easy to do but seems to get easier with practice. I now realize that I have a choice. (Thanks “H2H”-you know who you are).  I don’t ALWAYS have to do EVERYTHING or what EVERYONE expects of me (I’m good at operating out of obligation), I can do what I want or/and need to do.

I believe it’s vital to establishing healthy boundaries. It’s helping me to do that. Here are some of my go to statements, maybe some of them will help you too.

1)      “Oh I’d love to help you with “X,Y,Z”. Here’s when I’m available  _____  and for ____ amount of time.”

Give only as much as you can AFFORD to give without sapping your energy, or resources or time. Limit yourself to the extent that you stay sane and healthy, physically, emotionally, mentally. Or maybe you can’t help and that’s ok too. Or maybe you say I can help you but not until after I, …

2)      That works for phone calls too, something like “I only have 10 minutes to talk because I have a few other things I need to get done today (or before I leave for soccer practice to pick up… etc.)”

Set time limits and stick to it! It works and everyone can relate to having a long list of “to do’s”. Maintaining self-discipline and perimeters on how much time & energy you give will save you. And just think instead of being on your phone, you can use THAT time to talk to your kid about soccer practice or etc. (that is if you can keep them off their phone).

3)      “Oh, XYZ happened to you?! Oh! I’m sorry to hear this, what are you going to do?”

This is one I use often, especially with my teens or others if I sense they want me to fix their problem(s). Historically, I would feel like I needed to come up with solutions to help. Now I try to support them but let them figure out what to do. Not only do I not take on something “extra”, but it helps them learn independence and problem solving skills. (Of course, I will help guide them or get involved as needed, depending on the situation. They are my kids after all). Just because someone around you has a problem, it doesn’t mean you have to jump in and resolve it. It’s good to let other people have their life lessons and experiences too.

4)      “Oh, XYZ happened, yikes that’s hard (or sad or too bad)! I’ll keep you in thought/prayer”

I have been notorious for carrying other people’s burdens with me. I drag them around, compounding one person’s problems upon another person’s challenges until I feel “the weight of the world” on my shoulders. As much as I care for others, I’m figuring out it is not my job to save them. Everyone needs to save themselves. I am happy to be their cheerleader, supporting them from the sideline, but I can’t take away someone else’s pain and it’s not fair for me to do so. That is part of their life’s journey and eventually their victory when they get to the other side. It is so hard to do that, letting go and being ok to step aside, but it’s in the best interest of all parties, including you. (And remember, if it’s really bad, there are professionals trained to help them).

It is my hope that as you move forward you are able to set some limits. Really consider how much you take on, releasing yourself from the responsibility of taking care of everyone before taking care of you. Break the Caregivers Curse. It’s ok to say no sometimes. Remember you have a choice!