Caregivers won't be able to find the happiness they are looking for if they aren't able to accept themselves.
It doesn’t matter if your husband finds out he is cancer free tomorrow or if the surgery makes your wife able to walk again. If you don’t have compassion for yourself that is unconditional, then you will always find it hard to find happiness.
In Robert Holden’s book “Happiness Now!” He writes, “Happiness and self-acceptance go hand in hand. In fact your level of self-acceptance determines your level of happiness. The more self-acceptance you have, the more happiness you’ll allow yourself to accept, receive and enjoy. In other words, you enjoy as much happiness as you believe you’re worthy of.”
I’m not telling you that the hardships of caregiving will disappear if you find a way to accept yourself more. What I am saying is that through the hardships and heartbreak of caregiving you would still be able to find happiness. You will be able to be a caregiver and still enjoy your life.
So what does this actually mean?
It means that you learn to accept yourself as you are, TODAY.
You don’t plan on being happy when you are healthier, not caregiving anymore, or when your spouse is no longer sick.
You begin to see the good things about yourself and the things you aren’t happy about and know that you are still a kick ass person!
You stop judging yourself when you do something wrong.
You celebrate yourself at the end of the day because you did the best you could.
You see, when you work on self acceptance you aren’t trying to fix yourself. You learn to be ok with who you are right now. You aren’t setting your ability to be happy on things that you hope will happen in the future. You also aren’t basing who you are on how much OTHER people like and accept you.
Caregiving can really bring the nasty side out of people who are around you. If you based your worth on how much support you got from your friends, your family and your in-laws and they withdraw (like so many do) when you become a caregiver, then you start to lose how you used to gauge your worth. Having people in your life not show up when you need them most is a punch to the gut and really messes with your head. But that isn’t a way to measure your worth, even though many of us do.
Self acceptance is learning to be your own biggest cheerleader. It’s about being ok with how good you cook even though that means you always burn toast. It’s seeing the flaws in ourselves without judging them anymore than we would judge the fact that we have 10 fingers. Self acceptance is not letting what you see as negatives, failures or flaws define who you are. It doesn’t mean that you are saying things you’ve done in the past are ok but you accept that they happened and you are ready to move on. It doesn’t mean you don’t want to improve yourself but that is self improvement not self acceptance.
How do you start accepting yourself more today?
Be positive. Negative thoughts come much easier than positive thoughts. Find moments to find positive things about yourself. It might be hard to do at first or feel weird. Anytime you do something well give yourself a mental high five. Cooking dinner might be something you do all the time but when you burn something that one time you tell yourself you aren’t good at cooking at all and feel bad about yourself. How about every time you cook a meal tell yourself you are an awesome caregiver that provides meals for the people you care for? When you burn something next time just say - oh well, I’m human and can make mistakes but that doesn’t make me a bad cook.
Be ok with not being perfect. Let’s face it none of us are perfect even if we’d like to be. How boring would that be anyway? When you do something that makes you feel bad about yourself be ready to hold off on judging. Are you experiencing caregiver burnout and snap at the person you are caring for? Take it as a sign that you need to take a little break and then when you feel a little calmer you can explain to that person why that happened and apologize if you’d like. However, the most important part is to not beat yourself up about it. Notice that it happened, know that it’s a sign that you may need a break and forgive yourself and move on.
Be kind to yourself. Imagine if you had a friend that was as tired and stressed out as you are. Would you tell them they don’t deserve to take a bath, go for a short drive or walk, take a nap or grab a cup of coffee with someone? Be as kind to yourself as you would be towards your best friend. Give yourself permission to do things for yourself and take a time out not only when you need it but on a regular basis.
Believe you can be a caregiver. We all have our moments when we don’t think we can do this anymore or at all. You are such an important person for the one you care for and you might not take enough time to notice it. There isn’t a manual for what you do. We are all figuring things out as we go on and often times just stumbling through caregiving. Own the caregiving role you have and just like anything else, be ok with not knowing how to do something. Commit to doing your best everyday knowing that could be different each time.
Learn to love yourself. This can be the hardest one and it takes time. Start with just looking at yourself in the mirror and smiling at yourself. Your mind will probably go to judging how you look or not wanting to see your reflection. But guess what, everyone in the world sees that face and doesn’t sit there and judge. They literally take you at face value. So start to find ways to look at yourself and accept what you see. Look for the easier things you can celebrate like eyes that allow you to see, a nose that lets you smell and ears that can hear beautiful things in your world. Then move on to the things you don’t like and see if there is a way you can change your perspective.
All of these things will take time to get used to doing. Often times it is easier to start with one thing and then move on to the other. You can create a statement that you remember and tell yourself every day, make an ongoing list of things you like about yourself or try a meditation, like Lovingkindness Meditation, that gives you time to bring a general feeling of compassion to yourself before working on more specific parts of you life.
You don’t have to set time limits or make checklists. It doesn’t have to take up massive amounts of time during your day. Just one small positive thought will begin to make all the difference in the world for you.
Remember, you are worth it!