When does a support system become a problem? Articles about eldercare often focus on care giving and care givers instead of on the real issue; the person who receives the care. Have you ever wondered if too much support (too much help) might actually be keeping them from realizing their potential? It all has to do with self esteem. Self esteem is about doing their best and feeling good about it.
Mary Anne Duncan wrote an article about support overload for the latest issue of Arthritis Today. This has long been a pet theory of mine but it is difficult to find studies that back me up. The article was about spousal support, but I could picture loving family members and caregivers falling into the same pattern.
It is human nature. When we see someone struggling or someone in pain, we want to reach out. We want to help but don’t exactly know how. Remember the familiar Christian homily that tells us that giving a person a fish will assure him of a meal today, but teaching him how to fish will assure a lifetime of meals. It is kind of like that. Teaching someone how to fish contributes to self esteem and independent thinking. If you smoother your loved ones by doing too much for them, they lose the drive to do things for themselves. It soon becomes easier for them to let you talk for them, to let you pick out their clothes, and to let you dress them as if they were big dolls. Before long they start to withdraw. They are afraid they will hurt your feelings if they ask you to back off. It becomes easier to give in.
Think about yourself for a moment. Remember how you felt when someone else did your math problems for you, or painted the room you wanted to decorate yourself, or took over your chores because you couldn’t meet their standards? It made you feel that you weren’t good enough. At the same time they made you feel guilty because you were taking up too much of their precious time. It wasn’t fun when you were a kid and it isn’t fun now.
I found a similar article about helicopter parents; you know the ones who hover too much. Of course I changed that scene to encompass adult care givers too. Too much care can creates an aura of dependency.
People like to be independent and they like to feel that they have control over their lives. Shame, guilt, and manipulation have no place in a caregiver/care receiver relationship. It may take an hour or more for them to get dressed in the morning, to plan and cook a meal and to plan their day, but it is their day to do with as they please. Create an environment that tells them that is okay to ask you to back off a little.