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Caretaker Suffering When a Loved One is Ill

When someone is ill, injured or in severe physical pain, that has a certain automatic validity—we feel empathy; we want to help. We can understand why this person is in emotional pain, why they are afraid, why they feel trapped, angry—whatever they’re feeling. We can understand the trauma of being in physical pain or having an illness. Whatever they’re experiencing seems understandable and worthy of treatment and care. But when you’re the caretaker, it’s a different story.

Caretaker Suffering is Unseen
When you’re the healthy one caring for a loved one in pain—physical pain or emotional pain—or tending to someone who is ill—you tend to put yourself aside—and so does everyone else. Caretaker suffering tends to be invisible not only to others but to caretakers themselves. Caretakers’ focus is often solely on the ill person, the one with the physical pain or emotional pain. Caretaker emotional pain might arise, but is quickly stuffed back down, because it seems selfish and out of place. After all, there’s nothing wrong with me, right? It’s my loved one that’s hurting. Wrong.

Caretaker Suffering is Real
When a partner, parent or child is very ill or in serious physical pain, caretakers often feel a profound sense of helplessness because there’s not much they personally can do to heal their loved one or to lessen the pain. Caretakers also can feel trapped when the one in pain needs help with just about everything or when they as caretakers are needed many hours of the day. It can feel like they’re in prison and they feel guilty taking even a few moments to themselves, or leaving the house to do something peaceful or fun for themselves. Caretaker suffering can take the form of resentment at not having a life of one’s own anymore. It’s easy to develop a kind of co-dependency, that is, to feel that you have to do everything for the other person because they’re in physical or emotional pain, they’re so ill. You become unaware that the ill person might still be able to do some things for themselves.

Lessening Caretaker Suffering
The first step is to validate everything you’re feeling—it’s natural to feel scared, helpless, guilty, trapped, hurt, resentful—whatever you’re feeling. Acknowledge that you have a right to feel what you’re feeling. When a loved one is hurting or ill, you’re hurting too. There is a certain way that you’re trapped, but maybe you don’t need to actually be as trapped as you’ve been. Acknowledge that, although your loved one is suffering and needs help, you yourself are not in physical pain; you yourself are not ill. You’re still able to do many things—work, go out with friends, take walks by yourself. It’s important to do a certain amount of this to lessen the feeling of being in prison and to decrease the feeling of resentment. If your parent, spouse or child needs constant care, maybe there’s a way to create a circle of friends or family who are willing to take regular turns caring for the ill person to give you a break. If you can afford it, check out home health care for some hours every day or several times a week. Also, try to think about what the ill person might still be able to do for him or herself. This will not only help you as caretaker, it also helps the ill person feel more worthwhile, productive and useful. And it helps the relationship between the two ofyou.

Processing Caretaker Suffering with EFT
Often it’s useful to have help from a counselor or therapist to process what’s going on with you, to help you come up with solutions that will make your load lighter or to just lighten the emotional pain and your own trauma. EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) is a kind of healing work that is often very useful, and it often works quickly to get back a sense of freedom in your life. For more information, see

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