LoNELINESS & LEADERSHIP
Research shows that loneliness is one of the huge issues for women (and men) who find themselves as the solo leaders of their families, businesses, or organizations by default due to their spouse's trauma or tragedy. Within the few support groups that I frequent (online and in person), it is also the most bemoaned topic of conversation amongst spousal caregivers. Alongside the loneliness comes the temptations caused by the vulnerability, emotional rawness, and confusion mixed into the situation of being a spousal caregiver or widow/er or divorcee. When you - your emotions and your choices - are off the rails, you cannot lead your own self well, let alone leading your family or business well. Getting help is key, but knowing what kind of help can be a challenge.
WHEN MARRIAGE COUNSELING CANNOT WORK
My story is that 12 years ago, I had no idea that my husband's brain was being changed by a disease that was slowly shrinking it. So, I thought he just didn't give a care about me at all, beyond getting his own needs fulfilled. Despite going through marriage counseling more than once, he seemed to have forgotten a large portion of what he learned. So, basically, I started feeling like marriage counseling was a bunch of BS, and I was ready to give up on my marriage because it seemed like he didn't care, no matter how much effort I put into our marriage. I didn't know until this year that there was more to the story behind why he seemed not to care, and that story was early-onset dementia. There is no marriage counseling in the world that can fix that.
So now that I understand the impact of my injured spouse's brain health on our marriage,
what do I do?
GUILT, SHAME AND DENIAL
As a spousal caregiver, the guilt and shame which accompany the loneliness makes it challenging to even admit there is a problem, let alone to talk about it openly. However, this is one area that can keep you from being able to Lead Like A Queen. Staying stuck in cycles of loneliness leaves you open for repeated unhealthy relationships and unhealthy behaviors. When dealing with your spouse's illness for years, or even decades, this is a constant challenge,
so how can you break free from loneliness cycles?
Rokach (2013, p. 15) wrote, “There is a stigma to being lonely. The public and therefore us researchers seem to not look favorably on anyone who admits to suffer its pain… No one, in my 30 years of researching this topic, has ever had the courage to admit, in public, that he or she is lonely... lack of friendship and social ties are socially undesirable, and the social perceptions of lonely people are generally unfavorable.”
Honestly, even though we were a very well-known couple within our social circle, our friendships and social interactions became more and more reduced over time as the evidence of our changes due to this traumatic situation became more and more visible and noticeable. Some of that was cleansing of toxic people from our lives, but part of it has been people we love feeling uncomfortable or scared to be around us because they don’t know what to say or how to react. This has led to some of my feelings of loneliness at times.
SOLUTION #1 - ADMIT YOU’RE NOT SUPERHUMAN & FEEL LONELY
First of all, give yourself permission to hurt and to admit that you're hurting. Being a super-hero is exciting to watch in movies, but for spousal caregivers, it can take you out early and leave your spouse to be cared for by strangers. If that is not what you want for them, then allow yourself to be hurt and to be imperfect without judging yourself or comparing yourself to others you think are handling things better than you are.
Choose to set the guilt aside and just be honest about your loneliness. Cry (and scream) if you need to, but be honest, with yourself, even if you don’t trust anyone else with this info, yet.
SOLUTION #2 - AFTER ADMITTING LONELINESS, GET HELP
Honestly admitting your feelings of loneliness is the first step to becoming free from it. Even if you don't feel safe enough to admit it to anyone else, at least be honest with yourself. After you are more self-aware about your feelings, you'll know about which topic to talk with your pastor or therapist, and that will help them to help you more effectively.
I am a lifelong therapy and self-improvement seeker, but when it came to getting help on this topic of loneliness, I was a true skeptic (and I was angry because I didn’t understand what dementia is), but I started therapy earlier this year, near our 18th anniversary, because I knew my emotions would send me over the edge if I didn’t get help quickly. The main benefit I’ve gotten out of it is a non-judgmental professional ear. I am glad that I’ve gone to these sessions, but they really are just to help me be accountable to myself for my own happiness and well-being. It’s no different than getting a yearly well-woman exam, except this is a mental-soul checkup.
I chose a psychologist instead of a pastor because my husband is retired from our church, having scheduled the counseling appointments for about a decade. It’s just pretty hard for me to wrap my head around going deep about this with people who are his former co-workers. Also, I had not found any ministers there who could relate to my situation, whereas my therapist was a caregiver for two people who had dementia. It is crucially important for me to be connected with someone who understands our situation on a practical level, and also from a professional perspective because dementia makes marriage dynamics a lot different than when a couple is just having regular communication problems that can be solved by learning new skills. At this point, only one of us in the relationship is able to learn AND retain new information and skills like this over time.
TO LEAD LIKE A QUEEN: TAKE ACTION. LEAD YOUR SELF.
Whatever your situation is, there is someone who can help you at the least by listening and giving you a hug and a shoulder to cry on. Cut yourself a break. Life has been hard enough on you through your traumatic/tragic situation. At least look out for your own self and lead yourself by taking action as soon as possible.
Get help now. Please.
For those who follow Christ Jesus, as I do, also be encouraged by His promise in Hebrews 13:5-6 (AMP):
Let your character [your moral essence, your inner nature] be free from the love of money [shun greed—be financially ethical], being content with what you have; for He has said, “I will never [under any circumstances] desert you [nor give you up nor leave you without support, nor will I in any degree leave you helpless], nor will I forsake or let you down or relax My hold on you [assuredly not]!” So we take comfort and are encouraged and confidently say, “The Lord is my Helper [in time of need], I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?”
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Rokach, A. (2013). Loneliness updated: Recent research on loneliness and how it affects our lives.* Oxon [England]: Routledge.
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