When your identity is a caregiver, you make yourself another person’s god.
I went to my grandmother’s funeral a couple weeks ago. If you ever want to feel at home while embodying your full experience of being, go to a funeral, because just about every expression of being is allowed there. Expressions and movements that might normally get one locked up—or at the very least have a very long string of negatives connotations attached to them—-are widely received. This was my experience anyway. I felt right at home, as I am committed to allowing any and all emotion to move through my “creature” these days. As such, being my usual uninhibited feel-my-feelings-self amongst family members was immensely liberating.
It wasn’t all that long ago that I would have curtailed my emotions. I would have been a “good” daughter, there to support my parents and my aunt in their grieving process. I was raised to be a caregiver, you see. And in my family lineage, we caregivers compartmentalize our own feelings, so that we can take care of others. As a caregiver, you believe you know what other people need, and so you stifle your own emotions and your own needs, so that you can take care of others—- you basically pretend to be God by pretending to know what others need and how you should be for them.
This is, of course, a very convenient way to pretend to have control, and contains within it multiples of excuses to stay in the head, rather than fully connect with the felt-experience of the body. It can allow one to covertly move through the world in fear, but in the guise of love, because in our society what isn’t more “loving” then self- sacrifice and taking care of others? Caregiving is one of the safest identities on the planet, hiding behind “love”, and it’s also probably one of the most debilitating.
I hadn’t realized how much of my caregiving upbringing I had seen through until the other day. I was talking to my mom about her mom dying and the funeral, and she told me that she hasn’t been able to fully process it yet, which is normal, I’m told. But it was what she said next that caught my attention: “I had to hold it together for everyone else”, she said. I immediately recalled how often I’d said those words: “I have to hold it together for everyone else.” I’d pretend to believe this “for the sake of” my daughter, my husband, my brother, my parents, my friends…… I took myself so seriously–I so believed I was another person’s god– that I conveniently believed that stuffing my own feelings down was the right thing to do, because it was my “job” to protect/care/love/etc for others. It was my job to “be strong.”
Caregiving is almost always a self-appointed job, so it self-perpetuated regardless of the external circumstances, reality or actual “need.”
I felt much compassion for my mom after she said those words— words she believed with every cell in her being. She loves her job as caregiver. She loves being the strong one, taking care of me, taking care of my brother, and hundreds of other people in her life. I’m not interested in stripping her of her identities, but I sure am grateful that my identity of caregiver is gradually being stripped away. A nice side effect: not being tied to this identity feels light and free, not attached to outcome or people’s responses to me. And oddly enough, it allows me to really love myself, and to love others with more integrity, sincerity and without expectation of being cared for in return.