But be warned. There is a line between helping out and co-dependence.
I frequently see the results of helping at the co-dependent end of the spectrum: resentment, a loss of identity and illness. Here the helper has relied too much on the helpee for their sense of self. Recently, a stranger in the supermarket told me that she was caring at home for a dying husband and an abusive mother-in-law with dementia. Now she is battling her own crippling flare-up of arthritis.
A friend, after years of maintaining peak physical condition and abstaining from smoke and drink, just had a massive heart attack. The catch? The catch-all burdens of work, caring for two fragile parents and daughters going off to university. Even doctors and nurses over-care. I’ve encountered more than one medical professional who is addicted to helping and on the flip side, narcotics.
The supermarket lady? I can only pray for a stranger. And my friend? His prognosis is good, likely due to his baseline health. But I wonder, ‘Who cares for the caregiver?’ A recent Guardian article notes that current Eurostat numbers find Danish women 65 – 74, to be the most content in Europe. Why? They have fun with hobbies, passions, travel and friends. Of a certain age, they are free of familiar burdens or are supported if they have them. And they don’t let the requirements of family bonds dictate who they are. Granted, state support exists for Danish society. But this only highlights that uploading an extraordinary burden of caring to family, often single women, is a crutch that less-supportive societies can ill afford. In the long term, poor health outcomes for unpaid caregivers will not be an economical tradeoff.
When my clients simultaneously rue what they have taken on and a resulting painful, confused loss of self, I am prompted to ask several questions: Why do you feel you have to do this all by yourself? Where in your life are you being unkind to yourself, and not asking for support? And, what is the payoff for keeping yourself indentured in ways that put superhuman burdens on your energy?
A well timed cup of tea, talking with a friend, gazing at the clouds, breathing… These things may not be the cure for over-caring, but they certainly may forestall the burnout and ‘compassion fatigue’ that we know goes along with caring above and beyond the call of duty.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for the caregiver is to step back. Who knows? Maybe we can all be as contented as a Danish pensioner!
About Monica Renée Duncan
A periodical writer for over three decades, Monica is a regular contributor to 3rdimagazine.
“I’ve had many spontaneous and unusual encounters with the divine. For that reason, I have a passionate belief in the power and capacity of the human spirit to evolve. But every new level we attain begins with a first step, the recognition that we need guidance and help. The universe provides, when we ask.”