ThePros is advice from professionals in the field of care giving.
The Art of the Self in Care Giving
by Jim Spruiell
Richard Anastasi, a friend, asked me to write an article for his new on-line magazine: “Cura for the Care Giver.” Richard served as primary caregiver for his mother during her final year of life and knows first- hand the emotional, physical, and economic toll care-taking can have on a person’s life. Richard is also aware that as a psychotherapist, I have strong ideas regarding the role of non-professional care giving. In this article my hope is the reader will be able to understand how to manage the emotional, heart-wrenching journey that can be rewarding or forebodingly overwhelming.
Here are three critical areas presented for the reader’s consideration.
Hopefully with meditation and prayerful intentionality the caretaker will profit from this consciousness.
Area 1: The Unconscious
Experiences that do not gain consciousness do not disappear. They form another part of the human psyche, for nothing that has been experienced ceases to exist. Instead the energy field of these experiences are stored int he unconscious of a person’s psyche. The instinctive energy fields for survival (e.g. fight or flight) are housed in the unconscious and become activated when we need to respond to our environment in a survival mode. Most of us believe that we make decisions on what to do or not do in our present moment. However, below the level of present consciousness, the unconscious is sorting through past experiences assisting the decision we are making.
Our Garden of Eden experience occurs at birth. Some psychologists have referred to this experience as the birth trauma. Our expulsion from our mother’s womb gives birth to twin fears–the fear of inadequacy and the fear of abandonment. Primarily, these fears remain unconscious; however, they play a leading role in every decision we make that affects our personal relationships.
As infants, we start with letting the world know that we cannot survive on our own. We cry out for attention and recognition. We are inadequate and cannot be abandoned or we will die. This event is recorded forever in the unconscious psyche and assists us the rest of our lives in relating and belonging within the human race. The powerful energy field created during our early development sets our needs for attention and approval by others.
This energy field is the fulcrum that leverages all decisions when it comes to relationships.
The unconscious energy called upon when we begin to be a care giver is the same energy, one of inadequacy and abandonment. We are immediately filled with the anxiety this energy produces. We may feel overwhelmed, unqualified, fearful of doing something wrong and hurting the person needing the care. Trying to lessen our own anxiety, we may over compensate to hide our anxiety. We try to do it all; fix what can’t be fixed; heal what can’t be healed; prevent what can’t be prevented. At this point, we cease being caregivers and become martyrs. Martyrs do not survive.
Area 2: Care giving
In the first part of the article I mentioned how critical attention and recognition are to our survival. Attention and recognition translate into acceptance. Acceptance softens pain and suffering Love does not physically intervene like a pain medication; however, it provides the suave for the soul that is needed during a time of one’s suffering. We are not alone is the sense we feel when we are joined in spirit by another human heart.
In the Biblical story of Job we find the primary characteristic of care giving: Presence, a willingness to be with and witness another who is in deep distress, loss, and grief. Job’s friends start off this way by being with him, attending, accepting, and compassionately listening , and displaying empathy. What happens next is that his friends grow weary of not being able to help ‘fix’ him and end up abandoning him. Fear does this to all of us if we do not become aware of our limitations, manage them, and allow ourselves to simply be present, attend, and show approval of the other human’s soul by listening.
The most important act in care giving is listening. Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” Being with another and listening is the heart of care giving. It presents the spiritual gift of healing. When listening with an empathetic ear, understanding or responding is not necessary. The resonance of “being still” allows for the transcendent presence of the soul’s spirit.
Area 3: Taking care of the care giver
The caregiver must not abandon his own life outside of care giving. We must demonstrate to ourselves that we have an existence outside of care giving. We need attention and approval in relationships outside of care giving. We need attention and approval in relationships outside the primary role of care giving in order to nurture our own life. The things that people might do may include but are not limited to:
• Join a support group.
• Eat healthily.
• Exercise regularly.
• Join a gym: Yoga/ Tai chi.
• Meet friends for lunch once a week.
• Get someone to relieve you when you need to take care of personal business.
• Take your patient to a recreational center if available.
• Have an emergency plan (list of meds, Dr.’s list, etc.)
• Alert fire, police, electric company of your situation; meditate and pray, go
to worship regularly (be in community)
• Read The Bible, especially the wisdom books: Job, Proverbs, etc.
I believe this one vital to one’s sanity as well as one’s ability to manage your emotions. Record your daily experiences and feelings as a care giver.
Keep your journal on your journey of care giving.
I have attempted to provide you, the reader, a sense of understanding in three general areas: emotional self knowledge, compassionate care giving, and having your own life. When these areas are emotionally managed, compassionate, loving care for another is the outcome. Each area is important and must be managed simultaneously. Working these areas will helpfully allow you to experience the true blessing, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Jim Spruiell practiced psychotherapy in Dallas, Texas for 30 plus years before moving to Fredericksburg, Texas. He now has a restricted private practice as well as a consulting practice with family owned or closely held businesses.