In case you missed our in person session on Navigating Caregiving Relationships, we wanted to share some highlights
As a helping professional, part of our job is to connect with people. But there can be this unhealthy thing that happens where instead of joining with our client in a way that feels safe and connected for both, we accidentally begin to merge with them.
What does it mean to merge? To merge means we take on their nervous system (so their despair becomes ours, and their anxiety becomes ours, for example. As they begin breathing faster or becoming collapsed in their bodies, so do we). As this happens, we begin to lose ourselves and our boundaries. One of the hallmarks of trauma is a lack of curiosity (about the future, new activities, and the here and now… so if we lose that curiosity, and just start to feel in despair WITH them, we need to pay attention to that). Other signs: when we find ourselves all too often in the caretaking role despite the effect it’s having on us. When we feel the need to fix and say to ourselves “I have to take on the hardest cases because they NEED me”. And then you’ve lost your curiosity and your hopefulness in their ability to heal. And you will get sick.
Joined with the person we’re helping is the place we’re aiming to be more of the time. Being joined means I’m connected to myself, in the here and now, hopeful, and curious.
A third possibility is that we become disengaged (giving up, thinking about something else)
If you find yourself merging, what can you do?
It’s an important question and one that most caregivers find themselves struggling with at some point. My answer is to remember that the hour you can spend exposing them to a healthy nervous system can be impactful. You don’t actually have to fix this for them, or take on their pain for them.
So, you may want to ask yourself:
What helps you get grounded within yourself?
What helps you move from being merged to being joined?
*The framework of merging and joining was taught to Nicole at a Somatic Experiencing workshop she attended – it’s not something we created. We want to honor those contributions, and many others, to the ongoing conversation about sustainable caregiving.*