Caregivers experience four clearly defined stages as they travel the
caregiving path. These stages can be understood as "developmental tasks" in
adapting to the role of caregiver. These stages may occur at the same time, or
in any order, and may "recycle" themselves during the course of a caregiving
Surviving. Surviving is what you do to keep going when you are
feeling completely helpless. Surviving consists of coping: doing what has to
be done and expending one's energy to just get by.
Searching. This is a time of acting, of moving forward from a
reactive state of surviving. It is the beginning of a sense of control over
emotions and your life; the awakening of a source of energy; a time for asking
questions about the goals, values, and priorities of your own life. Outer
Searching asks, "What's wrong? Can it be fixed?" Inner Searching asks, "Why?
Why him or her? Why me? Why us? What does this mean for me and for our lives?"
Searching also involves seeking answers and interventions related to the
illness or condition.
Settling In. This stage is seeing the world for what it is and
seeing yourself for who you are. It is moving beyond the intense emotions of
surviving, feeling less of the sense of urgency of searching, and gaining a
greater sense of control and balance in your daily life. Settling In is a time
of relative equilibrium: you may not ever "forget" the reality your precarious
time, but it can become a time of deepening, and more precious, moments in the
Separating. This final stage is a normal and necessary process in
parent-child relationships. In a caregiving relationship, "letting go" by the
caregiver may be especially difficult, with the caregiver unwilling, or
unable, to experience any small separations, such as letting others help out
in the caregiving and getting needed respite. However, it is necessary to
avoid caregiver fatigue, and to allow the needy family member to retain or
attain some level of independence.
The four stages are part of a normal process of adaptation. By understanding
how they work, caregivers can better predict their emotions and reactions, and
not think they are somehow "failing" when they feel a sudden rush of
uncomfortable feelings. The stages help us see how we grow through the crises
and hard times of our lives. The struggles and challenges of caregiving present
great sorrows at times, but also opportunities for personal growth and