When your loved one has been diagnosed
Many Americans are dealing with serious health issues. Rates of cancer and chronic disease are on the rise. And often the people who suffer most are the family members and loved ones. Watching our loved ones in distress can be heartbreaking, and leave use feeling overwhelmed and powerless. It may be wise to consider therapy for family members of cancer patients or those with other serious diagnoses.
Therapy for family members of cancer patients and those with serious diagnoses
If your loved one has been diagnosed with a serious or chronic illness, you may be feeling a host of emotions, including powerlessness, grief, guilt, depression and anxiety. These are natural consequences of seeing your loved ones suffer, especially when you cannot take away their burden.
It is not at all uncommon to hear partners say that they feel powerless and helpless in the face of their loved one’s diagnosis. It is difficult to watch your loved one struggling with health concerns. You may weigh in on decisions, but ultimately the decisions are theirs, which can leave you feeling powerless. And you may feel helpless if you are watching your partner suffer. You may find yourself wishing you could take the diagnosis on yourself, rather than watching someone you love suffer. And you may just feel afraid. All of this can take a toll on you.
Compassion fatigue and the need for self care
If you are the primary caregiver, you may be at risk of compassion fatigue and caregiver burnout. Compassion fatigue is a real phenomenon. It is illustrated by a real-world phenomenon we can probably all relate to. Remember when you heard of the first mass shooting at Columbine, and how upsetting it was? That was 19 years ago, and it no longer ranks in the top 10 deadliest shootings. Yet notice how we just don’t seem to get as upset these days. We are more inclined to shake our heads and go on with our day, maybe after saying a gentle prayer for the lives lost. But we aren’t glued to the TV like we were.
When we cannot get away from the suffering of others, we can become numb and indifferent. This is known as compassion fatigue. And though we seem to be numbing out, it turns out that we are experiencing “secondary trauma.” That is, we are traumatized by watching people who are traumatized. (And having a serious illness is, yes, traumatic.)
It is human nature to adapt to even the most horrible situations. One of our human go-to coping strategies is to create emotional distance or “numb out.” So when it comes to living with and caring for someone who is ill, this adaptability can come with a price. You may feel a little empty, especially if you are called on to do day-to-day care-giving activities. Over time, it can lead to the real problem of burnout. Without proper self care, you have fewer resources available to you. Your resilience becomes impaired, and you have a hard time showing up as your best self.
When we don’t take time for self-care, and are dwelling daily in the suffering of our loved one, we can develop what is called caregiver burnout. We become exhausted, physically, emotionally, and mentally. You may be experiencing caregiver burnout if you
- are more irritable, or feeling depressed or anxious
- find yourself overreacting
- are having trouble sleeping
- feel tired
- are getting run down
- have new health problems, or pre-existing health problems are getting worse
As you can see, caregiver burnout has real consequences on your physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing. If you are starting to experience any of these symptoms, it is important to get help. Taking care of yourself is one of the best things you can do, not only for yourself, but for your loved one. If you would like to explore therapy for family members of cancer patients and those with other serious or chronic illnesses, contact me.