Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Flower Essences for Family Caregiving, Part 2

Photo by Richard Old, www.xidservices.com

Please be aware that the information contained in this article and throughout this site are meant to provide the reader with a wide array of choices. The information provided should NOT be construed as medical or psychiatric advice and should not be assumed to be an adequate substitute for conventional medical care.

An Excerpt from the Spiritual Journey of Family Caregiving:

On my off hours I like to make all natural perfume for both sweet-smelling and healing effects by combining essential oils used in aromatherapy with flower essences. Flower essences are rarely used in perfume—they have no smell—but I have come to depend on them as one of my first lines of defense in working with otherwise intransigent emotional/spiritual issues in my own life.

How Do they Work?

Whenever a person has a thought, and particularly when it is an emotionally-laden thought, the body produces a vast array of neurochemicals that tell various body processes what to do next. In situations one perceives as dangerous, for example, adrenaline is produced to help us gear up to fight or run away. In other situations many other chemical compounds are produced and all these substances affect the physical functioning of our bodies in a great variety of ways. For example, studies have shown that the biochemicals we associate with depression have a great effect on the immune system. Test subjects who reported feeling depressed were much more likely to get sick when exposed to a cold virus than test subjects who were not. As you might imagine, when a depressed mental state lasts long enough the body is left vulnerable to attack by a wide variety of organisms.

Flower essences were developed over 60 years ago by the famous and well-respected immunologist and homeopathic English physician Edward Bach. Working with a wide variety of patients just after the first World War he came to the conclusion that a person’s emotional well-being and mental attitude had more to do with health and healing than any medicine he could offer.

Homeopathics work on both the physical body and the emotions. Nobody understands for sure what mechanism is involved but it appears that, like a vaccine, they actually inspire the body to produce whatever compounds it needs to counteract the illness it has contracted. Bach created both vaccines and homeopathic remedies. He was also somewhat familiar with herbal remedies and discovered through his research that flowers seem to have a specific affinity for emotional symptomology. Bach eventually left his thriving London practice to move to the country to develop safe flower-based homeopathics and the now world famous Bach Flower Remedies (or flower essences) were the result.

In my role as a Family Caregiving Consultant I am not allowed to use Flower Essences with my clients but there are many occasions in which I think they could be applicable. For those of you interested in exploring this modality here are just a few of the ones you might want to consider.

Centaury is the classic Bach flower essence for the “wounded healers” amongst us—those who derive their sense of self-worth by taking care of others’ needs while neglecting their own. Using the Martyr archetype as a role model seems noble and is a very common choice, but it can lead to dangerously codependent behavior in the long run. For example, caregivers in this state frequently attempt to avoid a demented relative’s anxiety about allowing paid help into the house by doing what has to be done themselves. Even when the patient’s needs steadily progress to the point of needing 24-hr care this kind of caregiver dutifully tries to keep the status quo intact, compromising their own well-being and, ultimately, the well-being of the one who now depends on them alone.

Centaury increases a person’s ability to balance other people’s needs with their own. And as one begins to develop the self-love and self-respect needed from the inside out, the compulsion to serve others through excessive servitude falls away and better approaches to family caregiving can then be carried out.

Caregivers in the Elm state of mind aren’t Martyrs—they’re trying to be Supermen! They overestimate what is realistically possible, swoop in to save the day, and become overwhelmed with despair and self-doubt when it doesn’t work out. Caregivers in this condition need support to get help, using their innate leadership abilities to organize a care team that can manage the care receiver’s needs over the long haul. Elm helps them develop a more realistic point of view so they can tackle the job, feeling more rested and relaxed, and confident that what needs to be done is, with help, within their power to achieve after all.

When a person is constantly giving their full attention to other people, and worrying about them when they’re not actually in their sight, they never quite relax and often lose sight of their own needs. It’s normal to want to work hard to protect those we love—just think of how a mama bear fights to protect her cubs. Interestingly enough, ancient Roman soldiers often brought Yarrow with them when they went off to fight. Yarrow acts like a protective shield, helping a person bring their attention back to themselves as needed throughout the day. White Yarrow strengthens the integrity of a person as a whole, Golden Yarrow works specifically with vulnerability caused by low self-esteem, and Pink Yarrow helps people who are overly affected by other people’s emotions.

Olive and Garlic
Working with stress effectively is one thing, but what if the caregiver has already slipped into a state of exhaustion and near collapse? I had a friend come to me in this state. She worked full-time, had a father who needed caregiving help, she was still breast-feeding her young child, and had a husband who was feeling needy because of a crisis at his job. She wailed “I’m SO tired! I feel like everyone in my life is sucking me dry!” I gave her Olive and Garlic flower essences and a week later she came back, happy and full of energy. “You’re making magic potions!” she said. Within a week she had laid down some ground rules at home, decided to shut off her cell phone and let voicemail pick up after a certain time every day, she talked to her husband about how she felt and, with his increased support and understanding, was finally starting to make inroads to getting her own needs met.

Olive flower essence is specific for exhaustion and soul-weariness. It helps a person draw on inner resources for support when physical support has been lacking. Garlic gives added strength and the ability to actively resist intrusions that would otherwise do harm.

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