Parent Caregivers – 12 Step Program Step 8: Breaking Free
This series Parent Caregivers 12 Step Program is adapting the “Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous” to caregiving from the book Self-Care for Caregivers: A Twelve Step Approach. In last week’s post we discussed humility. This week we hone in on breaking free.
There has been so much difficult work up to this point, and Step 8 does not get any easier. Both Step 8 and the upcoming Step 9 help us to clear up the problematic areas in our relationships. Step 8, as defined by the authors of Self-Care for Caregivers, is “[Making] a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.” This isn’t a ‘thinking’ step, this is an action step. It is important that we write down the list of individuals, so we can visually see those we have harmed. It is also important that we do not limit the list just to those that intended to harm. Regardless of intentions, harm is still harm.
This is one of those steps that can easily go off the rails. We might think to ourselves that we are the ones suffering and going through so much, why do we have to be the ones that are making amends? Well, it turns out that a majority of our struggles in life are related to how we show up in relationships. Since we are all very stressed and we are taking on more than many others, it is possible that we may not be showing up as our best selves in our relationships. Don’t forget to add yourself to the list, as there is likely some unkind words or deeds you have done to yourself since you began this journey.
A lot of the 12 Step Program is about personal change. This step is no different. For this exercise, we take our list of those we have harmed and go a little further with it. Perhaps as you make the list, you have angry feelings about the person you harmed, or you feel they deserved the action. If any of those might be the case, consider writing out everything about those feelings and that person until you have exhausted your negative thoughts.
Then, find a way to release these negative emotions. You may burn the lists (please be sure to do this in a safe and well ventilated area with water to put out any fire that might get out of control). Some people ripped the paper into tiny strips and then threw them into the wind (please do this in an enclosed area, don’t litter!). Even if you say a prayer/chant or something that gives you the feeling of release, all of these are ways to physically feel like you are able to let go of some of the emotional baggage you might be collecting.
How This Affected Me
I didn’t think that I was angry with anyone or that I had done any harm. Truth be told, it was likely that I had a martyr complex and felt I had to do it all. After all, I am a parent. It is my job to parent my child. I realized when I was creating this list that in not allowing others to be part of my journey, I isolated myself from those that were trying to help.
Now, of course I did not intend this harm. I thought that what I was doing was helping others not be hurt. In the middle of the daily circus and weekly crises, we forget that relationships involve two people, not just one. In my martyred state, I was taking away others ability to be in a relationship of any type with me. It was in this way that I harmed our relationship together.
I hope you find value in reflecting on who might have been harmed in your efforts to care. For me, it was helpful to find that it was normal and others had done the same things I did. It was also nice to know I could make efforts to fix some of the relationships I neglected or damaged. I hope the same is true for you.
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