Where’s Your Caregiving Self-Respect?


It is beyond my comprehension why people who care for elderly parents and others would allow anyone to say something badly about them tocaregiving, elder help, caregiving, self-respect someone else or to their face. Senior elder care is hard work, and NO ONE deserves to be treated unkindly by anyone, at anytime.

As an elder care consultant and caregiver advocate, I hear it all the time from people who are caring for family members.  "My father calls me names and tells me I'm a terrible daughter for making him live in assisted living." "Mom says I don't make enough time for her. Heck, I have a family of my own to take care of and support." "My Aunt consistently tells me I'm stupid." "My husband barks orders at me all day long."

In the latest edition of my book, The Complete Eldercare Planner, I describe in detail how deeply the emotional baggage of elder care can scar the lives of family caregivers. Day and night, underlying relationship issues of all kinds are at work in the minds and hearts of elderly people: elders are in pain (physically and emotionally); elders are frustrated; elders are depressed; elders are acting out because of unresolved family issues, and elders are angry and enraged. Sadly, they lash out at the people who are close to them - sons, daughters, spouses, and friends. Anyone who is within shouting distance from elderly parents and relatives knows all too well of the volatile environment of elder care and how easily emotions can get out of hand.

No matter what the situation may be, I often wonder why family caregivers choose to put a halt on self-respecting strategies the moment they are on the receiving end of elderly peoples' nasty comments. Is it guilt? Is it fear of making care receivers angry? Do caregivers forget they have choices of action right then and there?

Caring for the caregiver is a process that begins right now, and never ends. Self-respecting caregivers get angry, and when we admit to ourselves that we are angry, and acknowledge the right to be angry, we don't compromise our self-worth. Self-respecting caregivers express their anger and do so in ways that teach others how we want them to treat us. "What you just did (said) makes me angry. I do not deserve that." "It makes me angry when you . . . Please stop it." "My bedroom is private, and it makes me angry when you walk in without knocking." "We're all adults here, and your criticism is not appropriate."  Suffering in silence implies our consent for others to treat us badly.

Self-respecting caregivers set boundaries. Verbally abusive people pick on certain people because they are easy targets. Don't make yourself available. There is no disgrace in walking out of a situation that is intolerable or beyond your power to handle; in fact, it is the smart thing to do when you recognize your own limitations.

Self-respecting caregivers say "No." We may think that the more we say "yes," the more we will be loved and appreciated. Truth is that when someone close to us loves us, love doesn't stop because we've said "no." People around us will always make requests. They have the right to ask and we have the right to refuse.  You owe it to yourself (eventually you'll believe this), to turn down requests. Sure, you might feel guilty afterwards; but don't let that stop you.

Self-respecting caregivers allow others to be angry. Be prepared for the fact that people will get angry at us for some of the things we say and do. There's no getting around this; so allow them the opportunity to express their anger. Don't defend; don't interrupt; let them vent.  This may sound strange but we might even ask for forgiveness. Asking for forgiveness is not an admission of guilt; it can be an effective way to calm the waters in the moment. "I'm really sorry I disappointed you." "I know you're upset (angry), and I'm sorry."

We cannot change the basic personalities of nasty people, and yet we must make an attempt to put a stop to any inappropriate behavior toward us.

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-- Joy Loverde