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Why being "selfish" as a dementia caregiver is actually one of the best things you can do

Uncategorized Mar 22, 2020

Welcome back Careblazer.

Today I want to talk about something that gets in the way of many of you doing what you need to stay healthy and happy while caring for your LOWD. 

I’ve talked a lot about the importance of self care as a caregiver and I get a lot of reasons why it seems impossible to do. The one I want to focus on today is that it feels selfish to do things for yourself, to put yourself first when your LO needs so much help. Sometimes it’s to the point that when you do actually do something nice for yourself, it’s hard for you to even enjoy yourself because you start to feel guilty. Today, I want to put this struggle to rest by giving you a new way to think about selfishness. I was listening to a podcast by Brooke Castillo on this subject and it was so good and I feel like it applies to what so many of you talk to me about. 

So if you are struggling with feeling selfish whenever you think about or do something nice for yourself- take a break, put your LO in adult day care, hire extra help, go out with a friend, WHATEVER IT MAY BE, you don’t want to miss this. Also, even though we are focusing on dementia caregiving here, for all of you sandwich caregivers trying to raise families while caring for an elderly parent with dementia, you can apply this to feelings of selfishness as it relates to your other family members as well. 

Real quick, before we get into it, be sure to download your Careblazer Survival Guide to get my favorite strategies and tips for caring for someone with dementia.

What is being selfish? There are a lot of different definitions and most of them are meant to be pretty negative. But in general, being selfish is putting your needs and desires before other people’s.

Let’s take a good look at this definition and step back. Is this really such a bad thing. Your gut reaction, society’s gut reaction will automatically want to say yes. But let’s pause here for a minute. 

If you don’t put yourself first, if you don’t put your needs before others, how can you show up as your best self? If you are reading, then you are already a kind-hearted and caring person. There’s no doubt about that. No ill willed person is spending their free time watching me talk on camera about dementia unless they really want to help give good care to someone with dementia. 

But if you are trying to care for someone with dementia without putting your needs first, your care will suffer. I like to use the analogy of a medical doctor or surgeon. Which doctor do you think would provide the best care, one who cares so deeply for her patients that she skips her lunch to see more patients in the day, doesn’t use her vacation days so that patients don’t have to wait to see her, she works late, doesn’t take time to work out, eat healthy and do things she loves because most of her waking hours are caring for patients. In fact, she has a hard time sleeping at night because she’s up thinking about what might be able to help some of the people who came into clinic earlier that day or preparing for the next day. 


The doctor that equally cares for her patients, but makes sure no matter what she takes time to eat lunch every day. She takes vacation days to refresh and reset. She makes sure to get good sleep at night so that her brain is functioning at its best when she is providing care? 

Which one would you trust with your own care? Most people can see that the first doc cares deeply for her patients, but at that rate, she’s likely not doing as great of a job. Things are going to missed, burnout out is going to set it, sick days are more likely. She’s just not going to be able to provide as good of a service as the doc who is taking time to care for herself. 

Trying to give good care at your own expense cannot be sustained for a long period of time. 

I think what most people think about when they hear the word selfish is putting your own needs and desires above others with no regard for what it does for that other person and at the other person’s expense. It’s that second part that really makes the difference. It’s not putting yourself first that’s selfish, it’s putting yourself first no matter what the cost or expense is to the other person. 

Now let’s take a look at this in the world of caregiving. 

Let’s say you want to take a trip to see a family member out of state. This would mean you have to arrange for loved one to have care by someone else and your LOWD isn’t exactly wanting this. This is where it’s tricky- you are wanting to put your needs first but is this at the expense of your LO? Is this selfish? 

If you stopped going everything you wanted to do that made you feel good, connected, and healthy, what kind of caregiver do you think you’d show up? Would you be more like the first doctor in the example or the second? And if you remember from last weeks’ video, we often can’t make caregiving decisions based only on what our loved one’s want. If that were the case, our loved one’s would be putting themselves, other people, their financial security, and so many other things at risk as at some point, their brains can’t weigh all the pros and cons and make sound decisions. I’ll be sure to link to that video below in the description in case you missed it.

So here’s the point, many times, what you are considering as “selfish” is actually a good think for you AND your LOWD. It allows you to show up as your best self. It allows you to have a clearer mind. More patience. More energy. More support from others. Rethink your idea about what selfishness actually means and the next time you find yourself thinking that your are selfish, give yourself a pat on the bat...that’s exactly what you want to be.. It’s not actually the negative thing so many of us have been brought up to believe.

You get to decide that the word selfish is actually not a negative thing. It’s the first step in being selfless. We have to be selfish and take care of ourselves and put our needs first, then we can be selfless in a much bigger way. And if the world selfish still drums up so much negativity for you, then call it self-care instead. It’s hard to give to others when you haven't given to yourself. 

Are you a “selfish” caregiver? I sure hope so! 

If you’re having a hard time hearing that, then think, do I make self-care a priority? I hope so!

It’s the old saying that you can’t fill from an empty cup. Put on your own oxygen mask before you put on someone else's.  You know all the sayings. It’s just time to actually put that to practice in your own life. And I promise, once you do, you will be able to give so much more and care so much more than ever before. It’s part of that transition from going to caregiver to Careblazer. It’s the difference of being run down and resentful to being content and accepting of your current caregiving situation. 

When you take care of yourself first, you will be able to take so much better care of your LOWD. 

I know that one of the things that can get in the way of making the decisions you need to make to take care of yourself and put yourself first often drums up concerns about what other people will think. For that reason, next week I’m going to share with you my favorite way to handle concerns about what other people think- other people's opinions. I promise this way of handling other people’s opinions will be some helpful in your caregiving journey as well as any other decision you have to make in life that other people may not agree with. You won’t want to miss it. I’ll see you then. Keep up the great work and let me know below what you plan to do to be a little more “selfish.”


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