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When Identity Is Locked Into Resentful, Dutiful Caretaking..

01 May

Question:

Over the past several years I have had more friends and relatives die than I can count.  One of these more recent losses was someone I had been taking care of for four years. There were a lot of issues between us, including anger about having to care for her before I even started high school. I wanted a "normal" teenage life, and couldn't have it because of my responsibilities to her.

After she died I could not forgive myself or her for the death. Since then I have not been able to get much sleep (it's been almost 3 years).

Now I'm dealing with a close relative battling cancer, stage 3. I don't live close to this particular relative, and that's made dealing with the strong possibility of losing them that much harder.

I was always the main caretaker in the family when there was a problem. I find myself restless, angry, resentful, and depressed. A psychologist familiar with my situation suggested BR's recordings. I would like some suggestions about which CDs to start off with.

Nora

Answer:

Dear Nora,

Yes, I do have some suggestions about what to start off with.  But first, my condolences over all your recent losses.  And second, even though I’m sure you’ve heard this before, I’d like to state the obvious anyway:

Of course you felt angry, resentful and put upon over having to stunt your teenage years (which by definition are supposed to be both idealistic/altruistic and selfish and self-absorbed as all get-out).  It probably would have helped if your “patient” had been a little more pleasant and grateful for your sacrifices and hard work, but I guess that was not in the cards.  

If your guilt has to do with some of the intemperate responses and cranky comments you made to a sick person, well, so be it.  But feeling guilt over her death doesn’t seem appropriate, unless you actually put a pillow over her head, which I assume you did not.  This may speak to an over-developed sense of responsibility and unrealistic perception of your personal power over events.  When all is said and done, it’s not for you to “save” people from illness or death.  

What’s most interesting to me is your reaction to this far-away relative suffering from cancer.  Rather than feel “off the hook” because this person lives too far away for you to go into your traditional caretaker mode, you’re still feeling guilty, torn, responsible and angry.  

What that tells me is your identity is too tied up in this old role of yours as “resentful-but-dutiful-caretaker’.  

So, Nora, the question I would ask you is: who are you if you’re not taking care of someone?  Do you know?  What would you be doing with your life if your mind didn’t keep getting stuck in preoccupation with these resentments, guilts, worries?  What were your dreams for yourself before your teenage self got stuck with taking care of this unpleasant person?  Did you have the time and space to even develop any?

These are the places for you to explore.  They should yield a real psychological goldmine for you.  Please go there.  Otherwise, as Aristotle or Descartes or somebody important used to say, Nature Abhors a Vacuum and your mind will keep going back to that old identity for want of anything better to do.  After all, your brain has a familiar groove for this feeling, it gives you a righteously indignant and powerful, life-or-death sense of yourself - and some sense of self is better than nothing.  So please consider this exploration.  This is NOT a place you want to stay stuck, and you have plenty of time to liberate yourself and have a great life!! That’s what all that restless energy you’ve been feeling has been telling you!!!







Now for your question: try repeated listening (I’m talking once a day for several weeks) to Anger & Forgiveness and either Lynn Joseph’s brilliant Emotional Renewal for Caregivers: Looking After Yourself While Helping a Loved One or my Caregiver Stress.

At some point, you may want to delve into Rick Jarow’s excellent Beginner’s Guide to Finding Your Perfect Job: How to Discover Your Real Life’s Work. But you may not be there yet.  First you have to start detaching yourself from the old identity that was so unfairly thrust upon you at a very vulnerable age.

I wish you the very best of luck with this.  Please let me know how it goes.

All best,
Belleruth

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award