The Number One Issue That Causes Caregivers to Break Down

142 Comments

When I was a kid, one of my role models was Horton the elephant, from Dr. Seuss. His phrase, "I meant what I said and I said what I meant—an elephant's faithful, one-hundred percent!" became my childhood mantra. Only later in life did I grasp the more subtle message, that I need to choose my meanings carefully.

When we communicate, in speaking and listening, we share meaning. In fact, in caregiving I came to realize that the words that I spoke (to myself and others,) and what I was listening for gave me my experience of caregiving.

So, let's take a minute to look at an aspect of communication that determines your well-being in caregiving.

How to Speak to Create Well-Being

"Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it"
-- Charles Swindoll

Imagine yourself visiting your loved one in the hospital. You are walking down the hallway when you overhear two people talking. One of them points at a nurse coming down the hall and tells her friend, "That one has a lousy attitude."

Later, you meet that nurse in your loved one's room. Do you feel good about her caring for your loved one? When we speak we create realities, both for ourselves and for those around us. And those around us, in turn, create experiences for us. Like fish swimming in a communal fish bowl, we each create our own experience and that of others.

We are constantly being infected by others. Does someone you know speak in a way that deflates you or drains your energy? How do you feel after listening to the TV news? Or perhaps you have a friend who is prone to saying things like, "I'm having the most horrible day!" or "You won't believe what she said to me!" By one way of thinking, you are being invited to join in "awfulizing." When someone is being negative or hyper-critical, I've been know to say, "Hey! Stop pooping in the fish bowl."

It is easy to think of ways in which the words of others affect us, but what about the way our own thoughts and words affect how we are feeling?

If you say "caregiving is hard," do you mean you are committed to it being hard? How does your feeling about it shift when you say "Caregiving is a challenge"? Consider the way you "share" about caregiving with your siblings, friends, or family.

We use words to describe feelings, but words also generate feelings, so choose them carefully. Or think about the words you use when you're just thinking about caregiving at four in the morning. Those words that run through your mind create your caregiving experience.

While many forms of communication in ordinary life can seem recreational, (commonly called "sharing") caregiving is not ordinary life. Your energy and attitude are to be safeguarded at all costs.

Of course there will be times when you need to vent, but use them carefully. Set yourself a time limit. Then move on to more constructive forms of communication that are sourced by your commitment to caregiving. One of your mantras for caregiving could be, "If I'm going to make something up, make it good."


Holly Whiteside, caregiver's coach & advocate, is author of "The Caregiver's Compass: How to Navigate with Balance and Effectiveness Using Mindful Caregiving."

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142 Comments

Nonsense, this is obviously written by someone who never did any hands on care. What causes us to break down is that we are aging and maybe going through menopause as we are doing hard physical work caring for someone that will not get better. We don't need a mantra, we need a break and a hug.

You just don't get it.
I had much of the same reaction as all of you, so I did some reading about this author, and read more items she has written.

She's a "life coach" - and she did, indeed, follow Erhard. She has a blog where she posts much the same stuff as this - full of psycho-babble buzzwords. I looked up her book on Amazon, and the preview pages were enough to find out that while she claims a "decade-long caregiving experience", in reality her mother actually lived with her for only a short time - and was fairly "able" during that time - so the big problem was their prior difficult relationship. Her mother moved to assisted living, and the majority of her "decade of caregiving" consisted of visiting her mother there three times a week!

So, if you were thinking that all the BS she wrote sounded like somebody that never really had to live through the tough stuff - the 24/7 caregiving, the urine and feces on the bed and floor, the stove left on, the blaring TV, the day you had to quit the job you loved, and always and always the horrible, hollow feeling that your life will never have anything in it ever again but the endless needs of your parent - you're right, she never did.

She's just making money with her book and blog, spouting a bunch of vague platitudes. She has no real help to offer.
It is not clear to me what the writer claims is "The Number One Issue That Causes Caregivers to Break Down", unless it is the wrong choice of words to express the stress caregivers are going through, with which view I do not agree. I don't think people on this site are"awfulizing" their experiences. There is no need to "awfulize" the effects diseases like cancer and the various dementias have on people or to make up (?) anything about them. They are "awful" in their own right. To state otherwise would be denial in my view. This seems to be a bit "Pollyanna-ish".