The Real You In Caregiving

How could we live well without caregiving and care receiving? This part of our human experience goes so deep into our core that we know instinctively how vital it is for our joy and resilience, in the midst of all kinds of things we never imagined. The true goal of life may well be love, and caregiving is such a powerful expression of love, whether for the one we most love or for the one who most loved us. Love and loyalty often get intertwined: being loyal in love is essential. Anything less can be viewed as betrayal. No one likes betrayal. And betrayal means different things to different people. 

For the past year I have been helping two organizations that support caregivers: Breathing Spaces and Bay Area Cancer Connections. I am drawn to this work because of my own experience in caregiving. 

In our weekly caregiver retreats we like to provide structure for deeper thought, support, exploration, growth and endurance. We all need each other to make it through the hardest times of caring for people we love. This past week my group discussed how to be true to yourself when you are trying your best to support the needs of someone close. Someone whose life is changing beyond her control and acceptance: they don’t want this to be happening, they want us to fix things.  

We can’t fix anyone but ourselves…and most of us have a big struggle there! Being true to ourselves is an ongoing challenge and adventure of discovery: what makes us unique, yet connected to everyone we love? Trying to be everything that someone else expects of us is crazy-making. We need to protect ourselves in caregiving, not being selfish, just aware that we have needs also, especially to stay healthy and mentally able to do caregiving thoughtfully, with a full heart, not just as blind duty. If we start to feel resentment, that is a good warning sign that we need to take better care of ourselves. We matter, too. 


Caring for an older spouse or parent can be like caring for a toddler in the sense that we must have the maturity to recognize what’s really best for the person we care for. Having their own way, demanding our loyalty to agree to dangerous or impractical demands is not good for the community, us, or them. Giving in teaches less self-worth, not a worthy lesson. We need to care for ourselves in knowing our limits and ability to endure: the power of “no…and I love you too much to do that.” Or, “no, that would put me in danger (or poor health) and I (we) need to be well to do the good things we do for you, because I love you and you mean too much to me.” 

It’s ok to be the bad guy when needed. We can always also express our devoted, endearing love despite our inability to comply with requests that are beyond our capability. We are not perfect. We make mistakes, of course, and we need to forgive ourselves, and the ones we care for dearly. We are all trying to make this work as best it can. Realizing that we are not perfect, and still doing the best we can manage right now, helps us let go of the guilt that might come up, the judgmental thought that we are betraying the one we care for, that we are not able to do everything requested. This is our dilemma: to be joyful in the midst of the pain of a life changing from what we used to have, and we so wish would stay the same forever.  

Caregiving offers one of the greatest sources of joy, with all its emotional complexities, to know that we are doing the best we can for the person who means so much to us, and will, always. Practicing holding on to those parts of ourselves that are vital, as we let go of perfection, is essential. Being real, true, and forgiving of ourselves in caregiving is the best gift of all. 

Guest Contributor: Bob Loftis, Career and Communications Coach at – Facilitator of Breathing Spaces Family Caregiver {Virtual} Retreats. 

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