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:

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.

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.