Caring for the Caregiver: The Power of Perspective

Dr. Phyllis Quinlan
Dr. Phyllis Quinlan

Lessons Learned from the ancient book of wisdom; The Toa Te Ching: Verse Seventy-Six


While alive, the body is soft and pliant When dead, it is hard and rigid All living things, grass and trees, While alive, are soft and supple When dead, become dry and brittle Thus that which is hard and stiff is the follower of death That which is soft and yielding is the follower of life Therefore, an inflexible army will not win A strong tree will be cut down The big and forceful occupy a lowly position While the soft and pliant occupy a higher place

                                                                                                                         Lao Tzu


That which is hard and stiff is the follower of death. That which is soft and yielding is the follower of life. These profound and predictive words offer insight to all caregivers into the nature of contentment. Discontent with one’s present circumstances is usually at the center of personal confusion. If unresolved it can lead to a hardening of one’s attitude and heart. It is often the reason why someone seeks guidance from a spouse, trusted friend, mentor, spiritual counselor or personal coach.

As someone who has chosen a life dedicated to healing, it is often disappointing to admit that I am powerless and cannot offer a remedy to someone’s pain. What can be offered is an empathic, critically thinking ear that can listen intently and gently helps a person sort through the emotions and attachments that cloud their personal insight. The remedy that results from this process is perspective. The relief that can be felt by having the ability to broaden ones view so that patience settles over the situation and options can be accessed is invaluable. From this place of calm reflection, one can sort through the layers of why contentment is elusive.

Caregivers often confuse their role with that of a caretaker. A caregiver renders hands-on care to someone with an acute or chronic illness and participates in the plan of care for that person. A caretaker is employed to take charge and manage goods, property and act in a custodial capacity. Clearly these are two very different roles but it is easy to understand how the boundaries between them can become blurred and intertwined.

Perspective provides the much need space in which to catch your breath and rethink your actions. It enable one to ask unsettling questions and gain insight into habitual behaviors that have undermined ones efforts to attain contentment in the past. Often it is from a place of perspective that a family caregiver can finally acknowledge the need for outside help. This place can also offer the professional caregiver the ability can peel away at the layers of professional dissatisfaction. Many times it has provided that professional caregiver the opportunity to realize that the challenges of the profession may not be at the core of their issues but rather; dissatisfaction with the reality of their personal life has spilled over to the workplace and clouded their judgment.

How does one gain the perspective that may eventually be the foundation of their contentment? You must first really want it. Not just intellectually acknowledge a need for a change but sincerely, honestly admit that you have been killing yourself softly and decide you deserve better. Then explore these approaches:

  • Identify the habitual behaviors that have sabotaged you and stop clinging to them. This takes two things: acknowledging your basic goodness and the courage to love and respect yourself NO MATTER WHAT.
  • Release yourself from having a poverty mindset. Be mindful. In the words of Oprah Winfrey, “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough”
  • Simplify your circumstances. Scale back. Say no and mean it. Ask, what do I really need that offers me a sustainable return on investment? Begin to save some money now, no matter how little. It will add up.
  • Find and enjoy the simple pleasures in life. Give yourself the priceless gift of quiet time. Make friends with the noise in your head. Relax with it and smile. With practice, meditation offers respites of quiet, replenishing space.
  • Invest in your own health. Make that appointment with your doctor and dentist. Walk, take the stairs, have a massage often.
  • Have faith and learn to adapt. Try to embrace the example of compliance exhibited by the bamboo tree. Have the strength to yield elastically when a strong wind comes your way. View things in terms of new opportunities rather than, this is the end of the road.
  • Forgive. Under no circumstance condone. But free yourself from reliving the event and reconnecting with the pain. Let go. It does not serve any good or useful purpose. It only serves to harden.
  • Choose a sober life. Get help for whatever you are addicted to: alcohol, other substances, gossip, criticism, anger, etc. Develop or renew a healthy relationship with yourself. Addictions are diseases of isolation. You will find it easier to take part and join in with others in a new and healthy manner.
  • Work to develop the characteristic of equanimity. This is a state of psychological stability and composure which is undisturbed by experience of or exposure to emotions, pain or challenges that may trigger one to lose their sense of balance.

Contentment is attainable but being content is more than just a simple change in perspective. It is a commitment to your personal sense of wellbeing that can be gained through acknowledging that it is your birthright. It is a commitment to daily training in meditation so that you have more power over your thoughts, behavior and actions. It is a conscious choice to stay soft and yielding.

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” Mohandas Gandhi



Respectfully submitted by:

Phyllis Quinlan PhD, RN-BC    718 661 498

Twitter: Phyllis Quinlan@AskDrPhyllis

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