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I am reasonably competent in most regards — a caring husband, involved dad and diligent worker. But during my caregiving years, I lived in a tense, sweaty state of fear of failure.
This feeling was not rational. I had the knowledge and skills to do a good job. I could de-escalate my agitated stepfather and deftly complete my mother’s insurance forms. I could sweet-talk home health aides and talk shop with doctors.
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But I was still plagued with doubt and fear. What if my stepfather stumbled and fell before I could catch him? He might break a hip on my watch. What if my mother jumbled her pillbox and took the wrong medications? She might overdose because I didn’t adequately oversee her. In the event of such catastrophes, I imagined I would respond to family members’ questioning looks by defensively citing all the caregiving tasks I had managed well. But I would inwardly blame myself anyway, feeling horrified and abashed.
A little self-doubt, especially at caregiving’s outset, isn’t necessarily bad. It prompts caregivers to try harder, learn more and consequently provide better care. But if self-doubt blossoms into a fear of failure that persists over time, then a caregiver’s performance can be undermined. Just when we should take action to revise the caregiving plan, we become paralyzed because we are afraid we will be harshly judged. Just when we should be assertive by advocating for care recipients with physicians and social workers, we hesitate or defer to others.
Caregivers who fear failure can have a tendency to avoid making decisions and procrastinate when starting their caregiving to-do lists. We then have sleepless nights of second-guessing ourselves. Our nervousness makes everyone around us nervous, including the loved ones we are caring for.
The opposite of fear is courage and, more importantly, confidence. How can a sense of failure be transformed into the pride of succeeding at their crucial jobs? Here are some ideas: