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 the one receiving care:
- Say thank you, sincerely and often.
- Don’t push buttons to instigate an argument because you are frustrated about your own situation.
- Once in a while, ask, “Is there something I can do to help you feel better?”
- 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.
- 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:
- Be honest about what you can do well and what you may have to ask someone else to do, and stick to the plan.
- Understand that your tone may be misunderstood and try to be clear, respectful, and reasonable in your requests.
- Realize that you now have power: the power that comes with your physical and mental ability to take charge. Use it fairly.
- Step away when you know you are highly charged and overtired. Apologize when you say hurtful things.
- 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.