It’s OK to want to be seen for who you are (Episode 29)
In this episode, Kay Coughlin talks about another radical idea: that it’s OK for caregivers to have identities and lives that don’t revolve around our role as caregivers. Kay explains that it’s normal and healthy to have individual needs and desires – and why it can be so hard to do that it seems laughable or even impossible. But it is possible to be seen for who we are, even if it’s not related at all to our caregiving responsibilities.
Transcript is below.
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Transcript: It’s hard to decide where to start (Episode 28)
Hi, there. I’m your host, Kay Coughlin, and you’re listening to From One Caregiver To Another. This is episode 29.
So here’s a radical idea for you, did you know it’s okay to have your own identity and to want to do other things and be seen for things other than being a caregiver, to be a whole person and wholly fully yourself, even in the ways that might conflict with your caregiving life? I know this is really hard for a lot of caregivers to believe it could possibly be true for us, and that’s why I think it’s radical. Maybe this could be true for other people, but not for us, right?
And it’s because of that story that I talked about in episode 26, that feeling that we are in a chapter that somebody else wrote about us and about what our lives are supposed to look like as a caregiver. We are up against all of those caregiving stereotypes, and they are strong. But I think that really this is so hard because most of us have watched so many people face harsh judgment when they make individual choices that come from a place of their personal desires, instead of just doing what’s expected of them.
And I mean harsh in a way that looks like scorn and seems to bring out venom in people. I mean harsh in a way that leaves scars. It can be so painful for us to watch it to happen to other people. That if it’s an option, we will physically leave the room when it happens. And this start for us when we are little, right? We are expected to be quiet in church, put all our toys away at home, not splash during bath time. We are expected to share our toys and raise our hands to answer questions in school, to play a sport and excel at it.
Don’t you dare play a sport and be bad at it. Then we’re expected to go to the right college and get married and have the right career and have kids. And these aren’t bad things by themselves, but what happens is that we get judged when we don’t do these things well, or when we don’t do them at all, or even when we confess we don’t want them or we don’t like them. This lifetime of being judged for failing to meet others’ expectations of us causes a lot of confusion in our brains.
It’s confusing because the people who judge us often think they mean well, and we think they mean well sometimes because they tell us. And here’s an example. I remember when I was in kindergarten, so I would have been five years old at the time, a teacher ripped into me about a box of crayons I was carrying around with me. That scene is seared into my memory in such a way that I actually remember the dress I was wearing at the time. I remember the pocket I had stashed those crayons in. I remember what that pocket felt like in my hand.
This teacher’s intentions were good, at least I think so and she thought so, and I was crushed that I had so clearly disappointed her over crayons. And as I’m recording this, I am 47 years old and I am still tender about it 42 years later. I know the pain of judgment. I get it. It’s real. And I’m really only talking here about the judgment that comes from other people. I’m not even really getting into the judgment that comes from inside of me and maybe inside of you too, and that’s that judgment against ourselves.
So all of this fear of being judged and the confusion leads us to believe in our own hearts that we are somehow broken because we have needs and wants of our own. You see, we are taught it is a conflict to want things for ourselves when they, whoever they might be, whether that’s one person or a group or even some faceless hierarchy, who even knows who they are, anyway, whenever they think there is someone needier than you to whom you owe some kind of service and therefore you should be helping them. We are taught it absolutely cannot be both.
That you can only have one or the other, either your needs or helping the other person meet their needs. And there is no world in which both of those things might be possible. And more than that, that you are a bad person if you think your needs have equal value if and when someone else needs something else from you. And it gets even worse, because we are told in very specific terms that we should be ashamed of ourselves if we dare to question the very idea that we should sacrifice.
Or, and this is in a much more vague way that’s really more of a feeling, we get this message that if we want things that aren’t about the people caring for, that means that we lack morals. In a lot of ways, this shame goes so far as to tell us that we ought to want to sacrifice or else we are bad and rotten at the core and we are worthless, that we shouldn’t even think about what it might be costing us personally because this would be proof of just how sinful and truly awful we are.
So here’s the truth about this, and I get a little emotional here because I really hope, I hope that for just a minute that my voice can drown out all of the other voices in your head telling you to pretend and pose and to force a smile and to be grateful that you get this chance to serve. Here’s the truth I want you to hear from me for just a minute. You do not have a moral responsibility to sacrifice your identity or health or career or your family or your future for the sake of a care receiver.
Not even if that’s what you’ve been told or if it’s what’s been implied for your whole life about your role in society. You have a choice. I fully realize that some people are going to hear this idea and they are going to say that I, Kay Coughlin, that I am mean or cold hearted or out of touch with reality, or that I just don’t know what it’s like to be a caregiver. They’re going to say that I just don’t understand your situation or their situation. And maybe even you think this right now just a little bit.
And I want to tell you it’s okay to think that I’m wrong or to not trust me on this yet, because I know, I know this goes against a lot of what we’ve all heard for most of our lives. It might strike you as wrong just because it’s different and because it’s new. But I also know that you can’t wrestle with the truth of an idea until you can see it. You can’t determine what really is at the heart of any truth that’s offered to you until you start to question what you think is true right now. So I’m a big girl and people disagree with me all the time.
And I’m telling you, I won’t crumble if you don’t agree with me on this. But I would like to just invite you to stick with me a little longer on this. Please believe me. I’m not going to try to convince you I’m right. But if I can help you to open your mind to this idea in any way, then it’s worth it. It’s worth it to me if you struggle against my ideas and if you end up feeling a greater sense of self-worth. It’s worth it. Maybe what I’m doing today is just planting a seed that will help you live the life you really want, the way you want it.
And maybe that seed, it’s not going to sprout for you today, but maybe sometime in the future and I’m okay with that. Because here’s what I’m not saying, but it’s what some people are going to hear anyway, and I know this because it happens to me a lot. I am not saying you should be nasty or hateful or punish people or take an ax to the relationships in your life. And I’m talking here too about the way you treat yourself.
If you are hiding your true self away, denying your individual identity purely for the sake of your care receiver, then you are also treating yourself poorly. I’m not blaming you if you’re treating yourself poorly, and I don’t think there’s any shame in it. Look, I am just as human as you are, and I have been there too, but I do see all of this as an opportunity. An opportunity to do what, you’re probably asking. Well, it’s to begin to notice yourself, to notice you, and maybe to ask yourself some genuinely curious questions.
Not questions to beat yourself up. I am not saying that, but real curiosity like this. I wonder where this belief came from, or am I making this decision because of a belief I have, or am I making this decision from a place of knowledge and wisdom and what do I really want anyway? Do you see the difference there? Those questions are curious. They come from a genuine place of wanting to know more about yourself and not from a place of beating yourself up.
In other words, I see all of this as an opportunity to begin asking if you really want things in your life to be the way they are now. Maybe this is an opportunity to see yourself as a person whose life is individual, whose life is different and separate from that of your care receiver, and that your life can have equal value to the life of your care receiver. So I have to tell you, this idea of having an individual identity for yourself is actually even trickier than it seems already. And I know that’s not fair. I wish it could be easier, but it’s just not easier.
That’s why we’re taking this in really tiny steps, because this idea really means believing you can have a life that is not focused around your relationship with your care receiver and your responsibilities related to caregiving. Believe it or not, you can have other important focuses and other important things in your life. In many caregiving relationships, the world seems to be focused only on what is good for the care receiver. So the relationship between the caregiver and the care receiver is naturally seen as unequal.
And at the end of the day, the care receiver has greater importance. And this isn’t actually true, by the way, because all humans have equal value, but it’s a strong part of that cultural narrative of caregiving. But you, you are your own person. You are a person who has your own individual preferences and desires and needs and wants, but you have to notice that that could possibly be true before you can begin to believe it could be true for you. You have to allow for the idea that it actually could be possible in your life.
Can you have an ambitious career and be a caregiver? Can you take that job? If it means you’re going to have to travel? Can you have a great marriage and to be a caregiver too? Can you plan meals that accommodate your favorite foods and the foods your care receiver likes too? Can you schedule a fabulous vacation and be a caregiver? Well, the answer to all of these questions is yes.
You can have any of these things, or you can have all of them if you want, but only if you can see yourself as a whole individual who has the right to make decisions that are beneficial to you and to what you want out of life. So yes, this step of noticing yourself and your thoughts and beliefs is actually a pretty big one and it’s pretty important too.
Because if you currently believe that you don’t have a right to be seen for who you are as a person, that you don’t have a right to your own identity, or at least when it comes to your relationship with your care receiver that you don’t have a right to your own identity, then maybe believing in you as a whole individual person is a really good starting point for you. And I just want to remind you that we are in this together. I’m a caregiver too, and I’m not going to judge you for whatever you think at this point or for whatever your circumstances look like right now.
Your relationship with your care receiver is, I’m pretty sure, at least as complicated as my relationship with my care receiver who also happens to be my mom and I adore her. You are going to hear me say that a lot. I love my mom so much. She means so much to me, but our relationship is still complicated. And I’m guessing that your relationship with your family and your community is probably pretty complicated too, because that’s how mine is and that’s the way life works.
So look, you are allowed to change how you think about those relationships, and you are allowed to believe different things about what you want out of those relationships. You’re also allowed… You’re allowed to just think about it for a while, especially if this feels way too radical for you. I mean, I get it. As a caregiver, I practice what I preach every day, and it still sounds radical to me sometimes when I say these things out loud to my clients and as I’m saying this out loud to you.
So if you need to, let some of this just sink in for a while and then come back and listen to it again in a few days, or gosh, you can send me an email. You can find me at my website and there’s a link to it in the notes. I want to hear from you. If you just need to process this a little bit, please reach out to me, because I want you to know that I see you. I already know and believe that you are a whole person with an individual life, and you already have your own desires and dreams even if you can’t see them or can’t remember them.
And you have so much potential to live the life you really want and be a caregiver at the same time. But the question is, can you believe that too? If you can’t believe it yet and even if you find this whole thing to be a shocking idea and you are just rejecting it right now, that’s just proof that you are as human as I am. I will be here if and hopefully when you are ready to see yourself for the value you individually have in the world. If you are ready to go deeper right now, please check out my website.
There’s a link in the show notes where you can find a link to my book, and that’s called “From One Caregiver to Another – Overcoming Your Emotional Grind,” or you can also go to my website if you’d like to learn a little bit more about what it means to work with me one-on-one. Thank you so much for listening, for being here with me today. You can learn more about me and about my work at facilitatoronfire.net. That’s facilitatoronfire.net. And there you can also sign up for my newsletter and that is also called From One Caregiver to Another.
Please follow me on Instagram, that link is in the show notes as well, if you want almost daily doses of straight talk for family caregivers who are tired of feeling trapped by the traditional definition of being a so-called good caregiver. If you liked to this episode, please consider leaving a review and that’s going to help other caregivers find their way here.
And definitely tell a caregiver friend who also needs a boost in their confidence to design and live their own best life, which just happens to include their caregiving responsibilities, but does not have to be centered solely on those duties. I can’t wait to be here with you again in the next episode.
Kay Coughlin, CEO and Chief Facilitator of Facilitator on Fire, has a dream to create a world that is generously inclusive of all adult generations. The best place to connect with Kay is on Instagram.
“Caregiver Coaching” is for family caregivers who are ready to overcome the emotional grind of caregiving.