Having someone who understands you is one of the best gifts life can bring you. That’s because the opposite – feeling alone and like no one understands what you are going through – is one of the worst feelings in life.
Lack of understanding is something Hope Grows hears about from family caregivers. Many feel no one understands what they are going through. That’s very common for family caregivers who often work by themselves with little to no contact with others. With the many ways we offer to support caregivers, Hope Grows lets them know that someone really does understand and has gone through a similar situation.
You can see it in the comments from caregivers such as “unless someone has done this job, they will never know” and “I needed to be with someone who understood what I was going through.” Those comments show why having someone who understands is so important.
Understanding Others Through Social Cognition
Most of us think of people who listen to what we have to say and offer empathy as a nice, understanding kind of person. Psychologists actually have a term for this ability. It’s called social cognition. At the core, the study of social cognition involves:
- How we perceive other people and come to know about the people in the world around us.
- The mental processes involved in perceiving, remembering, thinking about, and attending to other people
- The reasons why we pay special attention to certain information, how we store that information, and how it is then used to interact with other people
All of this works together to create the ability to become the sort of person who understands others and who can put themselves in the shoes of other people. One of the main components of social cognition is a word many of us know: empathy.
Empathy Leads to Compassion
Empathy goes beyond sympathy. When you feel sympathetic, you understand how another person feels, but from your own perspective. With empathy, you actually feel how the other person feels. While empathy can almost become overwhelming to those who feel it acutely, it can lead to offering true compassion to others.
For family caregivers, that level of empathy and compassion can be found in those who also have worked as caregivers. Simply the chance to talk to someone who understands can make your day, week and month that much brighter.
The Power of Having Someone Who Understands
What happens in your life when you have someone who understands? For family caregivers, it helps to alleviate negative thoughts, emotions and conditions. Four of the biggest are the following.
Anxiety and Fear
Family caregivers often feel a fear that somehow, they will do something wrong. That includes concerns about “what if something goes wrong” and “how will I cope if something goes wrong.” Having someone to talk to and who can offer practical solutions based on experience is a huge benefit for caregivers. It’s an important step that can lower their feelings of anxiety and fear because they know they are not in it alone.
Irritability and Frustration
Only fellow caregivers know the many ways that people run into irritating and frustrating situations as caregivers. Simply having someone who understands these situations to talk with can make you feel better. It’s also helpful to have activities, such as gardening or group meetings, that give you a needed break.
Guilt is a sneaky thing. Many family caregivers may feel more guilt than they even realize. It can come in many ways. They might feel guilt over their loved one’s illness, feeling impatient, or feeling like they don’t do enough. Whatever the case, talking with someone who understands is an important step toward giving yourself permission to forgive yourself.
Family caregivers experience loneliness because they often do their duties alone. It’s important to find time to have contact with others – especially empathetic people who understand what you go through. Activities outside the home, talking with others and enjoying some “me time” are key to combating loneliness. It’s easy to see that having someone who understands you is important for all people, but especially for family caregivers. If you’re reading this, know that you are not alone, and that help and support are just a phone call (or a mouse click) away.