All posts by Nadine

The one thing you need to know before you can let go of the power of GUILT

Guilt has been a common theme for me—I’ve been feeling guilty most of my life. I often didn’t really know why, but if you could look inside my head and listen to my thoughts, you would hear that I was feeling guilty because I thought I was bad, wrong, or not good enough.

I remember how I would tell my friends that I was sorry for any and all wrong I had done to them. They would look at me with quizzical expressions as I explained that I just wished I was a better friend.  One friend told me I didn’t do anything wrong and that there was no need to feel guilty. It made me feel better and relieved.

But the guilt always came back—about other things, things I could have done better. I didn’t want to have those emotions, because it felt so awful. I wanted to be a better person.

Feeling like that made me sad and frustrated. I always worried, and I had difficulty enjoying life. Guilt is like a heavy chain that you drag around with you every day. It’s exhausting, and it made me feel small, weak, and depressed.

The biggest problem with guilt is that your mind convinces you that your feelings of not being good enough are the truth—because I feel guilty, there must be a reason for it. I must have done something wrong.

You may take steps to try to forget these thoughts, or you may try to distract yourself from them. While others may use alcohol, sports, cleaning, or medication to cope, for me the chosen distraction was food.

The healthier option, however, is to find the courage to dive deep into your thoughts, look for the underlying source of the guilt, and think about how you can solve it.

Of course, you will find situations you think could have gone better. This can sometimes help, but often it takes you deeper into a rabbit hole. The truth is, hindsight leads us to believe things could have gone better, when in reality we can’t turn back time and test our theories, and we will never know how things could have worked out differently—and it doesn’t matter anyway.

It’s been a few years since I became better at handling my own feelings of guilt, but I still have them. However, when the guilt shows up now, I am able to listen, manage, and make wise decisions. I’m also able to look past the guilt to see what’s good and beautiful in my life, and I’ve developed a healthy relationship with myself.

I believe this growth from guilt is possible for all of us, and I want to take you through the steps that helped me. I know that many family members and friends of people with dementia struggle with guilt.

Before you can get let go of feelings of guilt, you need to understand one important question:

What, exactly, is guilt?

Well, to begin with, it’s a very difficult emotion—so difficult that we’d usually rather ignore it than hone in on it. However, listening to the guilt is exactly how we learn to stop its power over us.

Guilt comes in many different shapes and forms, but there are actually two classifiable types: helpful (healthy) guilt and unhelpful (unhealthy) guilt.

Helpful guilt is a feeling of discomfort that arises after you’ve done something that is OBJECTIVELY wrong, like [add example]. [Briefly explain “objectively wrong.”]  It’s healthy because it helps you correct yourself after you’ve made a mistake (and we all make mistakes). Helpful guilt can help you restore and grow relationships, both with others and with yourself.

⇒ The way to deal with healthy guilt is to recognize it and think of a plan to resolve the issue. This often involves:

⇒ Taking responsibility for your actions

⇒ Apologizing or asking for forgiveness

⇒ Working out a plan to restore the relationship if possible

⇒ Working out a plan to prevent it from happening again (If emotions led to the incident, you may need a break or help with coping, practical support, etc.)

⇒ Recognize your values and who you want to be. This gives you direction.

⇒ Make decisions in the direction of your values.

⇒ Be gentle with yourself. It’s about the steps forward and the process, not the result.

⇒ Restoring the relationship

Unhelpful guilt, on the other hand, is a feeling of discomfort about something you’ve done that does not meet your irrationally high standards.

For example, if you run into an acquaintance at a coffee shop and can’t remember his or her name, and you berate yourself all day with thoughts of guilt over your forgetfulness and find it hard to let go, you’re falling victim to unhelpful guilt.

This type of guilt can come in many different shapes and forms, and it’s prevalent among caregivers.

It’s a feeling that can be constantly present or one that comes in overwhelming waves. Many different factors play a role, but it’s the irrationally high standards and difficulty meeting them that is at the core.

Societal expectations can also play into unhealthy guilt.

We live in an age where always being happy and organized is the standard, but something is fundamentally wrong—we don’t talk about the bad and the ugly. We only talk about the good. We’re inundated with advertisements that only present perfection and make us feel inferior if we’re not perfect. We’ve been conditioned to ask, “How are you?” but to expect only one answer: “Great!” The subtle messages of expected perfection have left our society as a whole weighed down by unhelpful guilt stemming from irrationally high standards.

The good news is that you don’t have to let these standards control your emotions.

When it comes to guilt, the ultimate factor is just how wrong a certain action is. You must ask yourself whether you actually did something objectively wrong that warrants your healthy guilt, or if your thoughts are being manipulated by the irrationally high standards involved with unhealthy guilt.

When you are tired, stressed, and overwhelmed with emotions, you are not at your best, and you will not respond to situations the same as when you’re relaxed and at peace.

Therefore, when you feel guilty because you’re not operating at maximum potential, please be gentle with yourself.

Forgive yourself (and others) and try to remember that each moment is a new opportunity to let go of what doesn’t benefit you and grow into a better (and less guilt-ridden) person.

A step-by-step process to let go of the power of guilt will be available soon, so stay tuned!

I wonder, do you struggle with feelings of guilt? Do you think it’s healthy or unhealthy guilt?  Please leave a comment!

My Deepest Fear (It may not be what you think it is)

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My Deepest Fear (It may not be what you think it is)

I chose to focus on older-adult mental health while I was still studying Clinical and Health Psychology. I began my internship in a large healthcare organization specializing in rehabilitation, chronic illness, dementia and brain damage. I started working with people with dementia, families and staff, specializing in moods and behaviours.

Over time, it became personal.

Deep down inside of me, a dark fear emerged. It never left me.

It is not what most people think it is.

It was not a lingering angst that one day it would be me, or that it would be a family member, although that would be difficult too.

My fear was that other people would not truly see me anymore once I had dementia, that I would not be accepted for who I would be in that moment.

You see, one day, as I was sitting in the living room, observing residents with dementia, staff and interactions, my eyes fell on an elderly woman named Angie.  She was sitting quietly, seemingly in a sort of absent state.

She didn’t respond to anything that happened in the living room. She looked depressed and nervous.

Suddenly, she stood up, holding tightly to the table. She looked frightened, as if something horrific was happening in front of her. She began to cry passionately.

The intensity of her tears, the pained look on her face, the anxiety and the despair chilled me to the bone.

The nurse in the room, meaning well, told her to calm down and requested she sit, but Angie didn’t want to hear any of it. The nurse tried to convince her and insisted that everything was okay, that there was no need to cry, but Angie refused and pushed the nurse’s hand away.

A cup of coffee fell to the ground. The nurse appeared somewhat frustrated.

It didn’t go well.

As I witnessed Angie’s heartbreaking plight of fear and sadness, a long-lost memory resurfaced that would have a profound impact on the rest of my career and, in fact, my life.

I must have been about five years old when, nearly every night, I would wake up crying after the same recurring dream.

I can still remember the feelings of loneliness and confusion as I heard my own weeping in the empty silence of the thick darkness. It was as if I was abandoned and lost.

In those dreams there were no scary zombies or monsters or anything we generally consider frightening. Nonetheless, there was something inexplicable that upset me. For years I didn’t really understand what it was, and later I purged it from my memory.

Now, looking back as an adult, I’m better able to describe what I felt as a child.

During those nightmares, what I experienced was similar to being locked inside myself without any ability to escape or ask for help.

Feelings of pure loneliness, desertion and abandonment in a never-ending silent darkness prevailed.

It was my mother who would come to me and calm me down, reassuring me and staying with me until I felt safe again.

It turned out Angie was re-living horrendous experiences from her youth, when her father would threaten her and her mother with a gun. Her old trauma re-emerged, and in that moment in the living room, it was real to her. This happened about three times a day.

 

I found that the way to calm her and bring her back to the feeling of safety was to carefully and slowly approach her, seeking eye contact, while gently touching her hand. Once her teary eyes met mine, I would hold her hand and “tell” her with my gaze:“I am here for you. It’s okay now; you are safe.”

I would maintain eye contact, and then I would say aloud in a calm tone:

“I am here…

I see you, and you are safe….

It’s okay now…

I am here for you.”

 

She would calm down and eventually we would sit together while still holding hands. Then we would listen to music, and she would remain placid for awhile.

My deepest fear, you see, is to feel lonely and lost again, to end up in a situation where nobody takes my feelings, my experiences and my perception seriously, to find myself stranded where I’m not heard and nobody looks me in my eyes, letting me know that they see me, that they are there for me, and that everything is okay. Sadly, this is the reality many people with dementia experience daily.

The intimacy of belonging, the feeling that you are not alone, is one of the most important and profound experiences for our wellbeing. This is not only true for the social butterflies among us; it’s fundamental for each and every human being.

It’s not about how many people we feel connected to, as long as we experience an authentic connection with someone.

In essence, we don’t survive if we don’t have others to care for and support us. People with dementia need to feel those moments of true connection too, regardless of their ability to communicate or level of functioning.

People with dementia have been voicing that one of the hardest factors of the illness is when their loved ones suddenly don’t include them anymore.

Even in later stages when they may not be able to express it, they can still feel that they’re not being acknowledged.

Our environment plays an important role in feeling safe and whether the people around us make us feel safe, as assessed by the deeper parts of our brains. Our brains also assess whether a person is sincere or not.  This happens on a subconscious level, and it’s where our “gut feeling” comes from. The same holds true for people with dementia.

Feeling safe with another person depends on a variety of factors, including compassion, empathy and authenticity (whether the person truly cares about you). Most people, including those with dementia, can sense when you are present and sincere and when you’re not.

When you feel lost, alone and confused, the most precious gift is for someone to just be there for you, to offer their presence, look you in the eyes and say in a loving way:“I hear you. I am here for you.”

The genuine presence of another person can feel like a precious eternal moment. In that moment, things are okay.

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I have been able to turn my deepest fear into a strong drive, and, based on my experiences, I have adopted a penetrating belief that every person living with dementia can experience true connections, joy and profound, meaningful moments.

With the help of the latest neuroscience findings and best practices, we now have a much better understanding of what we can and should do to reduce stress and anxiety for the person with dementia and increase his or her quality of life.

The same goes for caregivers and family members, who too often feel abandoned while battling loneliness on their journey, and for professionals, who need the right strategies and tools to be able to serve their clients on a deeper level.

This is my mission: to end the unnecessary loneliness and overwhelm and  make life with dementia worthwhile,help increase moments of joy and develop meaningful connections for everyone on the dementia journey.

I would love to hear your thoughts, stories or questions. It may help others and it helps me writing articles and tools to help.

Please leave a comment or question below, or send an email: njans@uptimizeyourlife.com

With love,

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