Walking on Eggshells

Dos and don’ts for helping your loved one

As a family caregiver, there are times you might feel like you are walking on eggshells. Sometimes you want to do something to help a loved one, but you don’t want to cause any conflict. It can seem like a constant internal battle of trying to say or do the right thing, while being afraid of doing the wrong thing. It’s normal that you might struggle with this. To help navigate this tricky path, we have put together a list of things you can do to help your loved one — and things you’ll want to avoid.

What You Can Do

  • Be there for them: Don’t wait for the person to tell you to come see them. They might not ask you for help because they don’t want to bother you. You might go see your loved one and they might not speak. Be comfortable with silence; sometimes showing that you are there has more impact than your words.
  • Take one thing at a time: If you try to help too much, not only can it overwhelm you, but it can overwhelm the other person, too. Focus on one thing at a time.
  • Listen without trying to fix: As much as you might want to help your loved one, sometimes all they need is some- one to listen. If you try to fix things right away, they may feel like there is something broken. If your loved one confides what they are feeling or experiencing, give the floor to them; don’t try to interject your opinions when they are speaking.
  • Encourage treatment, but don’t force it: If you try to force someone into treatment, it might push them to go the other way. Tell them why you think treatment might be beneficial, but don’t tell them that they must do it. However, if they are becoming a danger to themselves or others, then appropriate steps need to be taken to get them the help they require.
  • Research their mental illness: Even though this is something you do by yourself it can help your loved one. If you are more knowledgeable about their illness, you can better empathize with what they might be going through.
  • Treat them with respect and dignity: Just because your loved one has a mental illness doesn’t mean they are fragile or different. They may be experiencing new things, but treat them with respect and dignity like you did before their diagnosis.

What to Avoid

  • Don’t tell them what they “should” do: Telling someone they should do something can be off-putting. It might drain their energy to think about all the things you say they should do. Instead, recommend resources that might help them and let them decide to pursue them or not.
  • Don’t use “you” statements: Instead of saying, “you need help,” try saying, “I was thinking of how you said you were struggling the other day, and I am worried. I think it might be good if you talked to someone about what you are experiencing.” Language can be very powerful, and if used in the right way, it can have a positive impact.
  • Don’t get frustrated or upset with your loved one: You might feel many emotions when caregiving, but try to not show your frustration to your loved one because they might feel like they are a burden. It is completely normal to feel frustrated at times, but make sure you speak to someone else about what you are going through and not to the person you are caring for.
  • Don’t invalidate their feelings: Even if you might not understand how your loved one is feeling, don’t invali- date what they say they are feeling; this can make them feel rejected. Instead, be understanding, ask questions, be there for them. You don’t have to understand every- thing, but you can show your support.

–Gabrielle Lesage
From Share&Care Winter 2022

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