Use of the Self as Caregiver

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on December 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

In addition to my own injury and long term recovery, my husband has been very health challenged for many years.  There is no need for me to communicate the details of his condition; suffice to say that I have been in a caregiver role, to lesser and greater degrees, for a long time.

The Alexander Technique provides skills for conscious response to stimulus.  Although the Technique is typically perceived in terms of “posture”, F.M. Alexander described his work as “the use of the self” as applied to life’s activities.  He viewed the self as an integrated and inseparable whole, and his Technique as applicable to any stimulus.

Caring for an ill partner over the long term requires good use of the self on a continuously changing basis. Sleep may be minimal, worry may be large. The necessary tasks of daily life that were previously shared may be primarily shouldered by the healthier partner.  During times of health crisis, the caregiver handles communications with friends and family, medical information and interaction with doctors and nurses, home maintenance and financial balance.

Since use of the self is primary in the Alexander Technique, the challenge for the caregiver becomes how to remain fully effective while also attending to personal well-being.  End gaining to care for someone else would result in diminishing the health of the person giving care.  The balance of attending to the means-whereby instead of leaping to react to stimulus is delicate and challenging and constantly shifting.

Intention to create conditions for good use of the self as a caregiver must be constantly renewed.  This does not mean self-absorption, but a recognition that the demands of caring for an ill partner require best use of the instrument of self for the outcome of clarity and calm.  Emotional excess is an indulgent luxury in times of health crisis.  A choice must be made for bringing reason to bear with the entire self.  Suppression of emotions is also not implied, but, instead, a prioritization of going up more and pulling down less, of dynamically refusing to interfere, of including the entire self with curiosity and attention.

Walter Carrington said that even if the house is burning down around you, it is imperative to request your neck to be free.  I would humbly add that it is the sincerity of the request that counts, not our limited notions of success.  If we can include the instrument of self in the scenario of caregiving, our conditions for effective response may productively improve.

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