Many caregivers nobly work to protect the dignity of their loved ones. Yet, few discussions occur regarding the dignity of a caregiver that is often trampled underfoot in the course of the caregiving journey.

 A demoralized caregiver is an at-risk caregiver

While menial tasks of caregiving often seem to diminish dignity, relationship dynamics cripple a caregiver’s heart. Caregivers can be reduced to bitter tears at the hurtful comments erupting from impaired loved ones.   From accusations of theft or neglect, to constant belittling and criticism, a caregiver is often the recipient of barrage of dispiriting indictments.

One can only listen so long before inwardly accepting those things. Those drama moments can arise from the disease, the impairment, the poor behavior of a vulnerable loved one, or the “side-line expertise” of family and friends. Compounding those issues, caregivers frequently judge themselves—often harsher than their critics.  A demoralized caregiver is an at-risk caregiver. Depression, health issues, destructive coping mechanisms, and other agonies await just around the corner for a dispirited caregiver.

As the caregiver journey lengthens, healthier caregivers discover the goal changes from winning those flash point moments, to circumventing them. The avoidance of these conflict moments, however, is not from an unwillingness to confront, but rather from an awareness of the futility.  It is simply not sensible to argue with a disease, nor is it wise to engage with critics who lack experience.

To withdraw from an argument may not make you the winner, but what you have saved is your own dignity and grace.  —Unknown

Hapkido principles helping caregiver dignity.As a black-belt in the martial art of Hap-kido, I teach defensive blocks.  The concept is to equip students with the ability to effectively parry a strike from an assailant.  At live speaking events, I often ask the audience if any of them have been assaulted by an impaired loved one in their charge. Nearly every hand shoots up when asked that question. Consistently, the audience members who’ve suffered verbal assaults remains unanimous.

Keep your guard up and redirect

The concept of protecting our hearts mirrors the actions of protecting our bodies: keep hands (guard) up, and redirect.  We learn to never give an easy target, while diverting the energy of the assailant. In Hap Kido, we acquire judgment on how much force is needed to end the altercation. Our focus is not inflicting punishment, however, but rather on preserving our safety.  In the process, we realize that “any fight we walk away from, counts as a win.” Granted, some situations may require us to use more force than others. While we may walk away from a fight, that doesn’t mean we didn’t engage.  It also doesn’t mean the assailant went unscathed.  It simply reflects that our safety and well being is paramount.

Don’t pick up the rope!

In a caregiving situation, and by extension the ensuing family drama, the same principles apply.  We do not have to go every fight we are invited to attend. The key is to respond rather than react. We can also maintain our own sense of repose and not engage in the stream of discord that often comes our way.  Loved ones or family and friends often want to engage us in what seems like a tug of war.  While a fun team activity to play in school, a tug of war leaves no dignified exit.  If you lose, you end up on your face.  If you win, you end up on your rear.

Relationship dramas orbiting caregivers lead to relentless tug of war contests that wear down the self esteem of a caregiver.  Our loved ones, and even our critics, are not enemies, but we must recognize and respect the amount of damage they can inflict if allowed.  Recovering and protecting dignity becomes imperative to the well-being of a caregiver.  Becoming a small target, redirecting the assault, and refusing to “pick up the rope,” serve as easy to remember steps for caregivers to care for their own weary hearts.

Hope for the CaregiverPeter Rosenberger, a thirty year caregiver, is the author of Hope for the Caregiver.

Peter hosts a radio show for caregivers heard weekly on 1510 WLAC broadcast Sunday’s at 3 PM CST.  (Podcast as well as streamed through Iheart Radio)

Peter is the president of Standing With Hope, a non-profit ministry with two program areas:  a prosthetic limb outreach to amputees in West Africa, and an outreach to family caregivers.