Helping a Hard-to-Help Relative

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

Continued from page 1

Avoid Power Struggles

Let your family member retain as much control and independence as he or she can handle. Too often,well-intentioned family caregivers rush in and takeover for a relative who is aging, ailing, or disabled. But if you stop and consider how you would feel ifsomeone prematurely took away your independence orcontrol over your daily routines, you would probablyfeel resentful or rebellious against that person.

Instead, sit down with your family memberand have a brainstorming session where you discuss:

  • "What are the things you want me to handle for you?"
  • "What are the things you absolutely want to keep doingfor yourself without any interference from me?"
  • "What are the things for which you want a littleassistance but you still want to make sure you're incharge?"

    Having a heart-to-heart talk like this canreduce or eliminate many of the power struggles andpersonality clashes that flare up in most familycaregiving situations.

    Try to Share the Load
    The best caregivers are those who know their own limitsand who are resourceful in asking for help fromtrained experts or in delegating tasks to others whocan lighten your load to help you prevent burnout. For example, is there another relative who can takecare of some of the tasks you don't enjoy, such asphone calls to insurance companies, filling outreimbursement paperwork, running errands to pick upprescriptions or medical records, or arranging for avisiting nurse or aide to give you the day offsometimes?

    It's normal to feel alittle guilty or frustrated that you can't do everycaregiving task exactly the way you want it done. Butthe more you respect your own limits and recognizethat you have others to care for and a life of yourown, the quicker you will learn that your role is tosupervise a team of helpers rather than trying to doit all on your own and getting exhausted orshort-tempered as a result.

    Connect With Your Relative's Soul
    Instead of dwelling on yourfamily member's difficult personality or problembehaviors, take some quiet time each day or each week tonotice and enjoy the precious soul or childlikevulnerability that often is hidden underneaththe layers of this individual's personality and oldhabits.

    For instance, if during a hospital visit orhome visit you can bring along a relaxing piece ofmusic that your relative loves and that youcan listen to together, you might achieve a soulfulmoment of connection and closeness with thisfrequently resistant person. Or if you can look intothis troubled relative's eyes or notice the strengthand character in his or her hands, those moments willprobably be far more soul-satisfying than battling hisor her difficult attitudes and behaviors.

    In over 20 years ofcounseling people on how to deal with difficultrelatives, I've always been amazed at how, underneaththe personality clashes and power struggles, there isso much love and desire for connection and acceptance. Being connected to an aging, ailing, or otherwise difficult relative can either be a chance to keeprepeating our battles-or to find soulful moments ofconnection that make it all worthwhile.

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    Dr. Leonard Felder
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