Few of us think about our own self-esteem. But how we feel about ourselves, our work, our relationship to family and the community, and our place in the world is the cornerstone not only of your ability to function and be productive in life but of your mental and physical health as well. That is a basic concept of human psychology for everyone and that need for self-esteem doesn’t go away when you become a senior citizen.
When you think about it, this episode of being a caregiver for your aging parent is not your first crack at caregiving. You were the caregiver and to some extent still are for your children as they were growing up. You took care of their every need including their emotional and psychological needs. And any good parent learns early on that a child’s self-esteem if vital to their success in school and in life.
Now you are in that relationship with your mom and dad and while you are not “raising them”, you have taken on the caregiver role which means in addition to worrying about their finances, their physical health, their diet, and their living arrangements, their mental health, and self-esteem are things for you to consider as well.
Because it’s not us going through it, it’s hard for us to empathize with the huge changes going on in the life of your aging mom and dad and the massive impact those changes have on their self-esteem. For a parent, your sense of self-worth comes from your independence, your ability to take care of your kids, do your job, and be useful to others in society.
In the senior years, all of that disappears in what seems like an instant. In the eyes of the senior, they go from being the hero to their kids to being a pitiful old man or woman being taken care of like they were the child. Their feeling of being useful vanishes and is replaced by a feeling of being unnecessary and a nuisance. The “things” that they invested themselves in that are symbols of their success which includes their house, their ability to drive and their work all go away in rapid succession one after the other.
Small wonder senior citizens undergo a tremendous drop in self-esteem. And when you go from thinking highly of yourself to not liking who you are at all, that is a formula for disaster. It’s a dangerous mental condition to stay in because, without self-esteem, the natural response is to turn to unhealthy thoughts of alcohol or drug abuse or in the most extreme cases, suicide.
As a caregiver, be aware of the self-esteem of your aging parent and the huge impact moving out of their home and losing their spouse and ability to drive is having on them. The symptoms of poor self-esteem is your parent doesn’t take care of himself like he used to, repeats stories over and over because those stories remind him of a time when he liked himself and seem to launch on desperate adventures to try things he really should not take on just to get a feeling of being someone again.
You can do a lot to build that self-esteem back up in your aging parent. Help him get in touch with family and old friends. Encourage him to talk about the old times and pour praise on him about those days. And above all, let him have lots of time with the grandkids. Those little angels could love anyone into liking themselves. So let them use a little of that magic on Granddad, so he can like himself again as well.