Feeling Vulnerable?

2011 May 12

Are you acutely sensitive to what someone says or doesn’t say? Recently, have you found yourself unable to gather the energy to spend time in the company of others? Do you try to protect yourself by retreating from social opportunities?  Do you feel like you are on the verge of tears every time you open your mouth to speak?

Vulnerability is defined as having “little resistance to some outside agent.” Simply put, feeling emotionally and psychologically vulnerable is a side effect of caregiving because, as caregivers:

  • We see change everywhere we look. Most others see permanence and consistency in everyday life. For most people, yesterday is the same as today and today will be the same as tomorrow.  As caregivers, however, we see change and impermanence everywhere we look. Yesterday isn’t the same as today and we have no idea what tomorrow will bring. Every morning we awaken, we see physical, emotional, and cognitive changes in our loved ones. Soon, we can’t help ourselves from expecting everything and everyone to change, all the time.  In the blink of an eye, everything we once took for granted is put into doubt and everything appears fragile and beyond our control.
  • We feel we only have so much energy to give. When we give so much of our time, energy, and focus to another, it’s no surprise that we feel we don’t have much energy to spare. So we try to protect ourselves and save energy by reducing our outside activities, obligations, conversations, friendships, and commitments. Unfortunately, over time, almost all activities are viewed as draining and overwhelming and exhausting.  Eventually, the mere thought of getting together with friends, of participating in activities, of returning phone calls and answering emails becomes exhausting, ensuring that we retreat farther and farther away from others.
  • Our moods are always mixed, never pure. Others’ moods seem to be easily captured in easy-to-follow categories: “I’m happy”, “I’m positive”, “I’m hopeful.”  Our moods, however, are almost always mixed. One minute we are happy and joyful, the next, we are angry.  Then, an hour later, we are hopeful and depressed, simultaneously. Trying to wade through the confusion of our own moods is exhausting in its own right, and the thought of trying to explain our moods and mindset to others seems so overwhelming because how do you answer the question “How are you feeling?” when you feel almost everything, simultaneously?

Our deep care for another can make us feel vulnerable and change the way we interact with the outside world. So, when you find yourself feeling particularly vulnerable, how can you ensure that feelings of vulnerability don’t get you down and isolate you from others?

2 Responses leave one →
  1. August 30, 2013

    I love the connection between deep care and vulnerable you make. I’d add that the desire to “be strong” or thinking that as a caregiver we must be strong for others also leaves us vulnerable to judging ourselves, usually unfairly. I like to remember that vulnerable does not mean weak, but as you note means having little resistance. So if my little resistance shows up in tears because I care deeply, well, I’m OK with that! Thanks for your special perspective on the caregiver’s life.

  2. Dr. Zachary White permalink
    September 2, 2013

    Joan, thanks for your ongoing work in this area. And thank you for your loyalty to the Unprepared Caregiver.

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