As featured in North Hawaii News Nov 19, 2018
Have you ever had somebody get upset with your decisions, even though your actions don’t directly affect them? Having someone become emotionally involved in your life can add extra weight to your own concerns and also break down those trusted relationships. In family caregiving, there are many decisions that need to be made. Some are on a large scale, like choosing what type of living situation the care recipient will be in. Smaller, daily choices about outings and clothing can swirl around in a caregiver’s mind and bog them down.
Outsiders to any situation can easily form opinions and “helpfully” offer suggestions that leave care partners second guessing themselves, once these decisions have been made. When taking on the responsibility for a mature adult, numerous factors create a one-of-a-kind experience for each scenario, from the beliefs of each family member to the recommendations made by the various physicians and the professional caregivers.
Everyone involved is doing the best that they can with the information they have. There will be times when mistakes are made. The caregiver can grow from them and try again. This is how most of us get through our own lives, and assisting with choices for an adult loved one brings on even more difficult trial and error moments. Having the trusted space to experience these lessons without having to defend themselves will aid their development.
If you want to support someone in a caregiving situation, I have been taught an approach to offering advice that can create more receptivity when used sparingly and sincerely. If you would like to hear my advice, please read on. If not, I respect your choice and hopefully we can reconvene in next month’s article. I’ve just demonstrated a bit of what my advice is. Request permission to ask them a question or offer a suggestion. It seems so very simple, yet turns the story around in their mind from one of attack to one of teamwork when you give someone the respect of allowing your perspective on their life, rather than forcing it upon them. This also opens the door to a more heartfelt conversation.
If the roles are reversed, and someone is repeatedly offering you unsolicited advice, it can be awkward to approach them about pulling back. Find a time to sit with them when you are not in an emotionally charged moment and let them know that you appreciate their intention to be helpful. Let them know that while they intend to be helpful, it actually feels like criticism or disrespect, or whatever it feels like to you. If they insist that they must help you with their words of “wisdom,” you can follow this by asking them to give advice in a different format, such as writing it down so you can receive it when you are prepared to take it in. This would preferably be with a professional who can help you weigh the options they are presenting.
The giving and receiving of advice is so common that we do not often recognize the internal damage it can cause. Dr. Michael Aronowitz says that if it feels like criticism, it is criticism. This understanding breaks down all of the rationale we tell ourselves for interjecting our opinions into someone else’s life and allows for a more mutual discussion. I like this quote about advice written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge: “Advice is like snow — the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into the mind.” May your words fall softly and hearts love warmly.