If you are caring for a parent or parents who abused or neglected you in childhood, your situation is especially challenging. You may feel on an emotional tightrope, trying to keep your balance, with many conflicting feelings. For example,
- guilt, that you “should” take care of your parent, no matter how he or she treated you
- resentment, that their illness forces you to maintain close contact
- hope of finally receiving your parent’s love and approval
Research indicates that you are put at much greater risk of depression by these stressors than are those who did not experience parental abuse or neglect. Protect yourself with a strong safety net:
- Counseling. Resolve old issues, especially if you never had an apology from your parent. Learn skills for coping with difficult emotions as they arise. Identify your current strengths and life goals.
- Personal limits. Clarify what you will and won’t tolerate so you can maintain healthy boundaries.
- Coping strategies. Guard against common, unhealthy stress outlets, such as overeating, drinking, smoking, taking sleeping pills, and using other drugs. Or even going numb to your life. Instead, engage in something that is dependably rewarding, such as exercise, a singing group, or a caregiver support group.
- Self-protection. Develop ways to help your parent that keep in-person contact to a level that is manageable for you. For example, an in-home care agency can perform daily care tasks. You can guide what is done, yet maintain a buffer between you and your parent(s). Or hire a care manager to oversee what’s needed, take your parent to the doctor, coordinate care, and make recommendations as health conditions change.
- An exit plan. It is wise to have a clear “Plan B” in case the close personal interactions of caregiving prove to be too much. For instance, a legal guardian can be appointed to take over in your stead. Talk to a care manager or an elderlaw attorney about the range of options.