When we let go of old beliefs and thoughts, the past no longer controls us.
Research shows that forgiveness helps heal anger and relieves depression and anxiety. Hmm… these are common emotions for caregivers, me included. Just what role does forgiveness play in our caregiving journey?
Forgiveness plays a bigger role in caregiving than I suspect most of us realize. If you are caring for someone who has a debilitating condition because they did not take care of themselves, chances are you have feelings of anger and resentment. These same feelings surface when someone is a caregiver to a family member who was abusive to them. Let’s not forget the caregiver who gets no help from other family members. All these scenarios cause tension, stress, anger and resentment and that makes it difficult to move to compassion and forgiveness.
When we deny these emotions, we stop ourselves from getting beyond them. “You have to name them to change them” and in naming them, think about family history and your relationships. Much of today’s resentment and grudges, particularly with siblings, started in your childhood. As an adult, what can you let go of from that history? What unspoken expectations do you have of the other person and are they realistic? If you do not let go of this history, you can’t move into compassion and forgiveness.
But what happens if the actions were so awful that moving beyond them seems impossible? Can you forgive someone but not forget? Letting go of your emotions is something you do for yourself and in many situations, you can do that and then step away and not reconcile with the person who hurt you. That is not always possible when you are a caregiver. Or is it?
Why are you a caregiver? For some it is the expected role and it may seem like there is no choice. But caregiving is always a choice. We may not like the other options. It may feel like choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea, but once we recognize that we choose caregiving, even by default, we can acknowledge and accept our feelings as normal and understandable and that moves us toward forgiveness.
Negative emotions like anger put us into flight-or-fight mode. That, in turn, effects our blood pressure and immune response, which increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and depression. The good news is studies show forgiveness helps your health by decreasing the risk of a heart attack and reducing blood pressure, anxiety, depression and stress. All terrific are reasons to go beyond saying the words. Make a conscious decision to let go and forgive someone whether the person deserves it in your mind or not. The choice to forgive goes beyond forgiving another person. Sometimes it means forgiving ourselves.
No one is a “perfect” caregiver and yet we often hold ourselves to that standard. We second guess our decisions, feel guilty when something happens even when it is outside our control. We get angry when despite how much we do, it does not seem like enough. Learning to let go of unrealistic expectations of ourselves, to stop blaming ourselves when something goes wrong and not feel guilty if we need to go against our loved one’s wishes are all actions toward forgiveness for ourselves.
Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself. If you don’t let go of the actions of the person who hurt you, you continue to give them power over your thoughts and emotions.
Disclaimer: The material in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace, nor does it replace, consulting with a physician, lawyer, accountant, financial planner or other qualified professional.
Deb is available as a caregiver consultant. She will answer the question: “Where do I start?” and find the resources to alleviate your stress. If you would like to invest a half hour to learn how she can help you, please contact her at: Free 30 minute consulting call
Deb is the author of “Your Caregiver Relationship Contract.” This book explains how to have an intentional conversation and the how unspoken expectations can cause problems. Click here to learn more about Your Caregiver Relationship Contract.