How Family Caregivers Can Practice Forgiveness

Family caregivers who are taking care of loved ones with Alzheimer’s and dementia (and really all family caregivers) can benefit from understanding how to practice what I call “Spiritual Release” which is the process of forgiveness and letting go of societal or self-inflicted expectations, pressures or pain.

Forgiveness and Self-Care

Being able to de-stress is one of benefits that spiritual release activities offer in self-care for caregivers. The emotional stress of watching your loved one become vulnerable and deteriorate every few weeks before your eyes while you coordinate their daily care, medical care and your household is overwhelming. A family caregiver can lose their temper and feel anger and  toward themselves, their loved ones, family members, friends and their medical team and community (due to lack of assistance). Your caregiving duties can last from 3 to 7 years and the strain on your body, mind and spirit can be damaging, You need relief.  It would be worthy to learn about practicing forgiveness in a daily practice to help in your resilience as a caregiver.

Practicing forgiveness everyday is a necessary part of self-care that a family caregiver can learn. Cycles of anger and guilt can limit our effectiveness of caregivers and hinder our own health as well as the health of our loved one. We have all heard that forgiveness is a gift that we give ourselves. If you cannot give this to yourself you need to reflect on why that is – and correct it the best way you can (see below for introspective questions to help explore this).

The Act of Letting Go of Expectations

The act of letting go can mean understanding that you can only control yourself and your actions or behaviors. Our loved ones with Alzheimer’s and dementia are in such vulnerable states that we can’t control what they do or say. We must forgive and understand the process they are undergoing. Don’t take what they do or say personally. They are doing the best they can in their circumstances – at their current state of consciousness – just like you are doing the best you can at your state of consciousness or self-awareness.

If it helps – think of it this way when you feel triggered into anger or disappointment – your loved one is doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing in their state. In fact, everyone on your caregiving team, family, friends are only doing the best they can at their own state of consciousness. Remember this in the midst of one of your anger/expectations/guilt triggers and take a moment when these feelings arise so you can reflect and reduce your frustration immediately or soon after.

Having behavior expectations of everyone (friends, family, your care team as well) can be exhausting if you feel constantly disappointed by them. Once you understand that they can only behave at the state of their own consciousness – then really we can shift beyond forgiveness (since how can you blame someone that cannot behave beyond their consciousness) and understand we can’t control their behavior. The cycle of disappointment and anger can then stop. That may be a hard concept to grasp since we want certain quality standards of care for our loved ones (let’s say from their doctors and care staff) so we can be clear, as caregivers on what are care expectations are, but beyond stating that and making wise care choices and understanding where our friends/family are in their own state of consciousness (what they are able to do), other’s behaviors we can’t ultimately control – only our own.

See below for spiritual release daily practice steps.

“Whatever is not yours, let go of it. Your letting go of it will be for your long-term happiness and benefit.”
–The Buddha

Three Introspective Questions For A Family Caregiver:

  1. Can you forgive yourself and others in your life for any perceived failures or transgressions? If not, why and what you are gaining from not forgiving them or yourself?
  2. How could you practice spiritual release this week by unburdening yourself of societal or self-inflicted expectations, guilt, and stresses?
  3. Do you believe that your Higher Power loves you unconditionally?

Two Daily Practice Steps:

  1. Every day practice forgiveness to yourself and others. Take ten minutes each evening to reflect and forgive yourself for any mistakes you made in caregiving or having unkind thoughts or words you expressed to your loved one or anyone throughout the day. Think about how you could have handled things alternatively. Review if you need more self-care time or you need a new or different strategy to cope or act differently. Let go of anger, expectations and bad conversations you have for others like balloons you are releasing in the sky. Say I forgive you out loud or in your mind to them. Let the balloons float away. Close your eyes, quiet your mind and feel love the love in your heart. Feel receiving love from your Higher Power and send waves of love to your family members, friends or care team by visualizing (or feeling) sending love waves to them for five minutes or longer. Know you are loved and all is forgiven. Let go and know everyone is just trying to do the best they can including yourself. Believe you can do better tomorrow now that you know how to reflect on your anger/guilt/expectations triggers as they arise in the moment.
  2. Every day practice self-care in some manner. Examples: Reach out to someone to assist in watching your loved one and take respite time to walk, have a massage, have tea with a friend, go to the library, meditate, read, go to a support group, time to shop, go to a party or concert, be in nature, garden, phone a supportive family member or friend, sleep, hair salon visit, exercise, visit your place of worship, watch your favorite film, dance, listen to music, sit in silence, practice yoga, walk by a school yard filled with children (their laughter is invigorating), etc.

Share with me your comments and insights below.

Practicing spiritual release and forgiveness is Spiritual Step 6 of 7 for caregivers which will be reviewed in my upcoming book 7 Spiritual Steps for Caregivers™: A Path to Meaning and Hope in Alzheimer’s & Dementia Caregiving.

Wishing you Light on your Caregiver Path,
Meg

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