Patience as Practice

Originally posted 4/7/14 on

Laura Rice-Oeschger, LMSW

“Patience may seem like a superficial virtue, but actually it embodies a deep insight into the nature of things: they’re intertwining, messy, imperfectible, and usually not about you.”  – Rick Hanson, Ph.D., neuropsychologist and author

Patience is the quality caregivers and partners share most frequently when asked what they need to be and feel well and balanced in their caregiving role. Reliable and abundant patience is what they desire most in their relationships and in their daily lives. They express deep concern, and even shame, regarding their transient feelings of patience, especially towards the person they are caring for. The direct experience of “lost” patience combined with subsequent self-criticism and feelings of guilt can become a hamster wheel many care partners find themselves circling for years on end. This is a dangerous cycle that not only erodes the bedrock of caregiving confidence, but the health, well-being and safety of all involved.


Here are a few practical tips for nurturing patience as a caregiver:

  • Tune in. Recognizing our own sensitivity to another’s impatience with us can help stir feelings of compassion for individuals who may trigger impatience within ourselves.
  • Notice. Simply noticing our impatience as a moment of mindfulness and the opportunity to practice shifting into a less reactionary and more responsive gear.
  • Breathe. Bringing intention to the breath (without having to change the breath) can offer us relief in the moment and activate the parasympathetic nervous system, helping us to relax and focus on our intention to respond vs. react on auto-pilot.
  • Connect. Look for our own sensitivities and imperfections reflected in another person. Simply recognizing that most of the time, we all want the same things – to be loved, appreciated, understood and safe – can help soothe the sting of anger, frustration and disappointment with another person. In this way, we are all in it together and we can more easily let go of ideas of perfection and expectation.
  • Let it be. If a situation or a person is difficult to engage or interact with, take a break. This does not mean surrender or abandon wise discernment. What is does mean is that we can recognize when we are about to tilt. Allowing ourselves to let it be, even momentarily, is a step towards peace and preservation vs. angst and aggression.
  • Give a gift. It can be helpful to think of our patience as a gift we give. A thoughtful gift we can give to ourselves and to others. Kindness is intrinsic in gift giving and can soften even the most challenging of moments. Thankfully, with patience, what we offer another is a deposit in the bank of our own well being.  And direct deposits become immediately available when we need to make a withdrawal. Maintaining the health of the relationship between deposits and withdrawals is imperative in caregiving.

These tips are also helpful in our everyday life. The old adage, “what we practice persists,” is useful in illuminating a moment by moment approach to patience in caregiving.  Rather than seeing the event of impatience as a failure, we can recognize our impatience as an opportunity to intentionally proceed with renewed presence, and hopefully, more kindness. We call this, patience practice. The simple addition of the word “practice” implies the innate imperfection of patience in care partnering. By accepting the imperfections and unpredictability, we are able to move forward without blame and harsh criticism of ourselves and others. Patience may not always be possible, but we can practice in its general direction.

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