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Acknowledging, Assessing, Assisting Ourselves to Prevent Burnout

Have you ever heard the expression "we are our own worst enemies"? It has come up again and again for me personally and professionally assisting caregivers.

Family members who are caring for adults with chronic illness have alot to contend with on a daily basis. Over time, the risk becomes higher for burnout..

Optimum caregiving occurs when family members are taking good care of themselves which includes obtaining education and resources. It is in their best interest to not be their own worst enemies, for instance, not applying the education or not utilizing available resources.

Assessing and acknowledging one's own self-sabotaging actions is a form of self-care, being one's own assistance guide to prevent burnout, making the shift away from self-sabotaging behaviors.

It is easier said than done though like having that piece of cake while dieting.

Which is better for you the piece of cake or losing the weight?

Which is easier for you the piece of cake or losing the weight?

I recall a family I was assisting several years ago as a community outreach social worker in dementia care. At the initial home visit, the 70 year old gentleman was showing signs of marked memory loss, not able to give me his address or what he had for breakfast that morning. His spouse kept prompting him to remember as though his forgetfulness was deliberate and he had the ability to remember. I provided her with education that this memory loss was symptomatic of the diagnosis he obtained of Alzheimer's. Regardless of my repeated attempts to educate her over time, this family caregiver was not acknowledging. Instead she was going by her own assessment, being her own worst enemy. She kept prompting her spouse, as though the prompting would make him better.

For the sake of her own well-being, would it not be better to accept what she was repeatedly told about the forgetfulness being part of the illness? Rather, she kept beating herself up, being her own worst enemy, constantly coming up empty from her attempts to have her spouse with Alzheimer's remember. It took almost a year of home visits before observing her make a shift when she was ready, acknowledging, assessing, assisting herself by stopping to get her spouse to remember things.

By obtaining more self-awareness, this spouse could have stopped this behavior in its tracks sooner as self-sabotaging, making a shift towards healthier behavior that would ultimately have prevented the long duration of frustration, making the caregiving easier.

This is not an isolated case. Many caregivers betray themselves resisting recommended actions that would make their life easier. It is puzzling especially for other family members who are watching the primary caregiver slowly burning out and not assisting themselves - not accepting help, not making changes related to accommoding the illness, not taking that extra day at the day progam, being their own worst enemies.

It is difficult to understand why family caregivers resist to assist themselves. One explanation could be related to the losses that need to be faced. The resistance could be avoidance of facing the loss of someone who has been so much apart of their lives. After over 40 years of marriage, as it was with the case I just presented to you, it is 'a hard pill to swallow' losing a spouse to illness - especially one where they are mentally disappearing while still alive. In losing that person, the spouse is also losing the things that he represents in her life......intimacy, companionship, the person who did the vacuuming, etc. Staying connected through avoiding what is happening can be a display of resisting the reality, acceptance, "letting go".

Family members of adults who develop chronic and progressive illnesses are thrown into unknown territory, not of their choosing. Applying the components Acknowledge,Assess,Assist of the 3-A Approach is a self-monitoring means of coping, helping caregivers to process their losses in this unknown territory.. In doing so, they open a window of opportunity to transform - such as from being their own worst enemy to becoming their own friend. This requires self-introspection, self-compassion and willingness to make change...

Just as the dieter has a difficult time not eating that piece of cake, family caregivers are faced with a similar challenge on their journey, making difficult decisions, travelling a road with twists and turns that can turn the stomach.

The key is within the family caregivers themselves to acknowledge, assess, assist themselves and allow themselves to be helped to travel a smoother road......

For more information and service, see the Caregiving with Strength book preview and current program being offered on the website


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