Our impulse to care for others wells up from the depths of our being. Whether we’re caring for our children, our aging parents, or we are professional or volunteer caregivers, we contribute to the greater wellbeing of the world by giving of ourselves. What a terrible place this world would be without people taking care of each other!
When we’re fresh, taking care of another makes us feel close to the angels, but when we’re emotionally drained, it feels like a burden we can no longer bear. When we start resenting our obligation, and compassion runs dry, we may turn against those we care for, and believing we’ve failed, turn against ourselves. This emotional tension may become intolerable, leading us to shut off feelings, and ultimately leads to bitterness and deadness of the spirit.
By opening ourselves up to this inner crisis, we can renew our compassion, and find an opportunity to grow. Here are three approaches to reclaim care-giving as one of our most precious roles.
Look for other choices
Review and heal from old wounds
Find the silver lining in our generosity
When we review our pressured situation, opportunities for relief turn up in unexpected places. Perhaps we have been taking too much on ourselves, and there are other family members or friends who would chip in. However, instead of asking, we may resist reaching out for help. We feel that this burden is ours, and ours alone. We may be so focused on our own burden we don’t notice when someone offers help, or even resent such an offer. This is an opportunity to learn about our own need to give care. Our needs may trap us in a pattern of caregiving, and this compulsion pushes us relentlessly to resentment and burnout. We can learn more about our situation and ourselves by turning our attention towards our need to care for others.
Many caregivers were raised by preoccupied or emotionally burdened parents who expected us, as small children, to care for other family members. As children, many of us formed an unconscious belief system that as long as we care for those around us, we are safe, and if we stop caring, the world becomes dangerous and out of control. This childhood training often results in a perpetual sense of obligation to take care of those around us. Now, after a lifetime of this compulsion to give, we’re burning out.
No matter how powerful is our need to give, there’s still a small child inside us who longs for the protection and caring that was missing from our early lives. When we hit a wall of caregiver burnout, it’s time to open up to the needs of that small child within, and accept that we’re not superman or woman, that we too have deep powerful needs of our own. We need to allow others to care for us, and learn to balance our own needs with the needs of others. No matter how deeply we feel stuck in the alone position, we can’t do it all by ourselves.
Sometimes we can get a fresh slant and renewed energy by reviewing our own values and beliefs. The great religions of the world all teach the precious value of caring for others. If we admire great caregivers of our age, like Mother Theresa or Albert Schweitzer, we might realize that, like them, we prefer to sacrifice for others. Upon reviewing our situation, we may realize we are doing exactly what we want to be doing, and that this is the choice that makes us feel good about our mission in life. By returning to the fountain of our own faith, even if the person we are caring for isn’t giving us the rewards we need, we can open ourselves up to the appreciation and care from our higher power.
When we maintain emotional balance, and renew the wellsprings of compassion, we improve our ability to give to others, while maintaining our own mental and physical health.
Codependent No More, How to stop controlling others and start caring for yourself by Melody Beattie
One Day at a Time in Al-Anon by Al-Anon, Inc Al-Anon Family Group Head
Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child by John Bradshaw
No Greater Love by Mother Teresa
Out of My Life and Thought : An Autobiography by Albert Schweitzer
Care of the soul by Thomas Moore