By Natalie Strouth
Are you aware of your individual caregiver strengths? What about your internal resources? What is your greatest strength as a family caregiver?
Once you recognize the internal resources you already have, you can develop an action plan to utilize these resources to counteract difficulties and challenges you face in the context of caregiving.
It is extremely important for you to be able to identify your caregiver strengths and then draw on them to shape your caregiving.
Family caregivers can sometimes feel “swallowed up” by the ongoing demands of the caregiving role and caregiver responsibilities. With reflection and focus on the strengths and capabilities you bring to this role, you can:
- Take greater control over your experiences
- Feel more competent
- Enhance your well-being
- And ultimately, be a happier person
What are your caregiver strengths? Discovering your own strengths may initially be a difficult undertaking because you may have been very focused on the person you have been caring for and haven’t turned your attention inward.
Identifying and being aware of your caregiver strengths will serve both you and the person you’re caring for. Once you recognize the internal resources you already have, you can develop an action plan to utilize these resources to counteract difficulties and challenges you face in the context of caregiving.
Finally, think about personal strengths in the broadest of ways. That is, any inner quality that assists you in dealing with the challenges of life — any inner quality that assists you — is a personal strength. In this way, you may discover hidden caregiver strengths or internal resources of which you had been previously unaware.
French novelist Marcel Proust said, “The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
You will notice that these traits or strengths are not necessarily unique to caregiving. However, they are certainly applicable to the caregiving experience. The following list has been developed through a broad search and a review of the caregiving experience.
- Resilience – The ability to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions; I can negotiate for what I need and navigate systems.
- Patience – The capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.
- Flexibility – Ready and able to change so as to adapt to different circumstances; accept what is happening in the moment.
- Compassion – The ability to translate empathic feelings into action (desire to alleviate suffering).
- Optimism – Expect a favourable or positive outcome.
- Confidence – Sure of one’s self and one’s abilities.
- Organization – Methodical and efficient in arrangement or function.
- Ability to Laugh – To easily see and appreciate the humour in the situation.
What are your personal strengths? How many of these traits do you possess? Can you think of more strengths that aren’t on this list?
Caregiver Strengths Exercise #1
To identify and acknowledge your personal caregiver strengths, set aside a few minutes for personal reflection. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What gives me energy?
- What am I good at? What do I do best? What do I do well?
- What am I naturally good at? What comes naturally to me?
- What are my best character traits?
- What things do I look forward to doing?
- When faced with challenges or adversity, what strengths do I bring to these challenges?
- What do I handle well?
This is no time for false humility. Do not censor or judge yourself. This is a time for honest reflection on what you do well. It may be an activity, a character trait, a situation, or some combination of all of these.
If you find it difficult to assess your caregiver strengths, ask your best friend or someone who knows you well to answer these questions about you. In the context of your work life, what would others say are your strengths? If you were applying for a job today, what would you identify as your strengths (you know they are going to ask you this question!).
Caregiver Strengths Exercise #2
The following statements will help you focus in on your strengths as a family caregiver. Your task is to decide the strength of your agreement with each statement, using the following scale:
- All the time
- Hardly ever
There are no “right” or “wrong” answers. Select the number that most closely reflects you. Take your time and consider each statement carefully.
I see myself as someone who is…
- Resilient (All the Time, Sometimes, or Hardly Ever – Record your rating)
- Able to laugh easily/see the humour in the situation
Harnessing your caregiver strengths
Now that you have identified and acknowledged your personal caregiver strengths you can decide to consciously approach your caregiving by harnessing these strengths and applying them to your family caregiving experiences and activities.
Conversely, what has likely emerged is a conscious understanding of what your greatest challenges are and where you are not at your best.
It is equally important to have this awareness because you can develop a caregiver action plan to manage these challenges. Try to limit them to the bare minimum, delegate them to someone else for whom they are strengths, and/or make a decision and plan to nurture and enhance your challenges.
In the field of positive psychology, recent research1 supports that it is entirely possible to cultivate or further develop traits or personal strengths and it is also possible to strengthen so-called weaknesses. In other words, it is possible for all of us to change how we approach life’s experiences and challenges.
How are you going to harness your caregiver strengths?
Look at your list of personal strengths.
- How can you draw upon and really leverage your strengths more as a family caregiver?
- If possible, can you change anything in your caregiving situation to work more with your strengths?
- Can you delegate tasks that don’t align with your strengths?
- On the other hand, are there opportunities for you to work on and strengthen any weaknesses?
- Is there a trait that really matters to you?
Is this an opportunity to set an intention for yourself for the next week? Identify one goal to either leverage a strength more or to further develop and overcome a weakness. Observe any changes that occur when you intentionally put your caregiver strengths into action.
Natalie Strouth is a Caregiver Support Program Manager at St. Elizabeth Healthcare. This article originally appeared on elizz.com and is reprinted with permission.