Helping a Hard-to-Help Relative

How to 'do' for a difficult loved one while protecting yourself from frustration and burnout

Millons of women and men who have an aging,ailing, or disabled family member are faced each daywith the challenge of trying to help this person inthe midst of your other responsibilities and busyschedule. Over 50 percent of family caregivers have todeal with a family member's uncooperative personalityor stubborn resistance to being helped.

Whether youare trying to assist an aging parent, a mentally illsibling or child, an addicted family member, or justtrying to get your spouse or your grown child to gosee a health practitioner, the personality clashes andpower struggles can be extremely frustrating. It mightbe a family member who is in denial about his or hercondition. Or someone who just won't do what thedoctor or healer has suggested. Or a relative whobombards you with complaints and demands, but then isunwilling to follow through on any suggestions orarrangements you try to offer.

I recommend a number of specifictechniques so that you can come through effectivelyfor your troubled loved ones and not become burned outbecause of this person's repeated attempts to ignoreor sabotage your assistance. Here are a few ofthe coping strategies:

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Remember the Wisdom of the Flight Attendant

At the beginning ofevery airline flight, the flight attendant says, "Besure to put the oxygen mask over your own face beforetrying to help the person next to you."

That may seem strange atfirst. Caring and compassionateindividuals would probably feel guilty thinking abouttheir own needs when the ailing or dependent person nextto them is in crisis. But think about it for amoment-if you forget to breathe, relax, replenish,oxygenate your brain, and do self-nurturing things, you will quickly burn out and becomeimpatient, resentful, or short-tempered toward thecomplicated person you are trying to help. In thetruest sense, it's not selfish but essential that you address your own physical andemotional needs before trying to help someone else. Inmost cases, this can allow you to be a more thoughtful,calm and resilient caregiver, especially when you'redealing with a stubborn or agitated individual.

Prior to each phone call orvisit with a feisty or difficult relative whosometimes resists your help, take a few minutes tomeditate, pray, walk in nature, read an inspiring fewpages of a book, or write in a journal. Those momentsof centering and renewal are crucial if you want to beat your best with a troubled individual who frequentlyor occasionally pushes your buttons.

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Dr. Leonard Felder
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