Every caregiver has a family history. Some of that history may be unpleasant, disappointing or even abusive. A caregiver's experience of abuse, neglect and addiction leave lasting scars. Moving beyond the past is never easy. But what happens when someone in your family becomes ill or incapacitated and you are called upon to care for them? What is your responsibility, based on their past treatment of you? How do you take care of your parents or spouse when they didn't take good care of you – and in fact may done have you harm?
Many caregivers struggle with the huge responsibility when it is suddenly – and usually unexpectedly – thrust upon them. They are in a quandary, because they know society thinks they should care for their parents or spouse. Some of them have religious issues about "honoring their parents," no matter what. However, many feel that they just cannot give the emotional and physical care their family member needs.
If you are caring for an elderly family member, but feeling resentment and anger about their past actions, remember, healing can happen when emotionally destroyed families find a way to forgive. If you would like to let go of anger and forgive, but are stumped with the question of how to forgive, here are tips that might help.
Focus on Today
Study after study shows that one of the keys to longevity and good health is to develop a habit of gratitude and let go of past hurts. To be a mindful and effective caregiver, focus on today. You can forgive, without forgetting. Don't waste your energy and spirit on events that cannot be changed. It is unhealthy and counter-productive. Make it a goal to stop judging family members for past behavior, and extend forgiveness for failings.
Build a New Relationship
We've all heard stories of estranged families who reunite years later, forgive the past and go on to have healthy and fulfilling relationships for the rest of their lives. Parents or spouses may not change, but future family dynamics still can. You can do your part to forge a new, different and better relationship with your family member. To break the cycle of your childhood experience, let go of whatever neglect and inattention suffered, and begin a new era in your family's history. Forging a new family dynamic can be one of the most rewarding experiences in life. It's not easy, but the end result is worth it.
Understand They Have Flawed Pasts, Too
Try to be aware that your parents or your spouse were raised by imperfect parents. They often did all they knew how to do. That doesn't make abuse or neglect right. It doesn't make any of it okay. But understanding that they are human beings with flawed pasts – they were likely abused as children, themselves – may help you care for them, and appreciate them while you still have time.
Accept the Circumstances
Don't waste precious energy wishing things were different. Dramatizing or pretending only makes the situation worse. Believe in your own strength and grace. Once you've decided to take the role of caregiver, accept it and do the best you can with the situation. Live your life knowing that you are doing the very best for your loved one and for yourself.
You can't control the past, but you can control your attitude. You have a choice every day regarding the attitude you will embrace. You cannot change the fact that people have…or will…act in a certain way. But you can choose your attitude. Even though it's hard, you can choose to be a "glass half full" person. With the right attitude, you control your destiny and happiness, rather them being driven by outside factors.
If you're still having difficulty knowing how to forgive someone who's wronged you in a significant way, you may have better success working with a therapist who can help you work through your feelings on a deeper level and personally support you through the process. Talking out your past with a trained counselor can be helpful. It can teach you the coping techniques to help you understand (but not condone) your loved one's actions, get you over the hump of resentment and help you move forward.
Bring In Outside Help
If you simply cannot find it in your heart to care for a family member who has hurt you, that's OK. Make the decision, accept it and move on. Don't judge or condemn yourself. You can still ensure your family member is well-cared for, without providing the hands-on day-to-day care yourself. Home health care and assisted living facilities can ensure your family member has a good quality of life.
In the Caregiver Support Groups, we see stories every day about elders who verbally and sometimes physically, abuse their caregivers. Yet, these dedicated individuals continue to provide care. The bottom line is: You cannot change, or control your elderly's parent's behavior. But you can control your own.
Do your best to forgive, if not forget, then let go and lighten your load. A grudge can be a heavy weight to bear. All you can is your best. Try to live each day to fullest, with love, gratitude and forgiveness.