For Caregivers: How to Counter ‘False Beliefs’
by Pam Leonard, LBSW, CDP
The emotional and physical demands of family caregiving can be overwhelming under the best circumstances. When you add anxiety and self-doubt into the mix, the strain only worsens. Anxiety can lead a family member to believe, falsely, that they are failing in the role of caregiver, and that whatever they are doing is not enough.
Fortunately, family caregivers CAN develop tools to challenge their own negative, false, inner narratives. Below are some of the false beliefs that commonly afflict family caregivers – and strategies for countering them.
False Belief: You are the only one who can care for your loved one and only you can meet their needs. Healthier View: Defining yourself as the only person who can care for your loved one puts unnecessary pressure on you. Moreover, your loved one may take some comfort in knowing that they do not have to depend solely on you. Acknowledging that other family members, friends, or paid caregivers can also provide care can reduce your own stress and anxiety and that of your loved one.
False Belief: You are not a good caregiver for your loved one. Healthier View: All caregivers have moments when their reactions are not ideal. Giving too much weight to these perceived failures can rob you of any satisfaction you might feel from being a willing and responsible caregiver.
False Belief: Constantly worrying, researching treatments and planning will change your loved one’s prognosis or outcome. Healthier View: When caring for someone with a chronic illness, it is normal to want to research and educate yourself about treatment options and the latest interventions. It is also appropriate for caregivers to decide to free themselves from the burden of finding a miracle cure (which may not currently exist). A caregiver’s decision to focus on enjoying the day and focusing on the time they have with their loved one is an equally noble and loving way to provide care.
False Belief: The feedback you receive from friends and family defines your success as a caregiver. Healthier View: Family members and friends who are not in the primary caregiver role often feel free to weigh in on how a primary caregiver should handle day-to-day care or difficult decisions. This input is often given without full knowledge of the loved one’s true needs, the degree to which they are compromised and the stress and ongoing impact of being a primary caregiver. Advice and observations that are offered in this context can often be unhelpful, even when offered with good intentions.
False Belief: If you ask for help, you will burden those around you, as well as send a message that you are overwhelmed or incompetent as a caregiver. Healthier View: It is important to ask for help when needed, and even more important not to say no to an offer of help. There are circumstances when your friends and family would love to step in by providing a meal or spending time with your loved one, allowing you to attend your own doctor’s appointment or enjoy lunch with a friend. If you do not have that type of support system, you may want to seek out a respite program or hire a professional caregiver to help with your loved one. If financial resources are an issue, a case manager or local caregiver support group may be able to provide you with resources to help pay for assistance.
False Belief: Your current stressful situation will not change, and you will be living under this pressure for the rest of your life. Healthier View: The saying, “there is life after caregiving” exists for a reason. It is important to calm your mind and body from the anxiety that is currently consuming you. Exercise, meditation, therapy, and the guidance of your physician can help reduce some of the physical symptoms and stress that you are experiencing. It is equally important to preserve the things that brought you happiness before caregiving. Your hobbies, relationships, and passions may offer you comfort after caregiving. It is also possible that at the end of your caregiving journey, you will be a changed person. Be open to the possibility of new hobbies and relationships that may bring you joy in unexpected ways.
Pam Leonard, LBSW, is Program Director for the CJFS CARES Respite Program. She also co-facilitates two weekly caregiver support groups, which are offered virtually free of charge. To learn more about CARES and CJFS Caregiver Support Groups, contact Pam at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205.960.3411.