Coping with the Imbalance of Giving and Receiving in Caregiving

Coping with the Imbalance of Giving and Receiving in Caregiving

We are all human, and as such, we do best when we have a balance of giving and taking in our relationships. In many caregiving situations, it’s mostly “give,” with little “take.”

Some caregivers I know feel as if they are giving to the point of depletion, like the tree in the children’s book, “The Giving Tree.” In this story, a once mighty oak ends up with no branches to reach toward the sun and shrinks to a stump in the end. This famous tale is about the unconditional love the tree has for a little boy, but it also illustrates the casualty that can result when one gives without receiving in return.

The opposite side of the “giving” dilemma is the “constant receiving” end of the relationship that can disturb some people who have sustained a TBI and receive care.  A once independent adult may feel powerless and resentful with no control over his or her life. This imbalance on both ends can create friction and despair.  When my husband could not drive due to seizure complications that resulted from his TBI, he felt angry and hated that I had to drive him everywhere he wanted to go. He was grieving for a loss of control over his life, but his anger felt directed at me. Luckily, we were able to talk this through and understand each other’s perspective before it all blew up in a fight.

It’s vital that caregivers and the loved ones in their care communicate honestly with each other, that they forgive each other for their very human imperfections, and that both parties strive for empathy.

Here’s what you can do to help your relationship if you are the one receiving care:

  1. Say thank you, sincerely and often.
  2. Don’t push buttons to instigate an argument because you are frustrated about your own situation.
  3. Once in a while, ask, “Is there something I can do to help you feel better?”
  4. When you know you have been upset or lost your temper, say “I’m sorry,” and explain what may have prompted your reaction without blaming.
  5. Find a trusted outlet for venting your frustrations so you don’t complain only to your caregiver or hold in your anger. A support group works well for this.

It is possible that some people with TBI may not be able to regulate their behavior due to the nature of their injuries, but it’s still worth sharing these tips to increase understanding.

Here’s what caregivers can do to improve relationships with the one in their care:

  1. Be honest about what you can do well and what you may have to ask someone else to do, and stick to the plan.
  2. Understand that your tone may be misunderstood and try to be clear, respectful, and reasonable in your requests.
  3. Realize that you now have power: the power that comes with your physical and mental ability to take charge. Use it fairly.
  4. Step away when you know you are highly charged and overtired. Apologize when you say hurtful things.
  5. Don’t talk down to the one in your care – reach across and ask for input in decisions that affect that person when possible.

Caregivers also have needs that must be met, and for that to happen, we may have to ask for time, space, and understanding. And hardest of all, we may have to forgive ourselves when we think or say things that don’t reflect our best selves.

Remember that actions speak louder than words. Thoughts that we are ashamed of like anger and resentment are human. Screaming internally or ranting in your mind is normal at times. But when those thoughts threaten to impact the care we give in a negative way, it’s time to take our pent-up words to a therapist, minister or close friend we can trust, to ensure that our actions remain tender, loving, and worthy of the hard job we have accepted.

Comments (4)

Please remember, we are not able to give medical or legal advice. If you have medical concerns, please consult your doctor. All posted comments are the views and opinions of the poster only.

My husband was assaulted with a baseball bat almost six years ago. He was not expected to survive, but he surprised everyone.  He was supported through his ordeal by a very strong family and by his own personal strength.  He has been left struggling to recover from a severe TBI along with physical impairments that prohibit us from doing any of the things that we used to love.  I don't know how to "fix" this fact and I have begun to take vacations by myself.  My husband can walk, but with some difficulty.  He is proud and will not use a walker or wheel chair.  He will use a cane at times.  We struggle to find a vacation that will work for both of us.  Prior to his assault we both liked to walk beaches, hike woods, bike, etc.  None of that is available to my husband any more. I feel terrible going on vacation without him, especially when I go out to visit our son, but I can't give up every aspect of my life.

Along with Paul's TBI, he also suffered PTSD. Attacked by 2 or 3 punks who stole $3.00. The neurosurgeon told me he was hit 8 times in the head with a baseball bat and several times up and down his spine with a pipe of sorts. How do you know the objects I asked? Did the police get the guys? No said the surgeon; you have to understand that I see these injuries every day here at MGH. Then, I was asked the dreaded question. What type of person was Paul? Is he outgoing, working a lot, always on the move? I knew at that very moment what his next question would be. Take him off life support or try a feeding tube and see if he can breath on his own. I said do what you can do to keep him alive and as the doc suggested, then re-evaluate. My knees buckled and I was transported down to the E.R. for the night.

Hi, as a stroke survivor, my husband has become my main carer - not only physically at beginning, but also my constant emotional rock. Has shouldered every range of emotion hurled at him and yet continues to be there for me... as he reminds me regularly 'in sickness and in health'. I feel that the impact of stroke has totally changed certain aspects of our relationship, some 'for better' & some 'for worse' - in my head anyway. We also struggle to find shared activities we can do together. We previously hiked, cycled, activity breaks, dancing. These are all gone 😔. Even watching a movie/cinema or TV depends on what is on as I am very intolerant to excessively bright light and loud noises. Late night movies a relic of past life. RANT over.

Thank you for your very insightful ideas.  The information you share always makes me feel more hopeful as one with a brain injury.  If I could I would heal your husband so he was brain injured no more, I would do it for him and you.  I'm trying to come up with the words to express my gratitude to you and since they're eluding me, I'll just say thank you and wish for you to receive all the blessings and help you and your husband need most right now.