Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Siblings - Acceptance As Damage Control

"What you resist persists."
~ Carl Jung

Yes, it might happen... it could happen... that you are one of the lucky ones who has siblings ready, willing, and able to partner with you in caregiving your loved one. Bear in mind that when I say "partner", I am allowing a lot of leeway as to what that means. It could mean anything from being an emotional support from a distance, to actually sharing the responsibilities, decisions and the emotional roller coaster ride. So why is it so common for caregivers to feel abandoned by other family members? The answer is complex, and worth considering if you want to conserve your energy.

Notice the key words ready, willing, and able. A sibling may not be as capable emotionally as you thought, or his/her lifestyle may be more demanding than you knew. Or siblings may harbor resentments toward your "loved one" that render them incapable of being a useful support. Caregiving is a time when family dynamics kick into high gear. During my own decade of caregiving, one sister was stunningly absent and, when she was present, was brutal. I couldn't afford to sacrifice myself to my resentment. I learned years later that she had been dealing with a serious personal issue and had been doing work on her feelings about family. I had no clue.

Even dysfunctionality of the most average degree becomes suddenly challenging. If "looking good" was a high priority in the family, siblings can hide their troubles well, while the caregiver is doing such a good job of seeming competent that siblings have no idea what is going on. It can be hard to be honest, yet caregiving is a time for straight talk.

Then there's the stumbling block of magical thinking. Society does us a disservice by setting up the ideal of siblings as highly intuitive best friends. Our own expectations of what they should do or how they should behave will trip us up every time. We believe that they should magically know enough to ask the right questions, to offer the right help. Caregiving is a time for questioning our expectations.

Society also ties our own hands by setting us up to meet the ideal of self-sufficiency. This Lone Ranger Syndrome does immeasurable damage during caregiving. Few of us have learned how to ask for help. When family members seem to think that caregiving is life as usual, we fall into the hole of righteous indignation, wasting precious energy in resentment. We can find it difficult to be clear and forthright about what we need. In caregiving, the caregiver can't afford to operate in this self-defeating way. A systematic shift of thinking is the best damage control, letting you take back the reins of your well-being. Caregiving can be a time for asking for help.

Rigorously examine your thoughts, your family dynamics, and your expectations. Accept that you may not know everything about your sibling. Accept that (s)he may not be capable of giving real help, or may only be capable of minimal support. Write out a list of your own needs, and separately, a list of your wishes. Communicate them clearly to your sibling(s) with a clear request. Know that "No" is an acceptable answer. If you are going to conserve your energy, it has to be. At least then you will know where you stand. Accept that they are who they are and get on with your life. Your energy is too important now to squander it.

The good news is that where family can fail us, friends can come through in spades. If the ideal of family is a disappointment, choose your own new family. There is some freedom in acknowledging when the ideal of perfect family is nothing more than a mirage. Then you can get about the business of getting the support that you need. Think of your friends in light of your list of needs and wishes. Might some of them be there for you? Find yourself a loving community, a church or a support group that will be of help. Turn to local social service agencies for practical help in dealing with caregiving. They have endless resources and information. Many even supply respite services so that you can get away for a rest now and then.

Most pain is caused by resistance. Practicing acceptance whenever possible. The bottom line is, take care of yourself. Safeguard your well-being. Do your part by communicating, and then accept that others are as they are. When caregiving is over, family relations can often take another turn, this time for the better.

1 comment:

Glenn said...

Wonderful insights and so true. I see this in our business as well as in the large family that I am part of.