Taking Care of Yourself as You Care for Those You Love
When caring for those we love, it is imperative that we recognize the necessity of also caring for ourselves. It is difficult to pour from an empty cup. We can only hope to pour into others if our cup remains full. The following are a few tips on how to take care of yourself as you are caring for those you love:
- Establish healthy boundaries. This keeps you from becoming enmeshed too deeply in others’ problems and will allow you to maintain mental strength. Brene’ Brown (2015) said it perfectly in Rising Strong, “…we are strengthened by the self-respect that comes from honoring our boundaries.”
- Practice gratitude daily by paying attention to what is right rather than what is wrong. Use apps like “HappyFeed” and “365 Gratitude.” Set daily reminders.
- Maintain balance. It is easy to get out of balance when you are helping those you love, and imbalance negatively impacts our mental health. To maintain balance, explore where you are in a pie chart. What portion of your time is spent on fun and leisure, work, spiritual well-being, relationships, self-care, learning or any elements that describe the diverse activities you are involved in on a daily basis? Using this visual aid can help you determine what changes you want to make to become more balanced.
- Engage in self-compassion daily. Reflect on your self-talk and determine to treat yourself with love and compassion. It is difficult to offer compassion to our loved ones when we lack self-compassion. Remember, you matter and you have nothing to prove.
- Build your resilience. You can build your resilience by bringing yourself to the present using grounding exercises, such as paying attention to five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. Another way to build resilience is by cultivating positive emotions frequently by laughing, reflecting on your strengths, visiting with a friend or simply listening to your body and resting when you are tired. Resilience allows us to bend without breaking.
Practicing self-care is not being self-centered. There is a difference and recognizing the difference alleviates guilt and will allow us to care more deeply while avoiding empathy fatigue. Our loved ones matter to us and we have a greater ability to empower them when we are in a healthy state ourselves.
Taking Care of Others Struggling to Cope
Love and connection are the deepest, most meaningful ways to help a family member or loved one in need. The stigma, shame and guilt associated with substance abuse is all too real to your loved ones. It is love and compassion for the family member that breaks the barriers that keep them from seeking help. Respect for them as a human being and remembering their positives rather than focusing on their weaknesses will go a long way.
The following are a few tips to help a family member who may be using substances:
- Be non-judgmental and do not label the person as an “addict or alcoholic.” The user already feels shame and judgment; making them feel worse does not help.
- Know the difference between enabling and helping. We are enabling when we do something for them that they can do for themselves (i.e. calling in sick for them).
- If they are hungry, feed them. However, do not give them money.
- Love them. Put your feelings aside and show them love and acceptance “just the way they are.”
- Let them know you are there for them if they want therapy or treatment.
You can help. The world is full of ambiguity and substance use disorder can be most ambiguous for families and caregivers. Remember, labels can prove more harmful than helpful. Everyone is unique and what works for one person will not always work for others. Treatment isn’t the be-all and end-all, but treatment coupled with love and connection will prove to be most advantageous. Keep in mind that ambivalence is normal. Life is truly a series of experiments so don’t give up and don’t lose hope in the process.