Strong Caregivers Make Better Caregivers – The Caring Generation®

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The Caring Generation® – Episode 109 October 27, 2021. On this episode, Why Strong Caregivers Make Better Caregivers, caregiving expert Pamela D Wilson shares solutions to the challenges caregivers experience that negatively impacts decision-making, relationships, and emotional health. Guest Dr. Mark Leary, Professor Emeritus Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University, offers insights for caregivers about relationships and the emotional impact of feeling rejected.

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Why Strong Caregivers Make Better Caregivers

0:00:04.0 Announcer: Caregiving can sometimes feel like an impossible struggle. Caregivers may be torn between taking care of loved ones and trying to maintain balance in life. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way. The Caring Generation, with host Pamela D. Wilson, is here to focus on the conversation of caring. You’re not alone. In fact, you’re in exactly the right place to share stories and learn tips and resources to help you and your loved ones. So now, please welcome the host of The Caring Generation, Pamela D. Wilson.

What Makes a Caregiver Strong?

Watch More Videos About Caregiving and Aging on Pamela’s YouTube Channel

0:00:37:26 Pamela D Wilson: This is Pamela D. Wilson, caregiving expert, speaker, consultant, and guardian of The Caring Generation. The Caring Generation focuses on the conversation of caring. Giving us permission to talk about aging, the challenges of caregiving, and everything in between. It’s no surprise that needing care or becoming a caregiver changes everything. The Caring Generation is here to guide you along the journey to let you know that you’re not alone.

0:01:07:06 Pamela D Wilson: You are in exactly the right place to share stories, learn about caregiving programs and resources to help you and your loved ones plan for what’s ahead. Invite your aging parents, spouses, family, and friends to listen to the show each week. If you have a question or an idea for a future show, share your idea with me by responding to my social media posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Linked In.

0:01:40:49 Pamela D Wilson: Today, I’m answering the question – why do strong caregivers make better caregivers? What is a strong caregiver? Are strong caregivers physically strong, mentally strong, or both? What does it take to become and remain a strong caregiver?  What daily experiences make caregivers question whether they are doing a good job, making mistakes, trying to do everything while feeling that they are taking shortcuts everywhere, or whether anyone, including the care recipients, appreciate or notice their daily efforts?

0:02:22:94 Pamela D Wilson: How many of you have been insulted by an aging parent or a spouse for the work you do? Here’s an example you help mom or dad with a time-consuming project. When finished, a parent says to you, “well, you did all of that for you.” Your first thought is to be insulted.  The 4o to 80 hours you just spent to help mom or dad took considerable time and effort that you shifted from other parts of your life like work, spending time with your spouse, your children, or making time for you. In the heat of that moment, when you hear that response, it may be best not to say anything if temperatures are hot and may result in an argument.

0:03:08:01 Pamela D Wilson:  Eventually, you may want to return to the conversation and say, “you know when you said I did all of this for me, what did you mean? Because from my side, it appears I did all of this for you.” Being a strong caregiver means that you have the courage and confidence to ask questions that help you understand the perspectives of others. In this case, an aging parent may feel like a burden and are projecting their feelings onto you.

0:03:38:07 Pamela D Wilson:  What do I mean by this? When someone says, “well, you did all of that for you,” it could mean you did all of this to make life easier on you, according to their perception. An example might be setting up in-home caregivers for a parent or moving a parent to an assisted living community. While the added support may add a little more time back into your life, the intention is to provide more care and support for an aging parent. Sometimes—believe it or not, these things have to be explained in detail for a parent to really understand the impact.

0:04:13:54 Pamela D Wilson:  These interactions can unintentionally result in caregiver resentment and anger. Your parent may feel rejected because they want you to do everything and you can’t. To provide insight into this topic, the guest for this program is Dr. Mark Leary, a researcher, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University. He is recognized internationally as a leading expert in social and personal psychology.

0:04:43:71 Pamela D Wilson:  He has published 12 books and more than 250 scholarly articles and chapters on topics dealing with social motivation, emotion, self-relevant thought, and psychological well-being. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, the Association for Psychological Science, and the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. After 39 years as a faculty member, Mark retired from Duke University in 2019 and now spends much of his time writing and speaking about human behavior.

0:05:19:21 Pamela D Wilson:  You can find his blog posts on and learn more about him on his website. The link will be in this show transcript. Let’s talk about a couple more circumstances that result in caregivers experiencing low self-esteem or a low self-concept. If you are a caregiver, you may be in relationships where one or all of these are happening. You feel unsupported by siblings, aging parents, or other family members.

0:05:52:17 Pamela D Wilson: Expectations—sometimes unrealistic expectations—exist about tasks you are expected to do or what others think you should do. All the while, they are doing nothing to contribute. You may feel stressed and depressed, dwelling on negative thoughts, or feeling hopeless or helpless. You may spend time with friends or other people who don’t understand the pressures you face, are not empathetic, but instead, they increase the anxiety and anger you feel about caregiving.

0:06:26:79 Pamela D Wilson: Rather than making you feel better, spending time with these friends or acquaintances only makes you feel more disillusioned about your life. If you are experiencing any of these situations, let’s talk about why strong caregivers make better caregivers. Let’s say that your day begins well and something happens. Mom or dad calls you with a problem. All of a sudden, your happy day turns into worry, negative thoughts or frustration, and an unhappy day.

0:06:57:63 Pamela D Wilson: Your mood and attention are sidetracked. You are at work having difficulty focusing on a project with a 5 o’clock deadline while at the same time being pulled in a downward emotional spiral. How many of you have been in this situation? If you are a caregiver, an event like this might be a daily reoccurrence. You try to be positive, and it feels like a tornado blew into town and destroyed the house you were building.

0:07:26:95 Pamela D Wilson: As you can see from this simple example, an unexpected problem or negative interaction with others can impact you emotionally to the degree that you might not make good decisions. You might react instead of thinking through a problem. Part of becoming a strong caregiver is to learn to weather these emotional storms.  Strong caregivers make better caregivers when you refuse to allow your life to be interrupted by crises, unexpected situations, drama queens, or emotional vampires that drain the positive energy you work so hard to maintain.

0:08:05:01 Pamela D Wilson: Let’s talk about seven actions you can take to become a stronger caregiver to weather the turbulence of caring for aging parents, a spouse, or other family members. The first action is to monitor your emotional responses. Dr. Mark Leary will talk about this in our upcoming interview in the second half of the program. Each of these seven actions we’re about to discuss are learned skills that take repetition and practice.

0:08:35:75 Pamela D Wilson: I don’t want you to think that it’s possible to wave a magic wand and change your situation overnight. I will tell you that if you work on these seven areas, you will see a change in your responses and how others respond to you. These actions will have a positive effect in many areas of your life, not only your caregiving relationships but relationships with coworkers and supervisors and in your personal relationships.

0:09:05:94 Pamela D Wilson: One reason why strong caregivers make better caregivers is that they are able to monitor their emotional responses and think before reacting. Additionally, when you do respond or react, you do so in such a way that the response you receive is collaborative instead of standoffish, suspicious, or refusing. An example, how many times have you told an aging parent they should do something, and it didn’t go well?

0:09:38:41 Pamela D Wilson: Like, “Mom or Dad, you should listen to The Caring Generation podcast it might help with some of the problems you have.” Versus, “mom or dad, I’ve been listening to this podcast, and the host talks a lot about the experiences we are having in our family related to caregiving, aging, health, and family relationships. I think this show might be helpful for our situation. We might learn about new resources or ways we should be thinking about caregiving.

0:10:11:30 Pamela D Wilson: What do you think about me adding the app to your cellphone and your computer, and then we can listen together?” Can you visualize the different reactions from your parents between the first and the second examples? More on this after a break. This is Pamela Wilson on The Caring Generation. Pay it forward to help others who may be dealing with health, aging, or caregiving issues by sharing information about this show and my website

0:10:44:63 Pamela D Wilson: The Caring Generation is available worldwide on your favorite podcast and music apps: Apple, Google, I Heart Radio, JioSaavn, Spreaker, Amazon Music, Breaker, Deezer, Listen Notes, Pandora, Player FM, Pocket Casts, Podcast Addict, Podchaser, Stitcher, Spotify, Tune In, and Vurbl.  You don’t have to do caregiving or aging all alone. I’m here to help. Visit my website to schedule a 1:1 telephone or video consultation with me. Click on How I Help, Then Family Caregivers, and then Eldercare Consultation. This is Pamela D Wilson on the Caring Generation. Stay with me; I’ll be right back.


0:11:55:81 Pamela D Wilson: This is Pamela D Wilson on the Caring Generation. Tips, articles, videos, this podcast, my book The Caregiving Trap: Solutions for Life’s Unexpected Changes, online webinar courses about guardianship, and things everyone should know about caring for aging parents or caring for yourself as an aging adult are on my website at

caregiver self concept0:12:21:14 Pamela D Wilson: Before the break, we were talking about the first action for why strong caregivers make better caregivers—monitoring emotional responses. Being attentive to our emotions—we can learn how they affect other people and can result in more positive interactions. The second action for why strong caregivers make better caregivers is becoming less entrenched in your beliefs. If you listen to or watch the news, you might realize that the United States and many countries at the moment are very polarized.

0:13:00:91 Pamela D Wilson: People have beliefs that are at opposite poles – like the North Pole and the South Pole. How many of you took a debate class in high school or college? A healthy internal or group debate can diffuse argumentative situations because of the process of using critical thinking skills and reason to support a point of view. Things that always don’t occur when the news is being reported. Participating in a debate is an interesting experience because you may not agree with the principle of the subject you are debating.

0:13:38:58 Pamela D Wilson: Instead, you research, find information to support the point of view or issue. You hold your emotions in check and explain the issue in simple terms. Debating helps support a larger view of a topic and reduces the likelihood of being entrenched in beliefs, especially if you are supporting the opposite side of an issue. How does the idea of debating contribute to why strong caregivers make better caregivers?

0:14:08:53 Pamela D Wilson: Think of an issue you might be experiencing with the person you care for and look at the variety of opinions that exist. Can you group them on one side or the other, the North or South Pole? Great! You probably have an opinion of which side you are on. But what if—you were assigned the opposite of your belief. What questions would you have to ask? What research would you have to do to support an opinion that is the opposite of yours?

0:14:39:41 Pamela D Wilson: And even better, what might you learn? After you do this go back, and with the knowledge you gained support your original position. The skills learned through the process of debating a point of view can help you discuss difficult topics related to care situations by looking at both sides. The ability to initiate discussions about difficult topics is the third reason why strong caregivers make better caregivers.

0:15:08:99 Pamela D Wilson: Let’s be honest many families push caregiving discussions to the bottom of the pile because they are uncomfortable, have resulted in prior arguments or hurt feelings, and unless an individual or a caregiver has a proposed plan, discussions can circle and circle for days, weeks, months or years and go nowhere.  How many of you feel like you are stuck in limbo? You might be a caregiver waiting for an aging parent’s health to get better or worse.

0:15:38:64 Pamela D Wilson: You don’t know if in-home care is a solution or if moving a parent to assisted living is a better plan. Maybe you’re trying to decide whether you should take a job in another city or stay in town to help aging parents. Life has so many situations that are unpredictable, for which the outcome is impossible to know. Crises results in many families making rushed choices that they later regret if there is no a plan in place for the care of an aging parent or a spouse.

0:16:10:22 Pamela D Wilson: Sometimes, it is possible to go back and improve the situation. Other times what’s done is done, and a new plan is needed. If you are in this type of situation, the first three suggestions for why strong caregivers make better caregivers can guide you down the path of having a discussion to resolve an unknown outcome. Monitor your emotions, become more balanced in your beliefs and your thinking, look at the conversation as a debate, and begin talking.

0:16:45:95 Pamela D Wilson: If caregiving problems have been ongoing in a family, allowing everyone to get their emotions on the table may be the only way to get started. In these situations, hurt feelings are likely to result. Family members may blame each other or themselves for the present situation. Feeling like a burden or feeling guilty may be a repeated topic.

0:17:09:44 Pamela D Wilson: Fear of making a mistake may be a concern. It’s okay everyone is entitled to their feelings. The next step is to identify a list of issues or problems and the different points of view that exist. It’s okay not to have all of the answers in the first discussion. The goal is to leave the discussion with tasks or assignments for everyone. To investigate options with the agreement that all will be open-minded and not set on there being only one way to solve the issue.

0:17:45:20 Pamela D Wilson: When consensus or agreement exists that there may be more than one way to look at a solution, collaboration and cooperation in your family may improve. On the other hand, you may have family members that refuse to participate. That’s okay too. Those who refuse to participate are not allowed to criticize the decisions that might be made. It takes a strong caregiver to lead this type of family caregiver discussion.

0:18:18:75 Pamela D Wilson: Make sure you are prepared with an agenda, the issues to be discussed, questions to be asked, and research that needs to be done. The strong caregiver uses leadership and teamwork skills to pull everyone together. If there is no family and it’s you and a parent or both parents, then the same process applies. Initiate the discussion, gather opinions, agree, look at both sides and make the best decision you can based on the facts and the research at hand.

0:18:52:34 Pamela D Wilson: Making care decisions is not easy because change usually is involved. What changes must aging parents make or choose not to make? What are the consequences? What is the current and future involvement of adult children caregivers—how might this change today or in the future? All challenging decisions to make. As you gain skills and confidence in managing care situations, your confidence and self-esteem will increase, resulting in you becoming a strong caregiver who, instead of running from problems, chooses to become a problem solver.

0:19:32:87 Pamela D Wilson: But what happens when caregivers go through this exercise, and there are no good options?  Reason four for why strong caregivers become better caregivers is the ability to put negative thoughts or situations into perspective. Every problem has solutions, even though the stages to solve the problem may be down a windy road instead of having a direct path. One of the most common concerns for caregiving families is money.

0:20:05:78 Pamela D Wilson: Your parents need care, and they lack the money to pay for caregivers or a care community. Their bank accounts? They’re zeroed out each month. You work and are contributing financially to their care, but this is placing you in a financial bind. While you may feel guilty that you can’t do more, the reality is that you can’t do more. What are the options?

0:20:31:73 Pamela D Wilson:  More on this after this break. If you are looking for help navigating the healthcare system, decision-making about care for elderly parents, or making a care plan for yourself, I can help. Visit my website and schedule an eldercare consultation. This is Pamela D Wilson on The Caring Generation. Stay with me; I’ll be right back.


0:21:17:09 Pamela D Wilson: This is Pamela Wilson, caregiving expert, author, and speaker on The Caring Generation. If you are a working caregiver, and your company does not currently offer support, resources, or educational programs for caregivers—it’s time. Share my information with your human resources department and ask them to contact me. I provide on-site and virtual programs for corporations and groups interested in supporting caregivers. More information is on my website at

0:21:49:24 Pamela D Wilson: We are back to talk about putting the negative into perspective and solving problems that appear at first to have no solution or a solution we may not want to consider. This takes us to number five for why strong caregivers make better caregivers. In the midst of adversity, you challenge limiting beliefs and create positivity to make lemonade out of lemons. Care situations in each family can be very different, but somewhere along the way, it is very possible that another person or family faced a similar situation.

0:22:31:02 Pamela D Wilson: In this case, not having enough money to pay for the care of a parent—where do you turn? I have two recommendations. The first is to contact your local Area Agency on Aging. The second is to contact your local county department of human services, the aging division. If you google these terms, you’ll be able to find these resources.

0:22:57:87 Pamela D Wilson: Building a positive attitude to challenge your beliefs about what is possible or negative family beliefs is why strong caregivers make better caregivers. If you lack social or emotional support, if you feel dragged down by the problems of the world—hint: stop watching or limit your consumption of the news you’ve got enough on your plate. Or, if you feel dragged down by listening to people criticize one another, join an online support group.

0:23:31:32 Pamela D Wilson: My online support group on Facebook is called The Caregiving Trap. It’s named after my book. There are caring people in this group from all over the world—all ages, all caregiving situations—who will lift you up and support you. Another recommendation is to become more educated about caregiving, health, family relationships, healthcare, and legal issues. My website features my Caring for Aging Parents Blog, the Caring Generation podcasts that you’re listening to this week—today. Plus, there are two online webinar classes—as easy as binge-watching your favorite TV series.

0:24:08:52 Pamela D Wilson: Strong caregivers make better caregivers because you choose to take the lead in solving problems instead of constantly running behind. Challenging limiting beliefs puts you in the driver’s seat to be more pleasantly assertive to get your needs, or the needs of aging parents met. You are also more assertive to meet your needs for self-care instead of placing your well-being at the bottom of the pile.

0:24:35:17 Pamela D Wilson: When you place you and your needs last, many parts of your life suffer. The effects of being a caregiver extend for years to long-term effects on your physical and mental well-being when that two weeks you thought you would be a caregiver turns in to ten or more years.  Making others a priority puts a damper on your emotional health and self-esteem, making any type of decision-making more challenging.

0:25:04:84 Pamela D Wilson: If you feel stuck, there may be an imbalance somewhere in your life. In stuck situations where you are having difficulty putting all of the moving pieces on a list or on a whiteboard, it may be time to challenge any limiting beliefs that are still holding you back and seek support. Support may be talking to a doctor, a CPA, a financial planner, an elder law attorney, or a caregiving consultant or expert like myself.

0:25:35:09 Pamela D Wilson: I talk to caregivers every day who search for solutions and come up empty because they don’t make their way to someone who can help or to the right person with the experience who can help. In many cases, if it’s a caregiving issue, that person is me. You can contact me through my website or follow me on social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linked In, and my YouTube channel with hundreds of videos.

0:26:04:18 Pamela D Wilson: Caregivers, aging adults, you are not alone. Number six for why strong caregivers make better caregivers is that you choose to stay away from or end relationships with toxic people in your life. Who are these toxic people? They may be a friend who has no caregiving experience who talks down to you, criticizes you, or others in your family. Toxic people can be unhelpful siblings or other family members who tell you what to do but never offer to help.

0:26:38:71 Pamela D Wilson: More importantly, as a caregiver, you recognize if circumstances or situations are turning you into a toxic person. Toxic caregivers can have behaviors that drive potentially helpful people away. There are times when caregivers become so emotionally stressed and want so badly to be heard that they dump all of their problems and life issues on people who have no power to help or who have the power to help and refuse because of the emotional instability of the caregiver.

0:27:19:28 Pamela D Wilson: Being composed and being toxic are at two ends of the spectrum. Remember the North and South Pole example and our discussion of debating opposite points of view. Who would you rather help? Person A who is polite, composed and can express their needs clearly in 5 or 10 minutes of time, or Person B who is emotional, angry and goes on and on for 30 minutes without making any sense – without getting to the point of their distress and who never asks if you had 30 minutes to listen?

0:28:01:44 Pamela D Wilson: I have been in conversations with caregivers who were so distraught they could not give me an answer to “how can I help you” or “what help do you want.”  These caregivers didn’t know because the circumstances of their situations became so overwhelming that their mental abilities, their brains, couldn’t focus or identify the help they wanted.

0:28:26:44 Pamela D Wilson: Stress, distress, anger, and resentment contribute to poor decision-making and scattered thinking. If you are in this place, identify toxic people or toxic situations and whether these are healthy for you or not. Sometimes the toxic person may be the person you care for. In this case, learning to set very strict boundaries, to bring in outside help, or to investigate other care options may be the only solution to preserve your well-being.

0:29:03:39 Pamela D Wilson: If you take these steps, you will come out stronger on the other side. If you need to talk to a caregiving expert, feel free to go to my website and set up an eldercare consultation. Strong caregivers make better caregivers because they choose to go further in their learning and personal development than other people. Strong caregivers are also kind, compassionate, empathetic, and able to set boundaries. They also learn to protect and balance their feelings.

0:29:34:75 Pamela D Wilson: More on this topic up next when Dr. Mark Leary joins us to talk about his research and share insights about how to manage feelings and occasions where you might feel a little rejected or guilty about saying no.  We’re off to a short break. Thank you for following and communicating with me on social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linked In, and YouTube, where I have hundreds of videos that answer the question you post on social media every day, in my caregiver support group, The Caregiving Trap and by completing the caregiver survey on my website Stay with me; I’ll be right back.


0:30:42:09 Pamela D Wilson: This is Pamela D Wilson, caregiving expert, advocate, and speaker. Are there days when you wish you had someone to talk to, someone to reaffirm that you are doing the right things? You’re in the right place with me here on The Caring Generation. I’d like you to meet Dr. Mark Leary, a researcher, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University, who is recognized internationally as a leading expert in social and personal psychology.

0:31:17:46 Pamela D Wilson: Dr. Leary, thank you so much for joining me.

0:31:20:14 Dr. Mark Leary: I’m happy to be here. Thanks for asking.

0:31:23:10 Pamela D Wilson: So, let’s start with our first question. Why is human behavior greatly influenced by the desire to avoid rejection?

0:31:31:80 Dr. Mark Leary: Well, that’s a great question because concerns with being accepted by others. Concerns with belonging to groups is really a part of human nature. We are all afraid of rejection. And the big reason is that throughout human evolution, our prehistoric ancestors could not have survived for more than a few days if they hadn’t been accepted members of supportive social groups. If you think of yourself out on the plans of Africa for millions of years in human evolution, how long would you have gotten by—by yourself?

0:32:03:74 Dr. Mark Leary: You had to be a member of a supported group who was there to offer help. To help protect you from predators, to help find food, to protect your children. So we are the descendants of people who were most concerned about acceptance and belonging because rejection would have meant that you didn’t survive. So its wired into our brains. It’s a natural part of human nature to be concerned with what other people think of us. How much they value us and how much they accept us, and most importantly, to try to avoid being rejected.

0:32:34:90 Pamela D Wilson: Well, and you made a great point about survival. Caregivers are very stressed, and they really do need help from other people to what I call survive. But yet they can unintentionally turn people away by exhibiting strong emotions. What recommendations do you have around that?

0:32:51:77 Dr. Mark Leary: It’s very stressful to be a caregiver. I’m not a direct caregiver, but my parents are in their early 90’s, and my brother is doing an awful lot of caregiving. And I can see the stress that he’s under, and sometimes it does push people to the edge. They’re trying to balance the people they are taking care of against the rest of their lives. And they have strong emotions, and they do rant about it. They take it out on other people. They just, everywhere they go, they’re talking about what a stressor this is.

0:33:18:87 Dr. Mark Leary: What they don’t realize is that’s alienating an awful lot of the people who could be helping. Maybe providing practical help but even just providing emotional help by talking about the stressors the caregiver is under. But nobody wants to talk to people who are ranting and upset and complaining all the time. Whether it’s your friends, your other family members, or medical professionals, or whoever. So I think it’s just important to realize that we can turn other people off very quickly.

0:33:46:99 Dr. Mark Leary: That they will distance themselves because it’s not pleasant to interact with people who are upset a great deal. Now again, I don’t want to sound like I’m faulting the caregiver. It’s understandable that they’re upset. But I do think that they have to be on guard for behaving in ways that alienate other people who could be a source of support. Now part of the problem is that other people rarely come right back at us when we are acting out, and we are ranting, and we’re upset, and we’re angry.

0:34:18:30 Dr. Mark Leary: They rarely say, “go away. I don’t want to talk to you.” They’re not that explicit. The cues that they give off that they convey that they’re upset are much more subtle. They just become more quiet they don’t respond to our calls, for example. So I would just caution people to be aware of the fact that this very natural level of upset that you have because you’re so stressed out as a caregiver could, in fact alienate people who are on your side and just to be aware of that and attuned to that possibility. And be on the lookout for cues that maybe you’re pushing away the people that you would really like to have being working on your side.

0:34:55:85 Pamela D Wilson. And taking this one step further, individuals respond to others based on how much they value that relationship with the other person. What are signs of low value versus high-value relationships?

0:35:10:10 Dr. Mark Leary: The biggest sign of knowing that other people value their relationship with you—the most blatant signs are their responsiveness in a number of ways. When we feel like other people are being responsive to us, it signifies they value their connection with us. They’re going to spend time with us. So these might be very small signs of responsiveness, as subtle as are they paying attention when we talk to them.

0:35:37:64 Dr. Mark Leary: Do they seem engaged in their interactions with us? Do they seek us out from time to time? Those are very mild things, but they do indicate that that other person wants to interact with us and values us. More extreme cases of responsiveness is they do react to our needs for help. They seek us out, and they say, “is there anything I can do for you?” So it’s really responsiveness is the signal that other people value their connection with us, and they’re going to invest time and energy of their own to help support us.

0:36:08:21 Pamela D Wilson: And then, what is the opposite? So could you give maybe an example of a low-value relationship interaction?

0:36:16:60 Dr. Mark Leary: Those would be interactions where the other person doesn’t seem to care. They’re not paying attention. They’re not responsive. They’re not pursuing the kinds of questions they should be asking you, given what you just said. So I think the biggest signal to me is that the other person seems indifferent to their interaction with me, and that shows that they really don’t value their connection. If they did, they would be investing their attention and their time, and their effort in interacting with me. And of course, by the same token, we need to be aware that our responsiveness to other people signals the degree to which we value our relationship with them.

0:36:52:87 Pamela D Wilson: You know you made a great point, and so this next question kind of follows on what you’ve been talking about. So, a lot of caregivers who ask for help sometimes are refused, and so they don’t want to ask again. So earlier, you talked about emotional outbursts that might drive people away, and then this low-value high-value relationship. How do caregivers become more comfortable with asking even though they know somebody may say no, but there’s the opportunity for that person to eventually say yes?

0:37:25:00 Dr. Mark Leary: I think it’s really useful for us to not overinterpret other people’s refusals to help us from time to time. What is the risk in asking? The worst that they can do is say no. That’s what people say. Why not ask? Well, actually, it’s worse than that. If that was the only problem. They’re simply going to turn me down. There is no risk, and I would ask you again and again and again. And maybe you turn me down again, and again, and again. But what’s the risk?

0:38:01:16 Dr. Mark Leary: Well, what the risk is, I think what people are afraid of is that being repeatedly turned down when you ask for help is a sign that you don’t have high relational value. It’s a bit of a sign of almost something like rejection, and that’s sort of a heavy term for this. But if I’m continually saying, “please, Pamela, I need some help here. Can you sort of free me up to do this, can you tell me about that,” and you continually say no. It’s not just a practical refusal to help me.

0:38:29:53 Dr. Mark Leary: It’s also a signal that you’re not invested enough in my well-being to give me a hand now and then. And I think that’s what hurts. The refusal hurts my feelings. I feel devalued. Because people are turning me down.  So from the standpoint of the caregiver asking for help, I think what the caregiver has to do is to separate the practical from the personal implications of that refusal. The practical implication is, ‘you just said you didn’t want to help”, what’s the big deal?

0:39:01:94 Dr. Mark Leary: But the personal implications are that I personally now feel rejected. You’re not being responsive to me. You’re not valuing your relationship with me. And I think caregivers need to realize that when other people turn you down, it’s not necessarily a personal rejection of you. In fact, it’s probably not. The people you’re asking have their own complicated lives and the things that they’re judging and juggling, and when they’re asked for more, sometimes they can’t do it, so they say no. So I think a caregiver needs to learn not to take no as a personal rejection. It feels that way a lot, and maybe it is from time to time, but usually, it’s just the fact that the other person has a complicated life and can’t do whatever it is you ask.

0:39:46:00 Pamela D Wilson: And we talked about high-value relationships and people being invested in helping each other. But then how do caregivers balance their desire to be valued or helpful to aging parents when, what you just mentioned, sometimes people will have so much going on. Their jobs, their kids, they’re trying to go to school, they’re trying to do all this stuff. And yet, sometimes caregivers do need to say no to parents and come up with other options. How do they balance that?

0:40:14:25 Dr. Mark Leary: Yes, that’s tough. That is probably the central problem that caregivers have. And if you think of it in terms of people’s concerns with their value to other people, what it really comes down to is that I don’t have enough time and energy, and resources to do things that make me valued in all of my relationships. Yes, I want to be valued by my aging parents and help them all I can.

0:40:36:79 Dr. Mark Leary: I want to take care of them.  But I also have to have valued relationships with my children, or my partner, or my boss, or my coworkers or my friends, or the community groups I’m in. And pulling back on any of those can damage my connections with other people. I become a less valuable relationship partner to any one of those people to the extent that I devote more time and attention to one or more of the other relationships. So it’s a zero-sum game sometimes.

0:41:05:55 Dr. Mark Leary: I don’t have the time to maintain all of these things. And I think that once people understand that it is sort of a zero-sum game, and they’re not likely to be able to do everything they want to do to maintain all of these relationships, that’s going to be impossible. Then at least you don’t feel as guilty about it. Then you’re just balancing your life as best you can, and it’s not always going to work, and different people will be upset with you.

0:41:35:18 Dr. Mark Leary: Your parents are upset you couldn’t help with this problem. Your children are upset because you’re spending too much time with grandma and grandpa, and your partner is upset because this other thing that he or she wanted to do can’t get done. But that’s what happens when you don’t have enough time. Let me just say, going back to our prehistoric ancestors. I am daily amazed that we are able to cope with the onslaught of responsibilities we have today. Our brains were not designed for the lives that we live.

0:42:04:19 Dr. Mark Leary: Certainly, caregivers’ brains were not designed to balance all this stuff. Because for millions of years, our prehistoric ancestors didn’t do this stuff. They lived in a supportive social group. Maybe 30 or 40 people they’ve known since birth. What did they do with their lives? They wandered around looking for food, trying to be safe—not to be attacked by predators, taking care of their kids, interacting with their group members, and when there were problems, they all joined in to take care of them.

0:42:35:47 Dr. Mark Leary: They collectively took care of the kids. They collectively took care of the elderly in a group. And if you compare that life, which we wouldn’t want to change places. We don’t want to live out in the African Savannah in a clan. But when you compare the simplicity of the daily lives of our prehistoric ancestors who were living at the time our brains evolved, it’s amazing to me that you and I can navigate our complicated social worlds at all.

0:43:01:21 Dr. Mark Leary: So caregivers need to give themselves a break. You were not designed to take on this many responsibilities and deal with this many people. So it’s going to fail sometimes. But it shouldn’t feel like a failure. It’s amazing you do as well as you do.

0:43:14:93 Pamela D Wilson. Well, and I’m glad you brought up the word collective. So there are many groups today that still have this collectivist attitude toward taking care of aging parents. And the pressure that the parents place on all of the children. But sometimes, to your point, the children have to say no because of relationships becoming unbalanced. So how would children talk to a parent to say, “gosh, you know I value our relationship, but I have to say no.” How do they have that conversation, so the parent doesn’t feel hurt or rejected?

0:43:48:38 Dr. Mark Leary: I think the answer is exactly the way you worded it there. To be very explicit and say, “mom and dad, I love you guys. You know I do. I’m doing everything I can, and I value you, and I’m doing what I can, but tonight I can’t come and do this thing you want me to do because,” whatever the reason is. Now, the person being taken care of—they still may have their feelings hurt. Maybe they don’t understand the complexity of the caregiver’s life.

0:44:16:67 Dr. Mark Leary: So this will not always work. But I would just recommend being as explicit as possible when you’re doing something that might hurt the other individual’s feelings or make them feel like they’re not being valued. We do this with our friends and partners all the time. For example, when we’re going to criticize them or we can’t do what they want. We say, “honey, you know I adore you, but.”

0:44:39:73 Dr. Mark Leary: You know we preface it with this affirmation of the degree to which we value them and the relationship before we deliver the bad news that we can’t do what they want or we have some criticism. I think that just being really, really explicit but again, understanding, particularly in the case of aging parents. They won’t completely understand. They have strong needs, and they’re anxious about those needs at times, and they’re not always going to understand.

0:45:06:05 Dr. Mark Leary: And I think the caregiver has to understand that the person being taken care of isn’t going to understand sometimes. But really be explicit about the value and the care and don’t convey resentment. It doesn’t help to say, well look how much I do for you, and now you’re upset because I couldn’t do this thing. That doesn’t help. Just reaffirm the value of the relationship.

0:45:26:48 Pamela D Wilson: Thank you for that, and so that last question I want to ask you is that caregivers feel guilty all the time about things they can’t do and sometimes the solution is hiring outside help or moving mom or dad to assisted living. Having to have those conversations. So how do caregivers minimize feeling guilty when they have to say, “mom or dad, I can’t do this, but there’s this other option.”

0:45:48:52 Dr. Mark Leary: I think anytime we deal with guilt, we need to remember what guilt is there for. What’s the function of the emotion of guilt? It’s to signal us that perhaps, not certainly, but perhaps we have done something that was socially inappropriate. That might hurt other people that lower our value to other people in the community. And when we can’t help people who need it, that is a natural cause of us to feel guilt. Because normally we ought to help people who need it.

0:46:16:55 Dr. Mark Leary: But guilt isn’t a sign that we’re doing something wrong necessarily. We can override it in our own minds by telling ourselves, “no, this is the right thing to do. Even if people are upset with me and even if I feel badly, I don’t have to take that emotion too seriously in every occasion.” So guilt is a warning, but think about it rationally, and you can often override it by saying I don’t need to feel guilty about this. I’m doing everything that I can.

0:46:42:68 Pamela D Wilson: Dr. Leary, I thank you so much for your time and for all the insights that you offered.

0:46:47:89 Dr. Mark Leary: It’s great talking with you.

0:46:49:40 Pamela D Wilson: This is Pamela D Wilson on The Caring Generation, available worldwide on your favorite music and podcast apps. Listen and follow the program for proven, reliable tips, information, resources, and research about caregiving, aging, health, and everything in between. Add the podcast app to your cellphone and the cellphones and computers of family members and aging parents to share the learning. We’re off to a break. I’m Pamela D Wison on The Caring Generation. Stay with me; I’ll be right back.


0:47:53:30 Pamela D Wilson: This is Pamela D Wilson on The Caring Generation. Is your group, company, or organization curious or seeking practical education about caregiving, health, and navigating the healthcare system? if yes, please visit the caregiver speaker pages on my website to learn more about virtual or on-site speaking events and unique education programs that I create and present to meet the unique needs of each audience.

strong caregivers0:48:20:24 Pamela D Wilson: We are back with number seven in the list of why strong caregivers make better caregivers. As a caregiver, when you feel self-confident in your thoughts and actions, you help aging parents and loved ones make better decisions. The care you provide is more focused and targeted on the needs of aging parents. Think of a time when you achieved a goal and how you felt.

0:48:47:81 Pamela D Wilson: The goals that caregivers set, whether to help mom or dad manage a health condition or ensure parents receive healthy meals, make a huge difference in supporting the self-esteem and independence of aging parents. Professional caregivers also have goals. It may be to see a patient released from the hospital or a patient in a doctor’s office finding the help they need to manage a medical condition.

0:49:16:43 Pamela D Wilson: When you are committed to doing your best, you don’t take no from someone who may not be able to help. You keep going, and you find someone who can and is willing to help.  Strong caregivers eliminate toxic naysayers and are not swayed by others who are so entrenched and stuck in their beliefs that they refuse to look at other options. Strong caregivers make better caregivers because they inspire and empower other caregivers.

0:49:48:62 Pamela D Wilson: Pamela D Wilson: Caregivers in all walks of life, whether you are a family caregiver or a caregiver working in a private home, a medical clinic, or a care community, support what I call the underdog.  The people who for some reason can’t care for themselves—due to health issues or cognitive impairment—a diagnosis of dementia, Alzheimer’s. These caregivers refuse to allow neglect or elder abuse go unreported.

0:50:20:54 Pamela D Wilson: I am thankful to the professional caregivers and family caregivers who contact me to ask what should be done about care situations where concerns of family neglect or abuse occur. Sometimes many of you want to do the right thing, but you’re not sure what that right thing is, and you’re afraid of making a mistake. Thank you for standing up for the elderly, the older adults, who cannot advocate for themselves.

0:50:48:63 Pamela D Wilson: I know there are days when you feel like you can’t go on. Days when it is challenging to think of a single positive thought or a reason why you should get up tomorrow morning and go through another day like today. But you do. You do because you’ve learned, and you’ve worked to create positive habits and acquire the skills to be a strong caregiver. The next thing I ask of all caregivers is to become a strong advocate for you.

0:51:22:48 Pamela D Wilson: Caring for others is hard work and has far-reaching effects on your life. Consider the duty to take care of yourself to break the pattern of passing caregiving responsibilities down from generation to generation. Break family patterns where having a chronic disease or illness is expected, and it takes away daily abilities for self-care. Learn about health, well-being, self-care as early as possible and teach your children and your aging parents.

0:51:59:28 Pamela D Wilson: The situations we experience with Medicare and Medicaid and funding for aging programs will not change until consumers until caregivers decide enough is enough. Until we take control of our health and our well-being and choose to be healthy through our daily actions. We can change healthcare and aging one person at a time. Strong caregivers can change the future.

0:52:27:20 Pamela D Wilson:  If you are an aging adult or a caregiver not sure what to do or how to plan for care, or how to get your time and your life back, or if you’ve tried to have conversations with your aging parents and your children, and those didn’t go so well, my website offers resources for caregivers.

0:52:46:09 Pamela D Wilson: Check out my caregiving library, my Caring for Aging Parents blog with many articles, listen to all of The Caring Generation podcasts, read the show transcripts that include links to research by my program guests, and check out my online caregiver courses in webinar format – they are like binge-watching your favorite television show.  You can also watch hundreds of videos on my Facebook and YouTube channels.

0:53:10:83 Pamela D Wilson: There’s something for everyone at This is Pamela D. Wilson, caregiving expert, advocate, and speaker. I look forward to being with you again soon. God bless you all. Love to everyone. Sleep well tonight. Have a fabulous day tomorrow and pleasant journeys until we are here together again.

0:53:32:20 Announcer: Tune in each week for The Caring Generation with host Pamela D Wilson. Come join the conversation and see how Pamela can provide solutions and peace of mind for everyone here on Pamela D Wilson’s The Caring Generation.


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About Pamela Wilson

PAMELA D. WILSON, MS, BS/BA, NCG, CSA helps caregivers and aging adults solve caregiving problems and manage caregiving needs through online programs, live support groups, and an extensive caregiving library that includes articles, podcasts, videos, and webinars.

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