When someone close is ill …

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When someone close is ill …

If someone from family or friends is overtaken by a disease, it is not easy to find the right words and the right measure of care. Maybe we are doing something superfluous or missing something … Why is this excruciating feeling of guilt embracing us? And what can we do to overcome it?

Ilya’s best friend is undergoing chemotherapy, but Ilya is not going to call him: fear and a vague feeling of guilt that he himself is healthy does not allow him to dial a number. Anna is sure that it is her fault that her younger sister suffers from anorexia. “My departure from home to study in Moscow could provoke an illness,” she explains bitterly. Tatiana is ashamed of her daily bouts of irritation and hostility towards a paralyzed mother, who needs constant attention.

When we encounter a serious illness of a loved one, we are overcome by despair. We are lost and acutely feel our helplessness. And often we begin to rebuke ourselves. It seems that we are ready to accomplish the feat of compassion, but we rest against the boundaries of our capabilities.

Trying to drown out the excruciating feeling, someone like Ilya prefers to move away and unconsciously chooses a flight strategy (“cannot” get through, “have no time” to arrive at the hospital in the reception hours). Others “rush into the embrasure”, give up all their bodily and mental strengths and often sacrifice their own family life, depriving themselves of the right to happiness.

Guilt mechanism

“To take the right place next to the patient, you need time – it rarely happens right away,” explains psychotherapist Igor Shatz. – The first reaction is shock and numbness. Working with relatives for many years, I see that the most difficult thing for them is to realize that a loved one is terminally ill. And one cannot count on changes for the better. ”

“Almost immediately, an irrational feeling of guilt arises:“ I could not prevent this, ”“ I did not insist on visiting a doctor, ”“ was inattentive, ”adds clinical psychologist and gestalt therapist Vyacheslav Yanston. “Those close to them feel guilty: for past conflicts, for being healthy, for not being able to always be around, for something that still carries them away in life …”

It’s also difficult to understand how to behave now. As if nothing had happened, so as not to aggravate the experiences of a loved one? But then there is a risk that they will consider us selfish. Or is it worth changing the nature of your relationship with him because he is now sick?

We ask ourselves questions, think about what our relationship was like before the illness. But more importantly, someone else’s disease reminds us of our own fears. And above all, about the unconscious fear of death.

“Another source of guilt is the perception that we should be the ideal son or daughter, husband or wife,” says Marina Khazanova, a client-centered psychotherapist and psychologist. “They should look after them perfectly, take care of their relative perfectly.” This is especially acute for those who were condemned a lot in childhood, who were always shown that they were not in line with the norm. This is a paradox: the more responsible a person is, the better he cares for the sick, the more acutely he feels his imperfection. “

Patient care leaves neither time nor space for oneself, requires a spiritual response, warmth, it depletes our resources

We want to support a sick friend or relative and at the same time protect ourselves from suffering. There is an inevitable confusion of conflicting feelings: we are torn between love and despair, the desire to protect and irritation in relation to a loved one, who himself sometimes injures us, fueling our feelings of guilt with our sufferings. We risk getting lost in this maze, losing sight of our guiding lines, our faith, our beliefs.

“When we constantly grind the same thoughts in our heads, they fill our minds and create chaos that prevents us from thinking intelligently,” adds Marina Khazanova. “We are losing contact with ourselves, with our own emotions.” This manifests itself literally on the physical level: insomnia, chest pains, skin problems can occur … The imaginary fault and the exaggerated responsibility that we take on ourselves are to blame.

The reasons for this confusion are many: caring for the patient leaves neither time nor space for himself, he requires attention, emotional response, warmth, he depletes our resources. And sometimes it destroys the family. “All its members may be in a state of co-dependence when a long illness of their relative becomes the only meaning of the family system,” warns Vyacheslav Yanston.

When someone close is ill ...

Define boundaries

To get rid of guilt, first of all, it must be recognized and expressed in words. But this alone is not enough. “You need to understand that we cannot be responsible for the misfortune of another,” says Julia Mandelblatt, a doctor of the highest category, oncologist at the European Medical Center. “When we find that our guilty feelings and our involuntary power over another person are two sides of the same coin, we will take the first step towards our spiritual well-being, release energy to help the patient.”

To stop blaming yourself, you must first abandon the feeling of omnipotence and precisely delineate the boundaries of their responsibility. It is easy to say … It is very difficult to take this step, but nevertheless it is better not to hesitate.

“I did not immediately realize that I was not annoyed at my grandmother, but that after a stroke she became a different person,” recalls 36-year-old Svetlana. “I knew her completely different, fun and strong.” And really needed her. “It took me a long time to accept her fading and stop reproaching myself.”

Feeling guilty can poison life; it is it that does not allow us to truly be near our loved ones. But what is it talking about? About whom, if not about ourselves? And there comes a time when it is time to sincerely answer a question: what is more important for me – relationships with a close suffering person or my feelings? In other words: do I really love this person?

“Depressing guilt can cause alienation between the patient and his friend or relative,” Marina Khazanova clarifies. “But in many cases the patient does not expect anything unusual – he just wants to maintain the connection that has always existed. In this case, we are talking about empathy, about the willingness to listen to his expectations. Someone wants to talk about their illness, others prefer to talk about something else. In this case, it’s enough to be able to empathize, to listen to his expectations. ”

Being close to the sick, it is difficult to understand where its borders end and its own begin

It is important not to try to decide once and for all what is good for the patient, what is bad, and to be able to set their own boundaries. The best way to help yourself is to switch to solving small daily tasks.

“Make a step-by-step action plan for treatment, in consultation with doctors, ask questions, look for your algorithm for patient care,” advises Vyacheslav Yanston. – Calculate your strength without falling into sacrifice. When life becomes more streamlined and a clear plan of the day appears, it becomes easier. ” And do not refuse the help of other people.

Vadim is 47 years old. 20 of them, he takes care of a paralyzed mother. “Now, after so many years, I understand that my father’s and mine’s life would have turned out differently – I don’t know if it’s better or worse, but it’s completely different if we were more allowed to look after my mother and other family members.”

Being close to the sick, it is difficult to understand where its borders end and its own begin. And most importantly, where do the boundaries of our responsibility end. “To draw them means to tell yourself: there is his life, but there is mine,” explains Vyacheslav Yanston. “But this does not mean that the loved one will be rejected, it will only help to figure out where the intersection point of our lives is.”

Accept reward

In order to establish the right relationship with the person to whom we bring good, about whom we care, it is necessary that this good be a blessing for us as well. And this suggests that for the helper there must be some kind of reward. This is what helps maintain a relationship with the one he cares for. Otherwise, help becomes a sacrifice. A sacrificial attitude always generates aggressiveness and intolerance.

Not many people know that a year before his death, Alexander Pushkin left for the village to look after the dying mother Nadezhda Hannibal. After her death, he wrote that in this “short time he used maternal tenderness, which until then he did not know …”. Before death, the mother asked her son for forgiveness for not loving him enough.

“When we decide to accompany a loved one along this difficult path, it is important to understand that we take on long-term obligations,” emphasizes Igor Shatz. – This is a huge work that lasts for months and even years. In order not to succumb to fatigue, emotional burnout, helping a relative or friend, you need to clearly understand what we get valuable for ourselves from communicating with the patient. ”

This happened in the family of Alexei, where the grandmother, who contracted transient cancer, in one day united all her relatives around her, making them forget about their previous disagreements. “We realized that the most important thing for us is to make the last months of her life happy. And for her there was always only one criterion for happiness – that the whole family was together. ”

“Happiness to show your love”

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

“When we are seriously ill or are going to death, those around us take care of us, and often an ill person experiences with his soul that he has become a burden for others. Here it is necessary to dissuade the sick person. He did not become a burden. He gave people happiness by the opportunity to show their love, their humanity, to be their companion through the last period of life – to eternity. Those who are ill must be convinced that while they were healthy, strong, they cared for others, helped them, not necessarily in illness, just in life; now they can receive from these people that love that they themselves sowed in their souls, and give them the opportunity to show their love and their gratitude.

When we refuse during the illness from the help of others, we deprive them of the greatest happiness – to love us to the end. I think that if one who cares about the dying, could perceive what is happening to him, just sit next to him and don’t do anything himself, but just be transparent, silent, as deep as possible, then he would probably see at first this person is blind to eternity, as if closed from eternity by his flesh, his physicality, his humanity. Gradually, all this becomes more transparent, and the dying begins to see another world. First, I think, a dark world, and then suddenly the light of eternity …

Therefore, those young people who care for the sick, in addition to giving the patient the opportunity to accept love with gratitude and openness – this is very important – can sit with them at a time when the patient can no longer tell them that he now he sees or feels, but to know that a transition is being made, and to be with him all this time, the time of transition. ”

Excerpt from the article “Body and Matter in Spiritual Life” (“Transactions”. Practice, 2002).

Text: Julia Varshavskaya
Photo Source: Getty images

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