Toxic Caregiving Habits
The Caring Generation® – Episode 114 December 1, 2021, In this episode caregiving expert, Pamela D Wilson discusses how toxic caregiving habits can ruin family relationships between caregivers and care receivers. Learn how to identify toxic caregiving habits and choose to repair fractured relationships.
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How Toxic Caregiving Habits Ruin Relationships
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.
How to Know If Your Caregiving Relationships is Toxic
Watch More Videos About Caregiving and Aging on Pamela’s YouTube Channel
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, navigating the healthcare system, 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. You are in exactly the right place to share stories, learn about caregiving programs and resources to help you and your loved one plan for what’s ahead. Invite your aging parents, spouses, family, friends, and co-workers who may be caring for their family to listen to the show. If you have a question or an idea for a future program, share your idea with me by responding to my social media posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Linked In, or YouTube.
Toxic Behaviors Result from Relationship Imbalances
Today, we will talk about toxic caregiving habits that negatively affect caregiver and care receiver relationships from a shared perspective. For example, habits and behaviors that both the caregiver and the care receiver may exhibit in their relationships and relationships with providers, like doctors or medical staff who become involved in care situations or even people at work.
Let’s begin with the idea of wanting to be in control. Relationships between two people work best when there is an equal give and take or an equal balance. When any relationship becomes imbalanced, one or both people can feel like they are losing control. The result can be anger or resentment. Let’s talk more specifically about toxic caregiving habits and different concepts of control. There is the control that we feel we have over our daily lives.
Before becoming a caregiver, a spouse, son, or daughter might have felt that they generally controlled their daily lives and activities. Being in control links to choosing activities that one wants to do versus has to do. Many people work—some love what they do, others not so much.
Having a job is a choice so that you receive a paycheck to pay bills, rent or a mortgage, buy groceries, etc. When the role of becoming a caregiver enters the picture often unexpectedly the additional responsibilities throw a wrench into previously established routines.
Vague Timelines for Caregiving Increase Stress
One of the challenges with caregiving is the unknown. How long will responsibilities last? What are the expectations? How will the change in routine affect the caregiver’s life and the caregiver’s family—a spouse and children? A toxic caregiving habit common to caregivers and care receivers is the expectation that the situation will improve.
As a result, honest discussions about caregiving responsibilities for the caregiver and the care receiver’s needs rarely happen when care begins. Families may have a sense of denial about increasing needs or lack time sensitivity for talking about the issues. This habit of procrastination can result in toxic caregiver relationships. To help this toxic caregiving habit make a little more sense, let’s compare denial, a lack of time sensitivity, and procrastination to talking about caregiving to make a plan or experiencing a health crisis.
A health crisis may be the reason that caregiving arose as a responsibility. Not having a conversation about caregiving duties or early health concerns pose serious consequences that few people consider. Mostly because of an experience gap, not knowing any better, distrust, time constraints, failure to see the issue as a priority, or fear.
Being in Denial or Procrastinating Increases the Likelihood of Dealing with Crises
Let’s say that you don’t feel well, and you think, “oh, this will pass.” But 30 days later, you still don’t feel well. One individual—who has a habit of being proactive and is generally conscientious—may make a doctor appointment to find out what might be causing this not feeling healthy issue. Another person may say. “I don’t have a doctor, so I can’t get medical treatment. Taking time off work isn’t possible.”
“Going to the doctor is too time-consuming—waiting in the office is a waste of time. The doctor probably won’t know what’s wrong anyway or will want to give me pills to take. I hate taking pills.” Another person may be afraid of seeing a doctor because of a prior negative experience.
Fear may exist about receiving a serious health diagnosis. On the other hand, there may be hesitation to attend an appointment to hear the same old thing—lose weight, monitor your blood pressure, your blood sugar is too high, stop drinking, smoking, and doing other things that don’t support your health.
Do any of these reasons sound familiar to you for why you, an aging parent, or a spouse might not want to see a doctor? When you think of these examples, you might remember feeling criticized, judged by doctors or the medical system. You don’t want to participate in medical care because you feel the healthcare system is in control or is more interested in making money than caring for you.
Criticism and Judgment are Toxic Behaviors
Criticism and judgment are two toxic caregiving behaviors that are reciprocal—they go both ways. Specific to seeing a doctor, how might these toxic feelings be flipped upside down so that you, an aging parent, or a spouse, feel more in control?
Let’s look at the benefits of taking action versus procrastinating. Instead of thinking, “it’s going to get better,” rather than waiting you make the doctor appointment. Or if you don’t have a doctor, you find one and set an appointment.
The benefit of establishing regular care with a doctor instead of going to a mini-clinic at Walgreens or a grocery store—or, worst case, the emergency room—is that over time you can work to establish a trusting relationship with a medical professional who knows you. Many people tell me that they don’t trust doctors, or they’ve had a bad experience, felt judged, or were made to feel stupid.
You Get Out What You Put In
Here’s the secret. You get from doctor appointments and your health the efforts that you put forth. It can be difficult for a doctor who sees you for the first time for a 15 minute appointment to diagnose a health condition accurately.
Imagine, on the other side that this is a doctor you’ve seen for five years. You go every year, have regular blood tests, participate in preventative care—the chance of the doctor diagnosing your condition is pretty good. In the long run, this means that you have the opportunity to identify health conditions before they become serious or life-threatening, or before you or a loved one permanently experience daily suffering.
Let’s put this into the context of toxic caregiving habits—not talking about care relationships or planning for care needs. The results of procrastination can be negatively similar. You or a parent think that the situation will improve, but it doesn’t. Neither of you wants to initiate “the talk.”
Avoiding Issues Results in Feeling More Out of Control
Over time the caregiver feels more overwhelmed and emotionally stressed and shows impatience by being more critical or negative. These are habits and behaviors that happen when a person feels out of control or that there is too much to do. Being a caregiver can quickly grow into a part-time or a full-time job that you didn’t plan for or discuss.
Your parent’s health may get progressively worse because of not seeing a doctor or not following through with the doctor’s recommendations. Your parent gets angrier about not doing the things they enjoy yet does nothing to change the situation.
As the caregiver, your parent or spouse may notice your stress and begin feeling similarly. Mom or dad may feel like a burden, so they become more critical and thankless. Their life may feel very out of control, especially if there are a lot of health issues that they ignored for many of the reasons we just discussed.
Reasons Self-Care Must Become a Priority
While the time for self-care and healthy activities is often placed at the bottom of the pile, it’s one of the most important actions everyone can take to avoid health issues and suffering later in life. Not being attentive to health when young has consequences when you are older. Fear of talking about caregiving in families, seeing a doctor for regular care, or when sick will affect your emotional and physical life.
More stress and poorer health. If you are stuck in either of these two specific situations today, you have a choice. Stay in procrastination mode and watch the situation get worse or identify negative consequences so that you can minimize or avoid them.
If you have experience gaps or fears around making a plan for caregiving or addressing health issues, seek help. Individuals will say, “I wasn’t sick enough to do anything about it,” or “it wasn’t that bad until now.” When diagnosed with cancer or having an emotional breakdown, they admit that they should have sought help earlier.
Don’t Allow Toxic Habits to Detract From Goals
Now the situation, whatever it is, will take much more time and effort and in many cases, money to resolve. There is no need to allow fear, uncertainty, or a lack of confidence to place your well-being and health at a disadvantage. Don’t allow toxic caregiving habits to take you off track from your goals, the person you want to be, or the life you want to live.
The results we experience in our daily lives come from where we consistently place our time and attention. Where do you put your attention every day? What thoughts fill your mind? Do you have a daily action plan, or do weeks, months, and years go by where you feel like you’re drifting?
What positive caregiving habits can you create from toxic experiences? How can you flip your story or repetitive beliefs or thoughts that don’t serve you? Your life experiences are as much from thoughts as they are from actions.
Why Always Having to Be Right Is One-Sided
Next, let’s talk about the toxic caregiving habit of always having to be right. Admitting mistakes can be a bruise to the ego. Especially if a mistake results from a problem-solving gap, rushed decision-making, or inattention to minor details.
Beliefs and habits are derived from individual experiences. So, for example, if I had a bad experience at a doctor’s office, I may believe that all doctors are critical or will make me feel stupid.
But – have I asked myself how may I have contributed to that negative interaction? Did I go to the appointment with an attitude? Did I ask any questions? What information did I supply to the doctor to help with the reason for the visit?
Often, a person who needs to feel right will have a hard time admitting that their opinions, habits, beliefs, or behaviors contribute to the problem. So instead, they make excuses or blame other people for their difficulties or misfortune.
Learn to Apologize
Being unable to say “I’m sorry” or “I made a mistake” about small things can lead to more significant problems. Caregiving responsibilities grow to become overwhelming. As a result, stressed-out caregivers are more likely to make mistakes or be rushed for time and overlook options or details that are very important.
Care receivers can also fall into this trap when agreeing to a particular activity. Not following through—agreeing to see a doctor, take medications, or exercise can result in mistrust. Changing negative habits takes effort. Behavior change is not easy.
Becoming a good listener and asking questions is one path through feeling that you have to be right. How many people do you know who are not good listeners? Friends or family who have their minds made up about whatever it is, or have the answer or solution to a problem before they hear you out?
How Does Being Entrenched in Toxic Caregiving Behaviors Serve You?
Another toxic caregiving behavior is a lack of interest or ability to seek information, look at options, and gain knowledge. Being closed-minded can result in small problems blowing up into a major crisis. On the other hand, admitting that we don’t know what we don’t know is a step to personal growth and increasing self-esteem.
The question is, how does being entrenched in toxic caregiving behaviors serve you? Does it allow you to be the constant complainer looking for attention or sympathy from others? Do toxic caregiving behaviors allow you to avoid taking responsibility for your actions?
We’re off to a break. The Caring Generation is not limited by time zone or location—caregivers worldwide can listen any time of day. Visit my website pameladwilson.com to check out my caregiver course online that helps you make a care plan for aging parents.
The course is Taking Care of Elderly Parents: Stay at Home and Beyond. Includes are 30 hours of webinars and other information. You will learn practical steps for taking care of elderly parents, spouses, and others. Participating in the course is like binge-watching a Netflix series where you learn to prepare for everything you never expect, and you can always go back and watch it again.
This is Pamela D Wilson, caregiving speaker, expert, and advocate on The Caring Generation program for caregivers and aging adults. Whether you are twenty or 100 years old, you’re in exactly the right place to learn about caregiver support programs, health, well-being, and other resources to help you and your loved ones plan for what’s ahead. If you’re not sure how to talk to your children about caregiving issues, if you’ve tried to talk to your aging parents and that didn’t go so well, let me start the conversation for you.
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Knowing When to Choose Your Battles
We’re back with more on toxic caregiving habits and the idea of being right which is similar to being stubborn. Caregivers and care receivers can become more stubborn with time because one or the other doesn’t feel heard. Have you heard the saying “choose your battles?” Always being the person who has to win does not establish a relationship of common goals or best interest.
How do you know when to stay firm on a decision or action or when to walk away? If you know anything about negotiation, wisdom says that you can’t negotiate unless you’re willing to walk away. When care situations become highly emotional, emotions can drive increases in toxic caregiving habits.
Let’s say that you have a decision to make. How often do you carefully weigh the pros and cons, the positives and negative impacts on your life?
Part of this thought process relates to having that initial caregiving discussion that we talked about in the first part of this program. This conversation can set a balance point for caregiving relationships. When one side or the other seems off-balance, high expectations or stubbornness may result in a lack of sensitivity, making others feel as though their thoughts or emotions are not important.
Learning the Art of Compromise
Learning to compromise is a positive caregiving habit. Think of learning to compromise as improving your conflict management skills. When in a disagreement with another person, can you think of areas where you are inflexible or flexible? There are times when inflexibility comes down to personal values. For example, never lying or purposely misrepresenting information.
The difficulty is that others may not understand inflexible points. Managing toxic caregiving habits includes gaining a greater understanding of why we and others act as they do—as we do. It’s okay to say; “it seems like this is a non-bendable point for you. Can you help me understand why?” Similarly, you can say, “it sounds like we have some common ground here. How can we focus on our shared beliefs to move this discussion forward? “
One idea is to agree on what you can and then revisit the differences a week after the caregiver and the care receiver have had more time to consider the issues. After sleeping on it, you may find that the things you thought you were inflexible about become less critical.
Or you realize that some areas you felt you had commonality are now in question because of some new information that arose or consequences you did not anticipate. The goal is to keep the conversation flowing.
Why Feelings Matter
Another toxic caregiving habit that can take communication off track is minimizing feelings. Part of the issue with care relationships is that emotions can be stuffed or hidden, and an unexpected blowup occurs. Have you ever heard yourself or someone else says, “wow, I never knew you felt that way. ” If so, you may not be having enough or frequent enough conversations about important topics.
Why do people become stubborn or rigid? Caregivers fall into this pattern when they think they have to do it all or that other people won’t do as good of a job. It’s similar to perfectionism or feeling indispensable, but in a way, it’s the reverse toxic caregiving habit of judgment. A person thinks other people are not as capable or reliable, or trustworthy. So I’m going to push them away by being critical.
This toxic caregiving habit of criticism usually results in the caregiver doing more and becoming angry at family members for not offering to help. Driving away family members is an action taken by the caregiver that can be difficult to retract. We all have our habits and preferences of doing things a certain way. When routines or patterns are interrupted, we can get downright cranky.
Consistent Routines Build Trust
A consistent routine is beneficial for aging parents and spouses who need care. A regular schedule and routine work best for care receivers because loved ones know what to expect when.
Being consistently late or constantly making excuses for not keeping commitments is a toxic caregiving habit. These habits result in a lack of trust. Sometimes people don’t recall making a commitment to call at a particular time or visit or complete an action.
Part of this can be related to personal overscheduling or being too busy, disorganized, or inattentive. In these situations, the best thing you can do is to reserve judgment and say, “I’m following up because you said you were going to do X, and you didn’t call. Or I’m following up because this didn’t get completed. Am I missing something? Did I misunderstand your agreement to do this?”
Then the next time the same person makes a commitment, you can say, “I’m counting on you.” Life is full of everyday challenges. Learning to have conversations about gaps, whether negative caregiving habits, commitments, or misunderstanding, goes a long way to establishing trusting relationships. We’re all human.
Working to Change Negative Habits
Remember our discussion about apologizing after making a mistake? If you make a mistake, apologize, state what you will do differently next time, and then do it. Keep your word. If you have made significant mistakes or not kept commitments—whether you are the caregiver or the person who needs care you may have to start from scratch to build trust.
More importantly, be patient with yourself as you recognize any of the toxic caregiving habits that we’ve discussed. Identify which habit may be the most problematic. Work on ways to change this habit first.
Habit change doesn’t occur overnight. There may be times when we make progress and days when we backtrack. As you work to change habits, keep a journal. Write down your accomplishments. For example, there was a disagreement about this topic today, and these are the steps that I took to resolve it.
What is Holding You Back?
Look at how your fears or lack of confidence may be holding you back. Consider seeking advice on steps to close the knowledge gaps that exist. Realize that what works for someone else may not work for you. There may need to be a few adjustments.
When you become open-minded and committed to changing toxic caregiving habits, you will experience the results of your efforts by having more positive relationships with people in all areas of your life—not only caregiving. Toxic habits can negatively affect all life relationships.
Consider areas where you are critical or judgmental of others and ask yourself if these beliefs relate to the way you might feel about yourself. There are times when our feelings or judgments about others are a direct reflection of the way that we see ourselves.
Are You Holding Onto Past Resentments or Negative Experiences?
Imagine the experience of being able to suspend all judgment. Instead, gain an inner understanding that other people’s actions are more about their personal experiences and biases. Not all children grow up in a safe, loving, and nurturing home.
Think back to your grade school and high school years. Were there experiences of bullying or mistreatment that you remember today that you still carry with you?
Do you listen to the news and believe it without verifying if the information is accurate? There is a great deal of division and opposition in the world today. You get to choose which side you’re on.
The news can presents a slanted view of issues to sway consumer beliefs and intentions and emotions, and if you don’t realize this, you may be manipulated by the news. Rather than allowing yourself to be swayed by news, research information and investigate before you choose sides.
Stop the Spread of Toxic or Inaccurate Information
Otherwise, be a neutral person. This also helps in caregiving situations. For example, it’s okay to say, “I don’t have an opinion about that because I don’t have enough information from both sides to make an educated decision.” Or to say, “I had a negative experience with X. My negative experience does not mean that your experience will be the same.”
We can avoid spreading false information, false facts, and having toxic caregiving habits by considering that each situation—the people involved, their experiences, habits, knowledge, and beliefs are different— and that while we might be able to give an opinion IF asked, we and others should continue searching for facts.
Avoid falling fall into the toxic caregiving habit of giving unsolicited advice! Ask before giving your opinion.
Be the Change You Want to See
Managing care situations can be challenging. It’s not always easy to know what to do. If you are in a situation of planning for yourself, aging parents or a loved one and you’re not sure what to do, schedule a 1:1 eldercare consultation with me. Visit my website PamelaDWilson.com, click on how I help, next family caregivers, and then eldercare consultation.
Thank you for joining me on The Caring Generation – the only program of its kind connecting caregivers and aging adults worldwide to talk about caregiving, well-being, health, and everything in between. Invite your family and friends, co-workers, and everyone you know to listen each week.
I’m Pamela D Wilson, caregiving expert, eldercare consultant, and speaker. I look forward to being with you again soon. God bless you all. Sleep well tonight. Have a fabulous day tomorrow and a great week until we are here together again.
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