Many caregivers nobly work to protect the dignity of their loved ones. Yet, how many discussions occur regarding the dignity of caregiver? The dignity of a caregiver is worth preserving, yet is often trampled underfoot in the course of the caregiving journey.
A demoralized caregiver is an at-risk caregiver
While menial tasks of caregiving often seem to diminish dignity, it's the relationship dynamics that most affect a caregiver's heart. The countless flash points of relationship drama beat down the spirit of a caregiver. Caregivers can be reduced to bitter tears at the hurtful comments erupting from impaired loved ones. From accusations of theft or neglect, to constant belittling and criticism, a caregiver is often the recipient of barrage of dispiriting indictments. One can only listen to so much of those things before starting to inwardly accept them. Those drama moments can arise from the disease, the impairment, the poor behavior of a vulnerable loved one, or the "side-line expertise" of family and friends. Compounding those issues, caregivers frequently judge themselves—often harsher than their critics. A demoralized caregiver is an at-risk caregiver. Depression, health issues, destructive coping mechanisms, and other agonies await just around the corner for a dispirited caregiver. As the caregiver journey lengthens, healthier caregivers discover the goal changes from winning those flash point moments, to circumventing them. The avoidance of these conflict moments, however, is not from an unwillingness to confront, but rather from an awareness of the futility. It is simply not sensible to argue with a disease, nor is it wise to engage with critics who lack experience.
To withdraw from an argument may not make you the winner, but what you have saved is your own dignity and grace. —Unknown
As a black-belt in the martial art of Hap-kido, I teach defensive blocks. The concept is to equip students with the ability to effectively parry a strike from an assailant. At live speaking events, I often demonstrate this by bringing up a volunteer from the audience. I also ask the audience if any of them have been assaulted by an impaired loved one in their charge. Nearly every hand shoots up when asked that question. Consistently, the audience members who've suffered verbal assaults remains unanimous. The concept of protecting our hearts mirrors the actions of protecting our bodies: keep hands (guard) up, and redirect. We learn to never give an easy target, while diverting the energy of the assailant. In Hap Kido, we acquire judgment on how much force is needed to end the altercation. Our focus is not inflicting punishment, however, but rather on preserving our safety. In the process, we realize that "any fight we walk away from, counts as a win." Granted, some situations will require us to use more force than others, and while we may walk away from a fight, that doesn't mean we didn't engage. It also doesn't mean the assailant went unscathed. It simply reflects that our safety and well being is paramount.
Don't pick up the rope!
In a caregiving situation, and by extension the family drama that ensues, the same principles apply. We do not have to go every fight we are invited to attend. The key is to respond rather than react. We can also maintain our own sense of repose and not engage in the stream of discord that often comes our way. Loved ones or family and friends often want to engage us in what seems like a tug of war. While a fun team activity to play in school, there is no dignified way to end a Tug of War contest. If you lose, you end up on your face. If you win, you end up on your read. Either way, there is no graceful exit. Relationship dramas orbiting caregivers lead to relentless tug of war dramas that wear down the self esteem of a caregiver. Recovering and preserving the dignity becomes imperative to the well-being of a caregiver. Making yourself a small target, redirecting the assault, and refusing to "pick up the rope," equip caregivers with another set of tools that help strengthen the weary hearts of caregivers.
Peter Rosenberger, a thirty year caregiver, is the author of Hope for the Caregiver. Peter hosts a radio show for caregivers heard weekly on 1510 WLAC broadcast Sunday's at 3 PM CST. (Podcast as well as streamed through Iheart Radio) Peter is the president of Standing With Hope, a non-profit ministry with two program areas: a prosthetic limb outreach to amputees in West Africa, and an outreach to family caregivers.