Within my counseling practice, a very common concern that I come across, is devoted wives, mothers, daughters…saying something along the lines of: “I can’t switch off…,” “I can’t stop thinking about my son/daughter/husband/mother…,” “They are always on my mind.”
This is especially so, if their children, or partners, are going through emotional, or physical suffering.
There is probably nothing harder than being around a loved one who is suffering. And, many people who identify themselves as carers, often experience a negative impact of their caring on their physical, and mental wellbeing (e.g., 58% of carers have reported having worse physical health, with majority meeting criteria for mild to moderate depression). These statistics improve, with an increase of support, and self-care.
As a counselor, I often find myself speaking about ways in which people can incorporate self-care into their lives, by finding ways and moments of time to ‘dis-connect’ from their loved ones.
Many find this to be selfish. Particularly women, who have a long legacy of being perceived as helpers, and discouraged from self-development outside of their care-taking roles.
They often express associated feelings of guilt, “Isn’t that really selfish?” I often hear.
While nurturing compassion and empathy within our relationships, and beyond, is paramount (I know that within my own marriage, Freddy and I painstakingly strive to communicate our points of view, and clarify misunderstandings, to retain an experience of connection), it is clear that Jesus (the most compassionate of all counsellors) also encourages us to find time to “disconnect”, to “shut the door,” and spend some time with him and ourselves, in “secret” – meaning just within the privacy of our own being:
6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly (Matthew 6:6, King James Version (KJV)).
Always surrounded by people, and moved by their suffering, it may be that Jesus, too, found it hard to find time to be alone. In Mark 1:35, Mark writes about Jesus having to wake early, to experience some quiet time:
35 And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed (Mark 1:35, King James Version (KJV)).
There are so many other examples of Jesus “dis-connecting” from: the apostles, teaching, healing, and serving – to be completely alone, nourishing his being with a solitary communion with God the Father.
In Matthew 6:6, Jesus mentioned that there are blessings associated with solitary time in prayer.
Whenever I wake up early, firstly, I see that it is dark outside. I make my way to the lounge (how lovely – too dark to notice the scattered toys!) – there is nothing which demands my attention right now.
Then, I can see the dawning pale sky, and clouds clearing on the horizon. I can look at the tree branches swaying in the breeze, hear the birds chirping, and feel a part of the wonder of creation. There is only silence - it’s the one time I can hear my heartbeat. There is nothing to steal away my attention, no other noise to attend to or empathize with – so I can clearly hear my thoughts and just listen to what’s inside of me.
It’s the time when I offer the gift empathy to – myself – by being available to, within a loving presence, to listen and understand what’s inside me.
I cherish my private time of "dis-connect." The fact that it is limited makes it even more special. I use it to soak up the wonder of the world around me, pray, offer thanks, clarify my goals and intentions for the day. And think – which according to AristotIe, is my soul conversing with myself.
Then, during the day, I feel more centered, less likely to look outside of myself for approval, empathy, support…
Despite having slightly less sleep, I find I have more stamina, clarity, emotional availability, and patience. And, after nourishing myself with prayer, I feel hopeful and confident in that I am not alone – that with every step I take, I am blessed and watched over.
I finish with a few Bible references (out of many, many more), around Jesus’ time of “dis-connect”:
12 And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God (Luke 6:12, King James Version (KJV)).
13 When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart: and when the people had heard thereof, they followed him on foot out of the cities (Matthew 14:13-21, King James Version (KJV)).
15 When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone (John 6:15, King James Version (KJV)).
Carers Association of Australia, Health & Wellbeing Survey, 1999
Images are courtesy of pixabay.com/Andreas 160278 and Hanz_Hofter