Advanced Self-Care

There can be discomfort in accepting care and support from others. This has been a theme in the last couple of weeks in a number of unrelated conversations.

 “Thank you for caring about me. It is uncomfortable to be cared for but for you I am suffering through it. :)”

Those of us who are counter-dependent or lean in that direction, struggle with relying on others. We believe we can do it all ourselves, without assistance. It’s unhealthy approach to autonomy and independence.

The key in understanding counter-dependency is differentiating it from healthy autonomy. Healthy autonomy is a state of confident self-reliance in which an individual a) recognizes their interdependency with others; b) has an agentic sense of self (i.e., a sense that one can effectively control one’s destiny) and c) is not unduly controlled or influenced by others. The primary defining feature of a healthy autonomy is first that the autonomy motive is an “approach mindset,” meaning that the individual desires to be (relatively) self-reliant because they want to recognize their full potential as an individual, but one who is simultaneously and securely interconnected with others. Second, healthy autonomous individuals can regularly form effective, meaningful, intimate long term relations with others. That is, they can share, be vulnerable, and are comfortable relying on others when it is reasonable to do so.

Signs of Counter-Dependency, Psychology Today.

This mindset gets in the way of good self-care. After all, there is never enough time to do everything. There is also, if we are honest, never truly enough to competency in every single thing we attempt. (This is kind of a harsh reality for those that really believe they can do anything, and do it well enough.) More importantly, there are simply times when we can’t be our own caregiver, although it might take extreme situations to make that clear, such as my own 32 hours of brain surgery.

I’ve written previously about my efforts at self-care. Improved nutrition, exercise, rest, working at mindfulness, learning to be vulnerable and open, are all parts of self-care. I think I have come to see that letting others in to provide care for you, even if it is just assistance, is really an advanced and necessary form of self-care.

This is easier to do with someone you know and trust. Although, I think if trust is really there, then it is much less of a problem to do. Part of counter-dependency is the inability to trust that someone can do something at least as well as you. So, with one-on-one relationships, we can at least begin to negotiate trust pathways to let someone care. It is much harder if we are alone in a community, or worse, believe we are alone in a community, and feel there is no one to trust enough to even reach out to. This is a tremendous place of discomfort.

At this point, I think the only answer is this. Ask yourself, “How much do I truly value my well-being compared to challenging my comfort levels in asking for, and accepting, help?” Like most things, it is something of a cost-benefit analysis, but with the added confusion of “comfort” actually being on both sides of the equation. We balance risks of physical and emotional comfort against generally the emotional discomfort of admitting we need help and need to trust someone to provided.

Needing help is not a bad thing. It is merely a recognition of the existence of limits. Accepting help is really good self-care.

Sometimes Love is Lonely

“Love is hard.”

“Love *is* hard. And sometimes lonely.”

A snippet of conversation between two friends about marriage, caregiving, and family. Most everyone knows that love is hard. Not always, of course, but there are moments, days, and multiples of days in which love is very hard. The hardness generally comes from difference. All couples/families have them to some degree.

  • Difference in politics.
  • Difference in expectations.
  • Difference in desire.
  • Difference in ableness.
  • Difference in ability.
  • Difference in perception.
  • Difference in wellness.
  • Difference in strengths.
  • Difference in power/position.

And so on. There are no limits to the differences possible. Most of the time there is probably never an issue, but sometimes the differences bubble to the top and conflict evolves. If we don’t learn to handle conflict effectively it can get out of hand create more conflict.

There are times though that the differences seem almost insurmountable. Times where the gulf between two people just seems unimaginably large. This can easily happen in a caregiving-based relationship where there is great a differential in the partnership role. It can be lonely doing all the work that *should* be shared between two people (recognizing that in most households there is nothing close to an equal distribution of housework and child-rearing).

That’s one type of loneliness. Another form of loneliness is that of waiting as a part of caring. Waiting at a clinic, practicing patience, perhaps alone with your thoughts of hopes and fears for the future. Waiting as a parent for your child to return home late at night. Or more acutely, waiting by your child’s bedside for the fever to break, waiting for them to cry out. Waiting for a loved one in a hospital to draw a final breath, to say a final goodbye. Waiting for your partner to make the decision to live and be well. Love can be a very lonely vigil.

It’s fun to focus on the excitement, the joy, the goodness, of love. We talk about the hard work of love when we get frustrated if things go wrong or get icky, or we have to do the truly hard work of love. We rarely talk about how lonely love can be. Probably this is because the loneliness is only there when we are doing the hardest work of love – keeping a small light burning in a largely silent vigil.