Picture a person who is feeling defeated. How do they look? What is their posture?
Chances are you imagined a person who was sort of “curled up,” with their shoulders bent and head down. Maybe they even hold their arms crossed in front of them.
This is a very natural pose to take when we’re being attacked; it serves to protect our vital organs, and keeping our head down can protect our face and throat.
Now picture someone who is very strong and self-confident. What do you see?
Are they standing tall, feet firmly planted? Are their hands on their hips? (Think Superman or Wonder Woman here).
Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy became very interested in body language and the ways people seem to express feeling powerful or powerless. What she learned can help you with your caregiving.
Dr. Cuddy noticed that in nature, when an animal feels threatened, or even wants to intimidate another animal who’s too close to their home territory, they make themselves appear larger. A fish might puff itself up to appear larger, a bird will spread its wings and get up on tip-toe, and a mammal tends to “ruff” the fur around its neck and may rear up to seem more capable of defending itself.
Conversely, many animals will make themselves small by curling up into a ball or trying to climb into a tiny space for safety.
In her lab, Dr. Cuddy learned that when humans “make themselves big” for as little as 2 minutes, their stress hormone, cortisol, gets lower. Their testosterone, a hormone that can makes us strong and focused, was raised. This brief change in posture altered how the brain and body responded, allowing the person to feel more calm and courageous.
People who assumed the smaller posture had hormonal changes, too, but in the opposite direction. Those folks experienced an increase in cortisol, the stress hormone, and a decrease in testosterone.
Who is better prepared to deal with a problem, succeed in an interview, or stay calm in a time of trouble?
Dr. Cuddy advises that taking on a big posture, spreading our feet and arms, for 2 minutes before an important conversation can make us think more clearly and feel calm and more self-assured.
Notice your own posture at different times throughout the day. When you notice yourself curling up, make an effort to spread out for a few minutes. Even putting your feet up on a desk, leaning back, and putting your hands behind your head (with elbows out), is a way to make yourself appear larger that Dr. Cuddy calls “the CEO position.”
Is there a part of caregiving that “beats you up” or makes you feel powerless? Try “being big” for a few minutes, and let us know through the comment board what you discover!
You can learn more about Dr. Cuddy’s research by watching her TedX talk at: http://youtu.be/Ks-_Mh1QhMc
Lisa Kendall is a social worker and clinical gerontologist with a private therapy and consulting practice. Specializing in aging and Elder care, trauma recovery, and bereavement, Lisa also teaches at the Ithaca College Gerontology Institute and is an Educator for The Eden Alternative™.
I don’t feel good today. I’ve had a cold, and it’s getting old. I’m into the coughing stage, and it gives me a headache.
On a day when I don’t see clients and there is nothing that HAS to get done other than a brief (and welcomed) meeting with some of my colleagues from The Eden Alternative™, you would think I could be grateful for the time to rest and recuperate.
Not me! Like a dope I held onto the belief that I “should” be working, not resting. This nagging guilt kept me at my computer, but the lingering cold prevented me from doing anything creative or constructive.
The result was that I didn’t get anything done, AND I didn’t rest, which was clearly what my body wanted, craved, and needed.
I’ve been trying to be better about this, but today I backslid big time. I didn’t even realize it until I finally came outside to an unseasonably comfortable July day. As I settled into an Adirondack chair, I could hear a whisper on the breeze, mingling with the gentle sound of my windchimes.
“Accept the gift.”
Accept the gift!
Accept rest. Accept peace. Accept the gift of a no-stress day to allow rejuvenation and renewal.
I might have let the day go, but I will embrace this cool summer evening. I will listen to the birds, watch the bunnies, and feel the breeze against my skin. I will let my body relax and heal.
I will accept the gift.
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Lisa Kendall is a social work psychotherapist and clinical gerontologist who needs a nap more than she needs to go on about her work right now. Thanks for reading, and if you’ve gotten this far, please feel free to share what you’re doing on this summer day to “accept the gift!”
The rural community where my Mother grew up is saturated with extended family, and has been for several generations. As a family history buff, I enjoy looking at the old Federal census forms and seeing the names of ancestors filling pages, neighbors living in houses strung along a country road or tucked into the mountains of Eastern Pennsylvania.
The big farmhouses of those times had a “sick room” off the kitchen, where an ill loved one could be looked after, close to the family’s heart and hearth. With cousins, nieces and nephews, and sons and daughters all in the area, there was help to be had if and when it was needed.
Even so, it’s interesting to see that some Elders of very advanced years lived with unrelated folks as a “boarder.”
Nowadays our culture continues to see the “best” option for care of our Elders as that which is provided in their own homes, or living with close relatives. Moving someone into a nursing home is seen by many as a personal and family failure.
This has always bothered me. While we have a long way to go to change the institutional model of long term care, I do not agree that this represents failure.
I’ve seen many Elders blossom in nursing homes and assisted living.
One beautiful woman I knew came to live in the nursing home because arthritis had crippled her hands badly and left her unable to get around without a wheelchair. Once she moved into the nursing home where I worked, she was able to explore her lifelong dream to be a painter. The Activities staff provided her with supplies and a place to work, and she figured out a way to hold a brush in her gnarled fingers. The art she made was glorious! (And she felt very happy to have finally liberated her inner artist!).
I’ve also known many Elders in their own or a family member’s home who nevertheless suffered from the three plagues of Loneliness, Helpless and Boredom, as defined by Dr. Bill Thomas and The Eden Alternative ™.
These families are likely to feel guilty when they “have to” place their loved one.
We’ve seen much change in recent years, with families moving far from the family home, medical technology extending life (but not necessarily well-being), and two-earner couples. It’s no wonder family care partners feel overwhelmed!
I won’t rehash the demographics and statistics we all know so well, but I’d like to offer some thoughts from my years of experience working in long term care.
Don’t let “caretaking” overwhelm your relationship with the Elder. There are lots of people who can mop the floors, wash the linens, assist with bathing, and help an Elder living with frailty get to the bathroom. No one can have the special family bond with the Elder that you do. You can look at family photos and reminisce about the milestone events and precious small moments that comprise your family’s unique culture and history.
If you are a spouse or partner, your loving presence is irreplaceable.
If you’re so overcome with the tasks of caring, to the point that the relationship is suffering, please reconsider. Build a care partner team for your Elder and for yourself that will honor your loved one’s preferences and still ensure their daily needs are met in a loving and respectful way.
Consider that the local nursing home is where our sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, are now working. Let them help with the care. You’ll find that some of these strangers will come to love your Elder and develop their own distinctive relationships with them.
You’ll also find that those young, strong backs can take on what feels burdensome, leaving you with the energy and resources to be present for your Elder in the way that only you can be.
* * *
Lisa Kendall is a social work psychotherapist and clinical gerontologist, and amateur genealogist!
Please let us know your thoughts about Aging and Elderhood, and share your stories of how you’ve been able to widen the circles of support for your loved one and for yourself!
I think I’m having growth spurt.
Before you check out my “middle-aged middle” and start giggling, let me say how grateful I am to have so many opportunities to learn and grow, professionally and personally.
(Now you can giggle!)
I continue to learn every day from my clients and colleagues, family and friends, and my “tribe” of followers on this blog and on my Facebook page, Lisa Kendall Counseling.
In the past year I’ve also taken advantage of some powerful professional development opportunities, including:
- Webinar series on brain science, mindfulness, and meditation offered by the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (NICABM).
- An online course offered by NICABM to help mental health and other wellness professionals learn how to use technology to have a bigger impact and greater influence in the community. I am now on LinkedIn and Twitter (@LisaKCounseling), and am working at getting up to speed (slowly) with both. I’ve also created a second website to offer educational materials for all members of the Elder care partner team at www.carepartnerconnection.com.
- My own team now includes a Virtual Assistant, (thank you, Darby Miller!), who makes it all possible.
- Coaching with the Soul Guide, Dr. Pamela Moss helped me clarify my mission and purpose, and to let go of limiting thinking!
- An online course on how to get my book published, with therapist, speaker, and author, Bill O’Hanlon. I’ve made an important shift from saying “Someday I’ll write a book” to “I’m writing a book!”
- I’ve made new friends and expanded my network of like-minded colleagues, good and smart people committed to person-directed care and the importance of self-care for each of us.
- I am studying “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing” (EMDR) with Andrew Seubert from Clear Path Healing Arts Center. It’s an approach to healing trauma that is already making a difference in my clinical practice.
There are some big events coming up, too:
- Next week I’m heading to the Eden Alternative’s International Conference in Nashville, TN. Two years ago I was a speaker there, and I’m looking forward to the flow of being a participant. More learning! More friends! More collaboration!
- Later in May I’ll be at the first Care Management Summit at Binghamton University, speaking about “care partnership” and what it means to create a culture of meaningful care.
In the coming weeks I’ll post more about what I’m learning and applying, and invite you to join our conversation about how we can promote well-being for each of us, no matter what our age or role.
Thank you for being a part of this tribe (our own Care Partner Connection!); I would love to have you invite your friends and colleagues, too!
* * *
Lisa Kendall is a social worker with certification in clinical gerontology and over 30 years’ experience in aging and Elder care. Lisa has a private practice in Ithaca, NY, teaches for the Ithaca College Gerontology Institute, and serves on the Cornell University President’s Advisory Council for Work and Family Issues.
As an Educator for The Eden Alternative, Lisa facilitates trainings around the country to improve the quality of life for Elders and their Care Partners, and is a popular speaker for both professional and family audiences.
I was working as a consultant and referral resource for family caregivers when I received one of my most memorable calls. On the other end of the line was a mid-level manager for a large corporation, and I could hear panic in his voice as he rushed to tell me his dilemma.
“I got a call from a hospital in Atlanta,” he said. “They’re telling me my father is there with a broken hip, and they told me to come and get him.”
He paused and took a deep breath.
“That man was an abusive drunk,” he continued. “He abandoned me and my whole family when I was only fourteen.”
His voice cracked and trembled as he struggled to keep his composure.
“I went to college, got a good job, and I’ve raised a nice family. I was determined to do everything that he didn’t do, and I’ve been successful. Now I feel like I’m fourteen again!”
He wept openly on the phone, gripped by all of his childhood feelings of hurt, loss, and shame.
My heart broke for the boy who had worked so hard to become a man, for the man who was desperately trying to reconcile the demands of the moment and the terror that had seized him from the past.
We talked for a bit, and I realized that he needed permission to say “no” to the hospital’s discharge plan. He needed reassurance that there were services available to care for his father, and that it was OK for him to set this boundary. He needed support to deal with the difficult choice he was making.
The hospital didn’t know the situation, and the default discharge plan was to send their patient to his only son, even though they were separated by decades and distance, and by hurtful deeds that had been plastered over with diplomas and certificates and mortgages, but never really healed.
That day, I learned in a visceral way that many people provide care to older relatives, not because they want to or because they can, but because they feel they have to, no matter what.
- Some children of abusive or neglectful parents simply opt out of providing care when the time comes, and while no one came blame them, they are often criticized by other family members for “not helping.”
- Others engage in caregiving in a last-ditch attempt to gain approval and gratitude from a parent who has never been able to give it.
- Still others provide care because it fits with their personal values and sense of morality. They may say, “I would never treat another human being the way my Mother treated me.”
We know the stresses of caring for an older loved one can negatively affect one’s physical and emotional health. Now we’re seeing research on how caring for a family member who has been abusive or neglectful can add even more risk for family care partners.
If an adult survivor of childhood abuse chooses to engage with a parent who has been (and still may be) abusive, they are likely to confront the ways that their family of origin has affected them.
Recent brain science shows us that children who are abused or neglected are changed by the experience and may be predisposed to chronic illness, obesity, anxiety, depression, and addiction. There are social consequences to early deprivation, too, including lower academic achievement and socio-economic status.
The good news is that some relatively simple approaches can reverse those damaging effects and improve quality of life, and help survivors cope with caregiving if that is what they want to do.
It’s critical for these caregivers to connect with emotional support for themselves, and to obtain adequate help with caregiving.
With proper support and the development of a care partner team, there are possibilities for family and individual healing that can cascade through generations previously wounded by abuse and neglect.
* * *
Do you know of situations where someone provides care for an Elder who has been abusive or neglectful? Please share your ideas about what helps them cope in the comments section below.
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Lisa Kendall is a clinical social worker and gerontologist with a private practice in Ithaca, NY. She has a passion for supporting Elders and their care partners, and offers trauma-informed treatment to adult survivors of childhood abuse and neglect.
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