In many caregiving situations, the primary responsibility falls to one person — typically an adult child and more often a daughter.
The burden of caregiving can be overwhelming, particularly when others offer unsolicited suggestions or criticize your efforts. Family members and siblings on the periphery may add extra stress when they chime in with their perspective on caring for a parent. At other times, the most cutting remarks may come directly from the person we are caring for.
Closeness and shared history make the blow of criticisms from family members more difficult to endure. Siblings may see the situation differently; a frustrating reality to caregivers who feel alone and underappreciated.
Derogatory remarks about our role as a caregiver can undermine confidence and self-esteem. By nature, caregiving is a selfless act that often requires an “other-focused” mindset, leading us to neglect personal emotional needs. Harboring pent up anger and frustration can force us down an unhealthy path towards burnout and fatigue, spurring pervasive health problems such as depression. Coping with criticism is an essential skill to master in order to forge ahead on the long and arduous journey of caring for an aging or chronically ill loved one.
It’s important to realize that you are not alone in feeling frustrated at critical comments.
Here are tips to constructively rebound from criticism or uninvited interference from family, well-meaning friends, or even marginally involved healthcare professionals:
- Feel the emotions, and then get over it – When someone dishes out a comment that makes you boil inside, give yourself some time to experience the cascade of emotions that results. Set aside 15 minutes to let it out: cry, punch a pillow, go for a walk. Whatever you do, release the negative energy inside you. It will only hold you back. Anger and resentment are toxic.
- Bring to light what’s behind the criticism – Criticisms are typically rooted in a deeper problem. Recognize that the remark may not be about your aptitude or capabilities, rather it centers on the person dishing out the criticism. For aging parents, fear and helplessness over a loss of independence, mobility, or memory may be the source of their struggle. Siblings may be reenacting frustrations from youth.
- Be heard – Don’t be afraid to assert yourself. Tell others what type of support you need from them. Be specific about how they can be useful. Asking your sibling to lend a hand by picking up dinner for Mom once a week may be the simple key to diffusing conflict. If you feel your family member or elderly loved one’s attack are abusive, directly address the situation and make it clear this behavior will not be tolerated.
- Elicit feedback – Calmly ask the criticizer how they would have approached the situation in question differently. Open up a constructive dialogue that allows each of you to voice the facts. If at all possible, steer clear of emotional statements and personal attacks. Keep an open mind and listen carefully – the role of caregiver is an evolving one and you just might pick up a few handy pointers in the process.
- Build a support network – Reach out to others who can provide a kind ear and objective feedback when you feel picked on and overwhelmed. Take a friend out to coffee and bounce ideas of ways to cope off of this person. Caregiver can find excellent support online through digital support groups and blogging. These are resources to exchange advice, stories, and tips with people who have been in your shoes.
- Enjoy quiet time away from others - Find mental space and clarity by starting a daily practice of positive self-talk to rebuild your motivation. If you need a break, use respite care to get away for a few hours or a weekend.
- Smile! – If you’re in a bad mood, a simple grin can turn things around. Psychologists have found that smiling can boost your mood, reduce stress, build immunity, and positively affect those around you for the better.
As the old adage goes, “you can’t please everybody”. Criticisms are a natural part of life, and knowing to expect disapproval is half the battle towards coping in a healthy way. Remember that caregiving may be challenging, but presents so many opportunities for learning and growth.
What was the toughest criticism you ever received from a family member or your loved one? How did you deal?