It’s difficult to watch family members refuse to care for themselves. You could be dealing with an elderly parent, a sibling suffering from addiction or mental health issues, a sick relative, or another family member. It is critical for you and your family to find ways to encourage healthy choices while also protecting yourself. While you cannot force someone to take responsibility for themselves, there are things you can do to assist that person in taking better care of themselves.
Part 1 Communicating with a Resistant Relative
1. Make a list of your concerns ahead of time. Because it is often difficult to keep track of your thoughts during difficult conversations, it is beneficial to plan your main points ahead of time. You don’t want to say something you don’t mean in the heat of the moment.
You could try writing an imaginary letter to your relative in which you express all of your concerns. Then, imagine yourself in your relative’s shoes and read the letter. This will assist you in framing your concerns constructively.
Consider what your relative’s objections might be. Create respectful, well-thought-out responses to those objections.
Include reasons why your family member’s behaviour is harmful to others, including you.
Discuss your concerns with a dependable third party. Don’t rehearse the conversation, but be clear about what you want to say and what you want to accomplish.
2. Schedule a conversation for a quiet, stress-free moment. You must express your concerns to your relative, but you must do so in a way that maximises your chances of success. Preparing a conversation in advance will allow you to address your concerns without jeopardising your relationship.
Make a plan for the conversation ahead of time. Don’t wait for a crisis to bring up your concerns.
Inform your relative that you would like to speak with him seriously. Try not to start a heavy conversation with your relative. Allow him time to prepare instead.
Choose a relaxing environment. You could show your good intentions by taking a relative out to lunch. Avoid situations that elicit the problem, such as discussing problem drinking in a bar.
3. Inquire as to what is causing your relative to choose not to take care of herself. What appears to you as stubbornness may be masking a variety of emotions or issues. This is a question that must be phrased carefully. You want to convey that you are genuinely interested in the response. Furthermore, you should avoid asking the question in a way that sounds nagging or pressuring.
For example, you could say, “I know we don’t always agree on this issue, but I’d love to hear more about your point of view.” Alternatively, you could ask, “What scares you the most about talking to a therapist?”
With your question, don’t imply any judgement. For example, don’t ask, “Why don’t you eat healthy food?” Instead, ask, “I’d like to better understand your food decisions.” “Could you please elaborate?”
Some people are irritated by the fact that they require assistance, while others feel guilty about the burden their situation places on others.
Others may be concerned about their condition and seeking reassurance by entrusting too much of their care to relatives and loved ones. They may be lonely and believe that failing to take care of themselves is a way to get your attention.
4. Listen and respond without bias. Allow your relative to speak without interrupting or offering solutions. Although your relative’s words may elicit a wide range of emotions in you, don’t express them all at once. Reacting with rage and resentment will only exacerbate the situation. Instead, engage in nonjudgmental listening.
Put yourself in the shoes of your relative. Listen to what he has to say about his own experience and try to empathise with him.
Accept that your relative’s feelings, judgments, and points of view may differ from your own. That’s fine.
Be sincere. You don’t have to pretend that your relative’s decisions are admirable. Instead, maintain your cool and be truthful. For example, you could say, “I understand that taking medication for your depression is a scary prospect for you.” I disagree with your decision, but I understand why you feel that way.”
5. Don’t confuse the physical with the emotional. Be aware of any mental health issues, memory loss, or other factors that may make it difficult for your relative to take care of themselves, or even understand and remember why she should.
If you notice changes in your relative’s behaviour that lead you to suspect dementia or other cognitive issues, you should have him or her evaluated by a professional.
Recognize that some behaviours can be traced back to physical causes. A diabetic relative, for example, may become irritable or confused as a result of low blood sugar.
6. Discuss the consequences of your relative’s decisions. Emphasize the negative consequences of his choices for you, his career, or his children.
Use “I” statements whenever possible. Instead of saying, “You’re making everyone unhappy!” provide specific examples. You could say something like, “When you come home drunk, I notice your children are scared and worried.” Or, “I’m exhausted because I have to come over every night to make sure you’re okay.”
7. Finish the conversation on a high note. Even if you haven’t been able to accomplish all of your objectives in the conversation, end it by telling your relative something you admire about her. Let her know how important the relationship is to you. Thank her for taking the time to speak with you honestly. The goal is not to “win” the conversation, but to maintain a trusting relationship.
8. Request that others speak with your relative. Another relative, friend, or trusted member of the community may be able to reach your relative in a way that you are unable to. Furthermore, hearing the same message from multiple people may help your relative understand the gravity of the situation.
You could, for example, contact a pastor or rabbi whose opinion your relative values. They might be able to explain why failing to take responsibility for one’s own health and well-being is harmful to family relationships.
If you have a relative who is struggling with addiction, you may want to stage an intervention. This should be done with the help of a doctor or a licenced drug counsellor.
Part 2 Supporting Your Relative in Making Good Choices
1. Recognize healthy choices. When it comes to encouraging healthy behaviours, positive reinforcement outperforms criticism. Make a habit of noticing and complimenting your relative when he does something good for himself.
For example, you could say, “I’ve noticed that you’ve been going for a lot of walks with your friends lately.” That’s fantastic! It makes me so happy to see you having fun and exercising.”
You could also send a simple, encouraging message, such as, “Nice job going to therapy today.” I understand how difficult it is!”
2. Demonstrate healthy behaviour. You can’t make someone else take care of herself, but if you show her that you’re willing to get enough rest, eat healthy, talk about your feelings, and move and breathe in healthy ways, you’ll feel better regardless of what she does. And you might just persuade her to give it a shot.
3. Find out more about your relative’s particular condition. If your relative has a mental health problem, communication patterns that work in general may not work as well with them. Support groups, as well as your own therapist or counsellor, may be able to advise you on effective communication strategies. Furthermore, researching your relative’s condition on your own may help you better understand the situation.
4. Participate in healthy activities with your relative. A friendly invitation demonstrates that you care about your relative and want to spend time with him. Furthermore, doing an activity together can strengthen your relationship and give you something to talk about other than your disagreement over his behaviour.
Take a walk or a jog together, for example.
Participate in the same water aerobics or yoga class.
Making exercise a social event will help to alleviate your relative’s loneliness while also assisting her in making good decisions.
5. Help your relative in ways that are good for you. While you must set limits on what you do for your relative, this does not preclude you from doing anything for your relative. Create a list of things you can do that feel sustainable to you and provide you with satisfaction while also benefiting your relative.
For example, if you’re having a relative over for dinner, buy and prepare healthy food for her. It is not your responsibility to feed a diabetic relative on a daily basis. However, if you host a party and invite her, making a diabetic-friendly treat could be a thoughtful gesture.
Part 3 Taking Care of Yourself
1. Recognize that you, too, have needs. Caring for a family member can be stressful. Recognize that taking on any aspect of a relative’s care will have an impact on your own well-being, regardless of your motivations or situation. You must also look after yourself.
2. Change any negative thought patterns you have about your role in your relative’s life. There are some common thought patterns that prevent caregivers from taking care of themselves adequately. These patterns indicate that you should seek support for yourself in order to avoid becoming overwhelmed with caregiving.
For example, you may believe that no one else can properly care for your relative. In reality, you may be perpetuating a cycle of dependency; your relative may be better than you realise at seeking help from others or accepting responsibility for herself.
You may believe that prioritising your own needs is selfish. In fact, it is necessary to first meet your own needs.
Caregiving may appear to be the only way to gain the respect of your family.
3. Attend relevant family member support groups. Talking to others who have gone through what you are going through can be extremely beneficial.
Al-Anon is a support group for family members of people who have a drinking or addiction problem.
The Brain Injury Association maintains a list of local organisations that offer resources to family members of people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries.
4. Don’t encourage bad behaviour. This is an indication of a co-dependent relationship. While it may be difficult, it is not your responsibility to keep your relative from experiencing the negative consequences of his own actions. You should not change your own life to accommodate his unhealthy or irresponsible choices. Co-dependent and enabling relationships are not sustainable and will eventually cost you a lot of money.
5. Accept the limitations of your abilities. Finally, your relative is free to make her own decisions about her life. Acceptance can be difficult, but it is necessary.
Consult your doctor about your legal options if your relative is truly unable to make decisions. You may be able to obtain guardianship, a health care proxy, or other legal powers to make decisions on your relative’s behalf.
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