“Expectations are resentments waiting to happen...” Brene Brown. Whaaaaat???
When I read this I thought to myself...well that explains all the less then generous self talk that keeps happening in my head. Think about it...do we adjust our expectations of ourselves or expect ourselves to do more?
I don’t know what happens to a person when they become a Caregiver/Care Partner because it appears that all of a sudden we hold ourselves to a different standard and from what I can gather based on my experience, is that in most cases our expectations are not realistic. When you become a Care Partner you are basically putting someone else’s "to do" list on top of your own and take on the responsibility for things that were never on your list to begin with. Still we expect ourselves to accomplish it all. When we don’t, we feel like we have failed, we are not enough, and start to doubt our ability to take on this new challenge.
Likewise, do we adjust our expectations of the people we are supporting based on their illness, or do we continue to expect something they are no longer able to do or, worse yet, no longer able to BE? Adjusting our expectations of the person we are supporting may sound easy, but it comes with hidden consequences and feelings most of us have never experienced or can recognize for what it is. I have discovered that most of the adjustments to my expectations come from necessity, produced by situations that involve anger, frustration and generally end up in tears. When we are hijacked by these situations it is easy to land on resentment and defeat. What no one tells us is that these adjustments ultimately turn out to be experiences of grief and loss... Ambiguous loss to be exact... when our person is no longer able to participate in life at the capacity they used to and our connection to each changes and the role we play for each other changes we slowly grieve the loss of the person we used to know.
So what is the key? Grace and forgiveness for ourselves and the person we are supporting. This means that we have to understand the difference between some key words that come with Caregiving. Below are some definitions that require us to revisit...
Guilt is an emotional experience that occurs when a person believes or realizes—accurately or not—that they have compromised their own standards of conduct or have violated universal moral standards and bear significant responsibility for that violation. Guilt is closely related to the concept of remorse as well as shame.
• Guilt is relational when you actually caused hurt.
• Guilt is irrational when you falsely perceive you have cause hurt or harm.
• Guilt is our human nature when anything goes wrong whether we are responsible or not.
Regret is the emotion of wishing one had made a different decision in the past, because the consequences of the decision were unfavorable. Regret is related to perceived opportunity.
Remorse is a distressing emotion experienced by an individual who regrets actions which they have done in the past that they deem to be shameful, hurtful, or wrong. Remorse is closely allied to guilt and self-directed resentment
This distinction between guilt and regret is important because most of us will put everything in the guilt category because that is our default. When you become a Caregiver guilt is ramped up 100x’s because we have not adjusted our expectations. Some questions that may be helpful to ask yourself are:
“Did I really do something wrong, or do I just wish i had done something differently?”
“Am I feeling guilt, or is it really regret that I am feeling."
“Did I do the best I could with the information I had at the time?”
Which leads us to the most important skills you will ever have as a Caregiver, Grace and Forgiveness...
Forgiveness - as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.
Grace measures more by what's on your heart than what's on your list. When you are stressing over your calendar or to-do list and telling yourself you are falling behind, remember who you are and what you mean to the people around you. Stop measuring who you are by what you accomplish.
Not even Wonder Woman or Superman could do all that we expect from ourselves when we are caring for another human. What I have learned is that forgiveness and grace are a necessary part of journey to be able to thrive along the way not just survive. All you can do is the next right thing, and if all you get done today is the basic needs of human existence for you and your partner, that in itself is a huge accomplishment. The one lesson I had to learn and continue to learn every single day is that, what sometimes appears to be lazy before caring for someone, translates into self preservation. And recognizing your bucket is full and there is no more space in your schedule or head for anything else now becomes a necessity in your life.
This is called extending yourself grace, instead of beating yourself up... The disease is beating the crap out of both of you, you don’t need to beat the crap out of yourself or each other...