10 Ways To Maintain Your Sanity When Caring For A Difficult Family Member
Being a caregiver is hard. There are a lot of demands on your time and energy. However, usually, it is rewarding. You are caring for a loved one who once cared for you. Even on the dark days, you can remind yourself how much you love that person.
The challenge comes when you are caring for someone who wasn’t – or isn’t – so wonderful to you. Perhaps it is a parent who was physically or emotionally abusive when you were a child. Perhaps it is an in law who has never treated you like family. How do you handle caring for someone who has been toxic to your own well-being?
If you are the only person who can step in and you aren’t able to outsource caregiving duties, you’ll need to find ways to cope with the added stress of caring for a difficult or toxic person. You’ll need to protect your sanity and survive this stage the best you can.
Surviving Caregiving When It Is Emotionally Challenging
- Do Your Homework: Even if your caree doesn’t have the financial means to outsource caregiving and you choose not to dip in to your own savings, there are government resources available for seniors. Apply for everything they qualify for and outsource whatever you are able to outsource.
- Steel Yourself: You know this person. You know their strategies. Instead of getting angry, ignore them. They may get bored and give up if they realize they can’t push your buttons.
- Don’t Take Things Personally: If you are dealing with someone who uses emotional warfare to belittle or hurt you, remind yourself that it isn’t you, it’s them. Easier said than done, I know but figure out a way to put on your “armor” and let their comments go in one ear, out the other.
- Limit Interaction: Even if you are the primary caregiver, you can find ways to limit interaction. If you are caring for someone with mobility challenges, hire a neighbor or teen from church to take them for walks. You can do your part by delivering groceries and doing work around the house, but do it on your time, when you are able.
- Bring Reinforcements: Sometimes, people are less aggressive when they have an audience. Bring a friend with you when you do need to interact with your caree. If nothing else, it will take some of the focus off you.
- Arm Yourself With Self-Care Strategies: Go into the situation prepared to care for yourself. You know that they are going to make things difficult while you’re there, so give yourself something to look forward to. Perhaps you get a pedicure after each visit or spend the evening watching your favorite shows after spending an afternoon with them. Take time to love yourself and remind yourself of your value.
- Set Boundaries: Even if you have decided to become a caregiver for someone who is difficult, you are still allowed to set boundaries. Do what you are able to do. Say no when you need to. Let him/her know if they are being inappropriate. Walk away if you need to. Do what is best for you. You are not a punching bag. You don’t deserve to be treated poorly.
- Seek Support: Join a support group or see a counselor to help you deal with the confusing emotions. There is very little out there for people who have disjointed family relationships. That doesn’t mean the situation doesn’t exist. Find someone who can be an impartial ear for both of you or find someone who will support you.
- Share the Load: If you have siblings who are choosing to keep their distance for their own sanity, get together and find a way to cover costs or get support from outside the family. No one should put themselves in an abusive situation. Work together and help each other manage the challenge. The interesting thing about siblings is, no matter how different you become, your childhood is a shared experience that no one will understand like a sibling.
- Don’t Expect Praise or Support From Your Caree: If your caree has never expressed thanks or love, don’t expect it now. Find other ways to get positive reinforcement, whether it is from other family members, a spouse, or even yourself. You can’t feel love if you don’t love yourself first.
Caring for someone who has been less than kind can be difficult. Give yourself the space to recover after attacks. Don’t feel guilty if you can’t step in. Only you know what you can handle. People who judge you don’t understand the challenge of having toxic family members.
My husband and his brothers had parents who were difficult and not very supportive. I didn’t understand how they could cut ties with family, until I saw how emotionally draining it was to interact with their parents. Cutting ties was a form of survival. Do what you need to do to survive. There is no wrong or right way for dealing with toxic relatives.