The 3 Danger Signs of an Unhealthy Online or In Person Caregiver Support Group
When you have a minute to catch your breath, you might have this thought run across your mind:
“If only I could __________.” And you fill in the blank with “have a hot meal, get a break to have a shower, or have someone take my loved one to their next appointment.”
It can easily be one of those little things that break the camel’s back and push you to feeling like running away.
Yet, things never seem to change and no one in your world really knows what you are going through. If you ever told them, you just know they’d never understand. Especially when you want to dump all those feelings of anger, frustration, resentment, disappointment and sadness. And for sure, you think they’d never forgive you for having times when you want to blame the person for whom you are caring, for the life you now have. Nope. No one gets it. Except another caregiver.
A caregiver’s sanity can be saved by a supportive group of caregivers who know – just know – exactly how you are feeling. This has brought a rise in online support groups and forums that bring together those people who “get it.” They understand the demands, lack of sleep and lack of respect and acknowledgement of what they do. I belong to some wonderful and supportive online forums and Facebook groups.
What I caution against is using venting, especially if it is more on the bitching side, as a way to stay in your story. This tends to happen in groups where the members come together because of their uncomfortable emotions of a common experience.
What I’ve noticed in many of these types of groups, both in person and online, is that people feed off each other, and instead of feeling better after venting, they feel worse.
Here are 3 Danger Signs that will tell you if a group is one that will help you or hurt you:
Danger Sign #1: Comparing Your Experience to Someone Else’s Experience
There is a tendency for people to come away from “venting and bitching” groups believing they shouldn’t complain because someone is worse off than they are. On the other end of the scale, some come away feeling they aren’t understood because no one has it as bad as they do. The danger signal for this is when it seems like there is a competition of who has the “worst” story. An even more blatant danger sign is when someone tells you that their situation is worse than yours, and you might even feel disrespected.
Danger Sign #2: Self Righteousness
Another trap in these groups is that you receive validation and vindication for the depth and variety of your troubling emotions. The danger with this is it can leave you feeling self-righteous and you will tend to excuse your own unhealthy reactions. In other words, the anger, frustration and resentment gets stoked, which becomes seen outwardly as someone flying off the handle, yelling, screaming, or disengaging completely using the silent treatment. And you believe you have every right to these outbursts and it’s not your fault if anyone gets hurt in the crossfire. There is acceptance, perhaps even encouragement, for you to play the victim in your situation.
Danger Sign #3: Solutions and Positive Thinking are Frowned Upon
The wisdom of bringing caregivers together is important. Often the best solutions come from within the group. In an unhealthy group some members may make rude comments about solutions that have been offered. The other thing that happens is the statement “I’ve tried everything and nothing’s worked.” In some groups I’ve seen attacks when someone posted a feel good type of meme. This group will have lots of venting and bitching in it, with little, if any, support with empathy or possible solutions. I call this “dump and run.” Most of the group is comprised of people who spew their problems, put up a brick wall to any suggestions on how to change things, and don’t offer any solutions to other people.
If you are involved with groups that have any of these danger signs you are at risk for taking on the role of victim and feeling helpless and hopeless that your life could be any better.
Your life has changed – yes. You have lost dreams and possibly your future goals – yes. You can do nothing to improve your situation – that is a big myth.
Most likely you have felt the waves of anger, frustration, disappointment, sadness and resentment that are part of the caregiving world. It’s healthy to acknowledge and accept those feelings. Stuffing them inside is one of the worst things that you can do and I’m not suggesting you ignore these feelings I teach many ways of accepting, allowing and releasing these kinds of feelings.
If you don’t find a healthy and supportive group of people, staying in the victim role will only fester the troubling emotions and perspective. It can be a downward spiral to depression, anxiety, and troubled family relationships.
What else can you do?
Bring back your sense of self. Life won’t be the same as it once was. That doesn’t mean you have to give up everything, including your hopes and dreams. The bridge is to discover how to keep one toe in the passion and excitement of your dreams, and the other toe in the reality of where you are in this present moment in time.
I know this from personal experience and from learning a very important system to making this come true in my life, and for the life of my husband. The last 3 years we had together were full of joy, peace, love and it wouldn’t have been that way if I hadn’t learned this information.
What made the difference is when we discovered what was important to each of us individually, and as a couple. We determined how we were going to get through this time in our life together and not give in to a pessimistic outlook. That would have been an easy thing to do.
The way I see it, you have a choice.
You can decide whether you will look in the mirror and not recognize who you have become because caregiving has infiltrated every ounce of your life and leaving you stripped of who you really are,
You can find clarity on what is important to you now and flip it around – bring caregiving into your life, not have it be the only life you know. Find out what is important to you and your loved one and focus on that.
You are not a victim – you are a strong and compassionate person, with a big “job” to do that you weren’t expecting.
Surround yourself with people who will support you, are compassionate about your situation, and who will give real help for you to keep one toe in your dreams, goals and joy.
For information on workshops and coaching sessions where I share exactly what helped me and my husband get clarity on what was important to us in his final 3 years of life, and how we set it all into motion, please contact me at Lorna@TheCaregiversLighthouse.com, (403) 548-8437, or 1 -888-746-8130
Life with no regrets. You can do it!