I have a question for you, and the only person you owe an honest answer to is yourself.
As a caregiver, do you take it upon yourself to FIX everything that is wrong with the person for whom you are caring?
I suffered from the “fix it mentality” myself and understand how easy it is to fall into that habit. When we become caregivers, we often don’t get the chance to wrap our heads around what exactly our new role is. We charge on full steam ahead, simply trying our best to stabilize or improve our aging loved one’s health and doing everything we can to make them as comfortable and content as possible. But when we get into that never-ending loop of fix, fix, fix, our efforts can actually backfire.
The truth is that we aren’t really fixing anything with all this effort. If we do put something right, it usually doesn’t stay that way for long. It’s only a matter of time before we get frustrated and exhausted. Who wouldn’t lose steam after repeatedly throwing themselves at a problem and seeing few or no results? This is when burnout strikes. When you invest so much of yourself in something that truly has no solution, you very quickly lose control of your own life.
A Fix-It Mentality Leads to Caregiver Burnout
Caregiving is funny that way. When we begin this journey, it all seems so altruistic and loving. We feel needed, wanted and valued, but, in time, something happens that changes all of this. A sort of mutual dissatisfaction takes root with both caregivers and care recipients. We come in and take over someone’s life and we try to fix what we perceive to be “wrong.”
While your intentions are good and your approach is understandable, this endless quest for solutions will only keep you chasing your tail. Most seniors who require assistance are not capable of making a full recovery, even with their family members’ full devotion. For example, dementia can’t be “fixed.” At a certain point, there is little that can be done about severe arthritis pain. Many seniors begin eating less as they get older and frailer. These are all things that we wish to remedy for our loved ones, but driving ourselves into the ground to find solutions is not a sustainable approach to caregiving. Sadly, one thing holds true in every caregiving situation: despite our best efforts, age and illness always have the upper hand.
One of the most painful realizations for a family caregiver is that there is no fixing what a loved one is going through. This in no way diminishes the care you provide, but it can be an upsetting truth for many to grapple with. With this realization also comes the understanding that caregiving is likely to be a longer-term commitment than we initially anticipated. The result is feelings of powerlessness, increased stress levels and depression—hallmarks of caregiver burnout.
Seniors Suffer Under the Fix It Mentality, Too
Our “fix it” approach to caregiving doesn’t just harm us, either. When we swoop in to help an elder improve their health, clean their home, eat nutritiously, manage their finances and get to appointments, we often do so without realizing that we’ve effectively taken over their life. Again, all these things can have a beneficial impact on our elders, but it does come as a cost: their independence and, at times, their dignity.
I’ve coached enough family caregivers to know that this is what happens. Eventually, “thank you” is no longer part of the dialogue. Your loved one may have gotten used to you handling everything for them and they may even harbor some resentment over their sudden loss of independence. Some seniors even lash out and become cantankerous because they feel a complete lack of control over their own lives. Many also tire of trying our “solution du jour” for whatever may be ailing them, but begrudgingly oblige us. Of course, apathy, a lack of appreciation and bad behavior only serve to deepen our feelings of hopelessness and burnout.
How to Avoid “Fix It” Syndrome and Caregiver Burnout
This was never your intention, but this is a trap that all too many caregivers fall into. If you can learn to control your urge to fix things and become an advocate for your loved one instead, your role will be much easier to manage. Their behavior will likely become easier to cope with as well.
Just let go. Stop striving for perfection and searching for permanent solutions. Resolve to be the very best you can be. Know that the assistance you are providing is enough. Understand that it is appreciated even if the person you are caring for never says thank you.
Take a step back and redefine your role. Your job is not to fix what’s wrong. Your role is to advocate for your loved one, keep them safe and clean, and ensure they’re well-cared for. The fundamental challenges of caregiving are handling these tasks while preserving your loved one’s dignity and being realistic about your abilities and your limits.
Trust in yourself; trust that you are enough. Accept that you are good enough and that what you are doing has true value. You can’t fix someone’s chronic illness or be responsible for another person’s happiness. Get out of the fix it mentality and get into the “I’m enough” state of mind. Vow to do what you can today and let the rest fall away.