Alzheimer's blog

Alzheimer's caregivers benefit from more self-compassion

By Angela Lunde October 16, 2013

My heartfelt appreciation to Carol and to those of you who shared your stories and experiences on the topic of transitions, particularly, the one that weighs so heavy — moving a loved one to a new home.

I noticed two frequent questions in your comments over the past couple of weeks — the struggle to know when to make the move and the struggle with knowing how to cope with runaway feelings afterward.

Patty wrote, "I am at the point of caring for my husband and stressing over knowing when is the right time for a care facility. My heart breaks thinking that I am I doing this to make it easier for me ... I am looking for a sign."

All caregivers, families, and persons living with dementia are unique, and the "when" decision will be triggered by varying signals and circumstances.

In my April 2009 blog posting, I listed some of the factors that contribute to the decision, such as the amount of necessary supervision, increased dependence on activities of daily living, caregiver health and availability of supportive resources. Please take a look back on that posting if you're interested.

But no matter how families come to the decision that the time is right, most say that it was emotionally harder than they ever imagined and that they probably waited too long.

But how do caregivers cope after a loved one has moved to a new home? I would love to hear more of your thoughts and stories on that. The key lies in something called self-compassion.

Self-compassion begins when caregivers accept that they did the best they could rather than berate themselves with doubt or criticism — when they refrain from labeling themselves as good or bad and accept themselves and their decision with an open heart.

One of my favorite books is "Self-Compassion", by Kristin Neff, PhD. In the book, Neff writes that self-compassion consists of three components — self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness.

  • Self-kindness is being kind, gentle and understanding with yourself when you're suffering. It means treating yourself with the same kindness, caring and compassion you would show to your loved one or a good friend.
  • Common humanity is realizing that you're not alone in your struggles and feeling connected with others in the experience of life, rather than letting yourself feel isolated and alienated by your suffering.
  • Mindfulness is noticing life as it is, and holding your experience and emotions in balanced awareness. It's being a loving companion alongside your grief and pain instead of being carried away by those emotions.

As caregivers, I think it's fair to say that you won't necessarily get over your grief. Instead, you can change your relationship to it, you can rebuild yourself, and you can have a life of your own. It begins with a little self-compassion.

And honestly, if we could all be a little kinder to ourselves, we would be amazed at how much easier it is to be kinder to those we love.

I invite you to practice a little self-compassion right now. Place both hands on your heart, press gently, take a deep breath in through the nose and slow breath back out. Then speak slowly, aloud or silently, the following:

This is a moment of suffering.
Suffering is part of life.
May I be kind to myself in this moment
May I give myself the compassion I need
May I find ease.

17 Comments Posted

Oct. 16, 2013