Why Won’t My Family Help Me – The Caring Generation®
The Caring Generation® Episode 113 – November 24, 2021. On this episode, Why Won’t My Family Help Me, caregiving expert Pamela D Wilson offers insights and perspectives to help family caregivers get unstuck about expectations for receiving help. Guest Dr. Brent Roberts, Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, discusses how personality traits link to health and why change at any age can be difficult.
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Why Won’t My Family Help
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.
Insights About Unhelpful Family
Watch More Videos About Caregiving and Aging on Pamela’s YouTube Channel
0:00:37:58 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.
0:01:03:77 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. 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, YouTube, and Linked In or completing the caregiver survey on my website.
Five Reasons Family Won’t Help
0:01:36:09 Pamela D Wilson: Today, I’m actually answering a question that a caregiver submitted through the caregiver survey page. Why Won’t My Family Help Me? We’ll talk about five reasons family won’t help and actions you can take so that you feel more in control of your caregiving situation. The guest for this program is Dr. Brent Roberts, Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He discusses how personality traits link to health and why change at any age—especially for aging parents—can be difficult.
0:02:10:63 Pamela D Wilson: The first answer to the question, why won’t my family help me, is that your family members if they are not caregivers, don’t understand what you do all day. I realize this can sound obvious but it’s more complicated than it seems when we unravel “understanding”. Understanding the responsibilities of a caregiver or any job—requires an understanding of the job responsibilities. Whoever saw a job description for caregiving? [chuckle] Think of it this way.
0:02:40:05 Pamela D Wilson: Let’s say that you are a secretary and you apply for an auto mechanic position, but you know nothing about cars. What do you think an auto mechanic does all day? What about the technical aspect of hearing a noise and knowing what that noise means, or how engine parts work, and more. As a secretary, what advice would you have for an automobile mechanic about doing their job? Probably none, right? Unless it was an aspect related to secretarial work, maybe a process to order parts, but even that might be stretching the similarities too far.
0:03:19:32 Pamela D Wilson: On the other hand, let’s say that you are an over-the-road semi-driver. You apply for the job of a nurse in the operating room. What are the similarities there? You may be mechanically adept with semi-trucks but not mechanically adept in taking blood or putting in a catheter. I use these two extreme examples to point out the lack of understanding about another person’s job or personal responsibilities even though there may be some skill similarities.
0:03:52:84 Pamela D Wilson: Unless you are working side-by-side daily in the same position, it is impossible to understand the work of another person accurately. So as a caregiver, why won’t my family help me—begins with a lack of understanding of the hands-on practical tasks plus the emotional stress many caregivers experience.
Family Members May See Offering Advice as Being Helpful
0:04:12:53 Pamela D Wilson: Let’s add to this the idea of receiving advice from a person uninvolved in caregiving or really any person giving you advice. A few more extreme examples. Would you listen to exercise or diet advice from someone who is physically out of shape? Would you take financial advice from a friend who claimed bankruptcy or career advice from a friend who changes jobs every one to two months?
0:04:40:76 Pamela D Wilson: I bring up the point about advice—requested or unsolicited—because it is essential to understanding why won’t my family help me. Did you ever consider that you may not want family members helping unless they take a sincere interest in learning about the care situation for mom or dad or a spouse? There is big a difference between help that helps and help that creates more work for you.
0:05:05:84 Pamela D Wilson: Family members who are not caregivers love standing on the sidelines giving advice or telling the caregiver what to do. So, start here to raise your understanding. You have a family member who has no idea what you do, and doesn’t offer help but calls all the time to offer advice which they see as “helping.” How do you evaluate the value of helpful advice? First, you begin by recognizing the context of the situation.
0:05:36:45 Pamela D Wilson: Context means looking at the circumstances and facts. Next, you evaluate the information you receive or that you are giving. It is logical? Is the advice based on actual experience and actual results? How do you confirm that the person offering advice has verifiable experience or if their experience is book-smarts or theoretical in nature? Theoretical means information a person studies, learns, and shares with others or simply offering an opinion based on personal knowledge.
0:06:13:49 Pamela D Wilson: Contrast this with advice from a person who studies, learns, and puts a skill into practice day after day, year after year. For example, you need heart bypass surgery. Would you want a heart surgeon who has only “read” about but never performed surgery or a heart surgeon who has “performed 1,000 surgeries” to do your operation?
0:06:39:03 Pamela D Wilson: There are generalists and there are specialists in medicine and many other fields. In my opinion, specialists are more valuable. The caution is to be careful about whose advice you accept in any situation. Back to the point about the understanding of why won’t my family help me. How much information have you provided—as the caregiver— to your family based on your daily experiences of what mom or dad needs so that they understand what you do and the care needs?
Caregiver Communication is Key to Receiving Help
0:07:13:63 Pamela D Wilson: When the primary caregiver doesn’t share detailed information or be specific in your requests for help your family may not understand or realize the degree to which you need help. Understanding goes both ways. If family members are attempting to help by offering advice—what you can say is “can you describe to me the frequency of your involvement in caring for mom or dad or a similar situation that gives you the experience to offer me this advice, just so I know?”
0:07:48:26 Pamela D Wilson: You can actually modify that question or statement and ask it of anyone who gives you advice, anyone from whom you seek advice, and anyone you interview for a care position for a loved one like an in-home care agency. It’s a great question. If the person you ask is offended by the question or can’t provide the information about their experience that meets your needs or expectations—this person isn’t someone you want to have help you or someone whose advice you want to accept.
0:08:23:13 Pamela D Wilson: Remember—understanding goes both ways. Family caregivers who don’t ask for what they need and provide sufficient information for why they need help are usually ignored by siblings and others. You might find yourself in that situation today. While it can be difficult to go the extra step and it may feel like you’re having to convince others to help—in a sense you are. You’re asking another person to give you or the person who needs care their time and attention.
0:08:53:39 Pamela D Wilson: You’ve already agreed to do this by accepting the role of the caregiver. This doesn’t mean that others in your family will automatically follow along. In addition to offering what they see as helpful advice, they also might sprinkle in a little criticism about your activities. After you go through the questioning to determine if they are qualified to give you advice you can examine the criticism offered which is the #2 reason why won’t my family member help me.
0:09:25:29 Pamela D Wilson: Family members can be judgmental and refuse to help because they don’t believe you are doing things the right way and so they don’t want to be involved. First and foremost, don’t take criticism personally. Understand that there is usually a much deeper foundation that has nothing to do with you and is more about the person offering the criticism. We will continue this conversation after the break.
0:09:50:72 Pamela D Wilson: This is Pamela Wilson on The Caring Generation. Pay it forward to help others dealing with health, aging, or caregiving issues by sharing information about this show and my website pameladwilson.com. 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,
0:10:16:64 Pamela D Wilson: Pandora, Player FM, Pocket Casts, Podcast Addict, Podchaser, Stitcher, Spotify, Tune In, and Vurbl. You don’t have to do it all alone. I’m here to help. Visit my website or call to schedule a 1:1 telephone or video consultation with me. Click on How I Help, next Family Caregivers, and then Eldercare Consultation. This is Pamela D Wilson on The Caring Generation. Stay with me; I’ll be right back.
0:11:07:38 Pamela D Wilson: This is Pamela D Wilson on The Caring Generation. Does your company offer caregiver support programs or education? If not, why not? Many employees are faced with caregiving issues whether raising young children, caring for elderly parents, or both. Having a plan to care for loved ones removes much of the stress and uncertainty that caregivers experience every day. Share my information and my website pameladwilson.com with your human resources department.
0:11:36:78 Pamela D Wilson: We’re back to carry the conversation forward about understanding the basis of criticism from family members. Let’s say that a sibling complains about how mom or dad is dressed. This may be more about their expectation or memory of how mom or dad should appear. Witnessing the changes of a parent diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s can be very challenging for children who want the “old” mom or dad before dementia or Alzheimer’s back.
Dealing With Critical Family Members
0:12:08:11 Pamela D Wilson: As the caregiver, instead of responding negatively or taking criticism personally what if you said, “it seems like you’re being critical about X – what’s that about?” Then listen and ask more questions to see if you can unpack their feelings or concerns. Asking questions allows you to gain a greater understanding which is what you want from your family members. These interactions can build trust and create a situation where family members may become interested in helping.
0:12:42:73 Pamela D Wilson: When we think about criticism, we can gain a bigger understanding by looking at what we criticize and how adamant we are about our beliefs. That thing or belief is usually something about ourselves that we’re not happy with or we don’t like. It’s the same for other people, the thing that they criticize may be the thing they dislike most in themselves. Listen and learn. No one is without struggle or difficulties.
0:13:09:40 Pamela D Wilson: A path to caregiver survival is to recognize the negative in all aspects of life and to choose how to respond. In every interaction with another person or your response to events, you are in the driver’s seat. You control your response which impacts the way other people respond to you and how you approach and adapt to unexpected situations.
0:13:34:51 Pamela D Wilson: I also encourage you to look at the positive aspects of life. There are so many positives but when we’re in a negative mindset of why won’t my family help me sometimes we can’t see the other side. And if you’ve ever noticed—sometimes an event that seems negative at the time turns out to be a blessing in disguise. Look for the positive side of why won’t my family help me. Ask yourself if you are stuck in a negative belief pattern or if you have a different belief system from your family members.
Changing Beliefs May Be As Difficult As Changing Habits
0:14:10:23 Pamela D Wilson: Beliefs are deeply ingrained, much like habits. Some families believe that family takes care of family regardless of the situation. The kink in this belief pattern can happen when children are young. If you were raised by parents who were abusive, who used drugs, or who were not nurturing you may have a different set of beliefs from your brothers and sisters about caring for parents when they age.
0:14:41:03 Pamela D Wilson: If you are experiencing a situation wondering why won’t my family help me, did you ever think to ask your sister or brother about their relationship with mom or dad? There may be things you don’t know that may change your belief about a sibling being a jerk to a feeling of understanding or compassion for a poor relationship with a parent.
0:15:06:19 Pamela D Wilson: We help people with whom we have a connection or want to maintain a connection. Maybe for a sibling, mom or dad isn’t that person. In many families, siblings disappear. Your brother or sister may move away or end contact with the family for reasons that you may never know. Let’s talk more about #3 for why won’t my family help me which is this idea of belief systems.
0:15:33:69 Pamela D Wilson: Our brains like patterns and consistency because consistent beliefs take less effort than challenging a belief that may take up a lot of time and brain power. If you need proof, look at the divide in the United States over vaccines for the coronavirus or the current political climate. Even when the alternative may be death from COVID, many individuals are entrenched in their beliefs to decline vaccinations instead of researching information and making a fact-based decision.
0:16:05:99 Pamela D Wilson: Go back to the belief that the world is flat because all you can see is the horizon. We later learned that the world is round. What if instead of accepting information at face value we questioned more and became more skeptical instead of being totally resistant to change that might be positive? Translate this to the belief of why won’t my family help me to do —what do I have to do to gain the support of my family?
Have You As the Caregiver Let Others Down?
0:16:39:51 Pamela D Wilson: Is it possible that caregivers run off helpful family members or they exhibited past behaviors that make others not want to be helpful. Answer #4 for why won’t my family help me may result from family interactions with the caregiver. Have you as a caregiver broken commitments to others in the family? Did you agree to do something and then didn’t show up so now you are seen as unreliable or not trustworthy or somebody that your family wants to help?
0:17:11:38 Pamela D Wilson: Sibling relationships can be challenging as many of those conflicts originate with childhood relationships and hard feelings can be harbored for years. Do your siblings see you as mom or dad’s favorite? Were you the one who got all of the hand-me-downs while your oldest spoiled brother or sister got all of the new clothes? In addition to parent-child relationships, relationships between siblings have a large impact on the care that aging parents receive.
0:17:40:06 Pamela D Wilson: Why won’t my family help combines past family history of interactions with siblings, parents, and current belief systems. For example, the oldest sibling must be the caregiver. while everybody else in the family goes on with their lives. Well, who set that belief? Family beliefs can contradict the idea of the family working as a team to care for aging parents. We all know, tt’s usually one caregiver who bears the responsibility of care for an aging parent.
0:18:16:01 Pamela D Wilson: If you are on the other side watching a sibling care for your parents, how can you take a step forward to gain an understanding of the situation and ask about ways that you can be helpful or offer support? Contrast this with care situations where siblings may not have been involved. Mom or dad goes for a visit to a brother or sister’s home and decides to stay. If there was conflict in the family before, the intentions of siblings who suddenly choose to be helpful can be met with suspicion.
What to Do When Family Decides to Help
0:18:50: 97 Pamela D Wilson: The caregiver who previously devoted hours to the care of a parent may feel resentful, left out, and lost. The contrast of why won’t my family help me when family suddenly becomes involved may create an emotional gap for the burned-out caregiver. Where work and routine previously existed, someone else is now taking over. There are time gaps to fill. While the caregiver may have wished for this level of help—the help was unexpected. Imagine asking for help and getting your wish but having that wish not turn out like you expect.
0:19:34:39 Pamela D Wilson: The caregiver relieved of responsibilities may feel like he or she is on the outside. It may feel awkward now for you to offer to help after continually asking why won’t my family help me. As a caregiver, stepping back to re-evaluate the situation to find a level of support that you can give may be challenging. Be thankful for the support. Use your experience and understanding of what’s it’s like to be a sole caregiver to help siblings who are now the main support for an aging parent.
0:20:08:81 Pamela D Wilson: The tables have turned. Extend compassion to siblings who may have felt left out or judged by you for not helping. Make time to rebuild your social life. Take care of your health. While it may feel like you have been stripped of caregiving responsibilities remain involved in some way so that your family, parent, parents, brothers, and sisters know that you love them and you are there.
0:20:16:97 Pamela D Wilson: We’re off to a break. If you are looking for help making a care plan for a loved one, finding more time in your life, navigating the healthcare system, or helping aging parents make decisions, visit my website PamelaDWilson.com and click on How I Help to learn about online webinar courses for caregivers, my book The Caregiving Trap: Solutions for Life’s Unexpected Changes, videos on my YouTube channel, speaking engagements and more, I’m Pamela D Wilson, stay with me. I’ll be right back.
0:21:36:89 Pamela D Wilson: This is Pamela D Wilson, caregiving expert, author, and speaker on The Caring Generation. With all of the discussion about beliefs and habits and having the tables turned when or if family steps up to offer help, I want to give you a sneak peek into the guest interview coming up in the next segment. Do you ever wonder why people do what they do?
0:22:00:03 Pamela D Wilson: Or why it’s so difficult for aging parents to change health habits when it’s clear that the benefits of change outweigh the risks of not changing? Or why you set a goal and find that it’s more difficult to achieve than you previously thought? Our guest, Dr. Brent W. Roberts, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Center for Social and Behavioral Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign answers these questions and more.
0:22:30:52 Pamela D Wilson: Dr. Roberts received his Ph.D. from Berkeley in 1994 in Personality Psychology and worked at the University of Tulsa until 1999 when he joined the faculty at Illinois. Dr. Roberts’ research has focused on determining patterns of continuity and change in personality traits across adulthood, the life experiences associated with changes in personality traits over time, and the significance of these changes for individual functioning. Stay with me to hear our interview with Dr. Roberts.
Family May Not Help Due to Life Situations or Timing
0:23:07:63 Pamela D Wilson: Let’s talk about answer #5 for why won’t my family help me. Part of this relates to life stages and what’s currently happening in the lives of siblings. Your brothers or sisters may be raising children, struggling to hold down a job, pay their bills, work, and go to school. When so much is going on the thought of taking on one more thing—even though caregivers do this regularly—can be too much for another family member to consider or manage.
0:23:40:07 Pamela D Wilson: If you’ve been the caregiver for some time it may also seem to others like you are managing so why upset the apple cart? In these situations when you are burning the candle at both ends and don’t feel like you can continue, it’s time to call in the reinforcements. These people may be your family members or it may be learning about other services that exist. I always recommend giving the benefit of the doubt to family members who are not helpful.
0:24:09:58 Pamela D Wilson: Receiving that wake-up call that you can no longer be the caregiver for an aging parent may be the information siblings need to hear to step up. On the other hand, family may not be able to help at all. At a minimum, rather than hiding the problem, you brought the issue to the table with your siblings and offered them the opportunity to step in before having a discussion with mom or dad.
0:24:35:35 Pamela D Wilson: Let’s return to the earlier discussion of educating your siblings. You want to be prepared for this conversation. Your siblings may encourage you to continue doing what you’re doing, try to make you feel guilty, and plead for you to stay in the game. Explain the time you spend each week and the tasks you complete for your parents so that they can’t say they weren’t told.
0:25:01:31 Pamela D Wilson: In a sense, this conversation is a precursor to the conversation you will have with your parents after you investigate other options and have a plan to present. When it’s time for that difficult conversation with mom or dad, know that they may ask the question why won’t my family help me. My advice is to stay out of the middle. You can simply say that you talked to everyone in the family and unfortunately no one is able to help so this is the plan.
0:25:31:69 Pamela D Wilson: If your parent wants to know why your brothers or sisters can’t help, have or help them call each of your siblings individually and then disappear for the rest of the conversation. Avoid getting in the middle between siblings and aging parents. There’s no benefit to creating more drama or adversity in the family. You never know when a sibling may have a change of heart or situation and be able to do more.
0:25:58:58 Pamela D Wilson: Many caregivers become stuck in situations asking year after year why won’t my family help me but they don’t move forward. Caregivers tell me, “oh I thought I’d be married and have children by now but I’m still caring for mom or dad.” Or, I thought my career would be much further along than it is.” You are the only one who can change your situation as you will hear from Dr. Brent Roberts coming up in the next segment.
0:26:28:75 Pamela D Wilson: Caregiving habits can become ingrained habits that feel impossible to change. You worry about your health and well-being while you place the health and well-being of the person you care for above you. You feel guilty about wanting to make a change but worry about what happens to you if you don’t. Your parents may be angry and resentful about needing care. You may also feel unappreciated and resentful and very conflicted about what to do.
0:27:00:01 Pamela D Wilson: As with the conversations with your siblings who may be in denial about the care situation of a parent—if you want to move forward you must keep moving ahead. Listen to family concerns and create a plan for parents or loved ones to receive care in another manner. This may be through hiring in-home caregivers or moving a parent to a care community. If family can’t help, accept the fact and keep making plans.
Don’t Let a Lack of Family Support Place Your Life On Hold
0:27:33:31 Pamela D Wilson: Don’t wait for other people. Seek the support of other caregivers in similar situations through an online support group like my group on Facebook called The Caregiving Trap or an in-person support group or by taking a caregiving course in person or online. As we talked about earlier, individuals who aren’t caregivers have no understanding of what it’s like to be a caregiver. Learning to set boundaries is also key to accepting why won’t my family help me and moving ahead.
0:28:06:36 Pamela D Wilson: If brothers and sisters call to ask you about mom or dad, refuse to answer. Suggest that they call directly or visit your parents if they want the information. Stop being the middle-man or woman who makes it easy for others in the family to not communicate with your parents. While this may have been the previous mode of communication, let family know that the situation is changing and that speaking directly to mom or dad is the way of the future.
0:28:37:80 Pamela D Wilson: Each step that you take to investigate options, set boundaries, and communicate upcoming changes with your family is one step further to getting the help you need so that you can take back your life and your health. Changing longstanding habits isn’t easy as you’ll hear up next with our interview from Dr. Brent Roberts.
0:29:03:09 Pamela D Wilson: Thank you all for following and communicating with me on social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linked In, and YouTube, where I have hundreds of videos, and also thanks to those of you who complete the caregiver survey on my website to pose questions for this podcast. I think I mentioned the question for today’s podcast, why won’t my family help me came from a family caregiver who completed the survey.
0:29:25:09 Pamela D Wilson: I do read everyone that comes in. Communication about caregiving must be a two-way street to achieve success and less stress in family relationships and at work. Join my online caregiving group called The Caregiving Trap on Facebook. I’ll put a link in this show transcript. I’m Pamela D Wilson on The Caring Generation. Stay with me; I’ll be right back.
0:30:11:22 Pamela D Wilson: This is Pamela D Wilson, caregiving expert, advocate, and speaker on The Caring Generation. Are there days when you wish you had someone to talk to, someone to reaffirm that you are doing the right thing? You’re in the right place with me here on The Caring Generation and with all of the other caregivers who listen. Also on my website PamelaDWilson.com, there is a lot of hope, help, and support for all caregivers and aging adults. I’d like to introduce you to Dr. Brent Roberts.
Interview with Dr. Brent W. Roberts
0:30:41:10 Pamela D Wilson: Dr. Roberts, thank you for joining me.
0:30:43:52 Dr. Brent W. Roberts: Pleasure to be here.
0:30:45:92 Pamela D Wilson: So you are an expert on personality and a lot of things—and I want to talk about personality. So how is personality linked with a variety of outcomes, including health?
0:30:57:32 Dr. Brent W. Roberts: That’s a great question. I kind of want to start first with some definitions just so that we are on the same page, so to speak. When it comes to personality, that can be seen, of course, in its broadest definition as all the different ways that you and I and other people differ from one another. That’s what personality psychology tends to study.
What Are Personality Traits?
0:31:16:98 Dr. Brent W. Roberts: For the sake of this conversation, I’m going to focus more on what we call personality traits, and those are the characteristics of feelings, and thoughts, and behaviors that we demonstrate over time and across different situations. They’re kind of the signal about who you are that people can relate to others and we organize that into five big domains. Extroversion, introversion, which is the extent to which you are outgoing and assertive versus shy and introverted.
0:31:45:07 Dr. Brent W. Roberts: There’s agreeableness versus disagreeableness, so nice, nurturing, kind versus cold, and aloof. There’s conscientiousness which on the high end is being responsible, organized, neat, hardworking, versus on the other side, which I like to describe my teenagers as economical with one’s energy output. [chuckle] Let’s just say not quite as responsible, maybe a little more impulsive.
0:32:08:38 Dr. Brent W. Roberts: The fourth domain is emotional stability which is characterized at the high end by being not stressed, by being calm, by handling stressful situations without getting emotional, and on the lower end by being more emotional especially negative affect. What we think of as anxiety and depression, and anger, for example. And then the last domain is what we call openness to experience, and that has on the high end to do with how curious you are—creative, intellectual and on the lower end being more concrete and maybe more closed in terms of learning new things and new information.
0:32:43:29 Dr. Brent W. Roberts: So those are the big five. And they’re big domains. We use them to organize our field and also use them to organize how we understand the relationship between personality and outcomes like you asked. There’s lots of different findings. Some of them are not surprising, and some of them fun. Extroverts, of course, tend to have larger social networks than the rest of us. They tend to engender more social support.
0:33:07:76 Dr. Brent W. Roberts: They date more people, and they also tend to be happier than others, and this is often because of the fact that they engage more people more often, and that tends to lead to positive affect. Now people who are more agreeable are more spiritual and religious. They tend to show more gratitude towards others. They tend to be more satisfied in their intimate relationships. On the other hand, they may suffer a little bit because they don’t usually attain the highest status jobs in our world.
0:33:33:60 Dr. Brent W. Roberts: They tend to choose jobs that don’t lead to as much money. For conscientiousness, those individuals do better in school. So they get a higher GPA. They tend to be rated higher in their jobs. Better job performers, so to speak. They stay married longer, and they also tend to be a bit more conservative than other people. Emotionally stable people, as the definition tends to apply. They tend to be better in stressful situations. They don’t get as—their amplitude and their emotional range is lower than the rest of us.
0:34:06:06 Dr. Brent W. Roberts: So when things get stressful, they tend to be the calm ones. They also tend to be more satisfied in their relationships and in their jobs, and they also tend to use humor more, which is interesting. People high on openness will be interested in scientific careers, artistic activities, and they’ll also be more likely to be politically liberal. In terms of health, all of the big five have shown some relationship or association with health outcomes. But the big two dimensions that we see repeatedly in our research are conscientiousness and emotional stability. The people who are higher on those tend to do better across the board on physical and mental health outcomes.
How Do Personality Traits Affect Health?
0:34:43:70 Pamela D Wilson: Can you talk about how personality traits link to processes that affect health and longevity, specifically stress?
0:34:52:25 Dr. Brent W. Roberts: Sure. The story with stress is obviously one about emotional stability. And on that front, people who are less emotionally stable are going to view any given life event that we see more negatively. So they’re going to go through the same types of experiences that everybody else does, and they’re going to have, let’s say, a slightly more negative reaction to it. Because of that, we don’t quite know whether they experience more negative life events or whether they experience more life events negatively.
0:35:24:19 Dr. Brent W. Roberts: But we do know that they experience more negative affect because of those and that causes stress, and so that’s an issue for them that would lead to potentially negative consequences for their health downstream because they’re viewing events in a more negative frame. It’s an interesting domain because prior to the pandemic, we would ask the question, why do we have neuroticism? Why is it that some of us are like that?
0:35:50:94 Dr. Brent W. Roberts: Because it was kind of hard to understand in a well-functioning society why people would remain that way. But now that we have the pandemic, we see a very positive role for neuroticism. Those folks who are more prone to stress and more prone to anxiety were the ones who actually responded better to the recommendations to shelter in place and to keep their distance, and to suffer less COVID-19 consequences. So that’s where you see the role of negative affect is for people to be aware of the problems that they might face.
0:36:20:14 Dr. Brent W. Roberts: I’d like to say that people who are low on emotional stability have a brighter radar screen for these negative events. And that can lead to negative consequences, and the fact that they experience more stress because of that can lead to positive things if they avoid things that might cause them harm. That’s where you see a lot of the stress and the stress process playing out. We also think that and know from our empirical research that conscientiousness is related to stress, especially and negative consequences but in an indirect way.
The Link Between Conscientiousness and Health
0:36:50:16 Dr. Brent W. Roberts: So conscientiousness people tend to avoid a lot of stressful problems in their life because they tend to avoid the difficulties that arise from simple things like showing up late to appointments or to dates or to different things that they’re supposed to do so they suffer less negative consequences because of that. On the positive side, they tend to do things for themselves and for other people that lead to positive affects. They achieve a little bit more, and they’re more stable in their relationships and their job. So they don’t suffer distinctly negative things like job loss or more unemployment. And then that way, indirectly they’re suffering less stress than other people.
0:37:31:06 Pamela D Wilson: So you mentioned conscientiousness. If we don’t have that trait, can we develop it? Are we born with these traits? Do they change?
0:37:36:61 Dr. Brent W. Roberts: You’re born with something. So anybody who is a parent will attest that their children have a temperament. But what you’re born with is not what you become. And it’s really, really important for people to understand that personality and traits like conscientiousness are developmental phenomena that take a lot of experience and a lot of things to create what’s called a conscientious adult.
0:38:01:73 Dr. Brent W. Roberts: And so the way you were when you were three doesn’t relate very much at all to the way you are when you are twenty-five, for example. And so we shouldn’t take those things very seriously when people say personality is heritable and the like. It’s not a very informative thing to understand how somebody was when they were young. On the other hand, it is good to understand how somebody is when they’re an adult.
0:38:24:24 Dr. Brent W. Roberts: And when they’re an adult, they’ve gone through a lot of development and a lot of changes and a lot of experiences. And we know there are lots of experiences that relate to you becoming the person you are. In terms of conscientiousness, we know experiences in school, such as how hard you work or what achievements you do, are related to increases in conscientiousness, for example. We know as an adult your work experiences and your relationship experiences are related to changes in conscientiousness.
0:38:48:63 Dr. Brent W. Roberts: In fact, experiencing better health is related to increases in conscientiousness. Staying married longer is related to increases in conscientiousness. So conscientiousness is definitely a trait in the sense that it’s relatively stable. But it’s also a developmental phenomenon in that it can and does change. And in fact, we find that across many different populations that the most important period of change for something like conscientiousness is that transition we make from adolescence into adulthood.
0:39:16:96 Dr. Brent W. Roberts: That’s when you see the biggest gains made and the most consistent gains made. And so, no, you’re not stuck with it. Yes, it’s a developmental thing, and it does tend to increase quite positively, especially in that transition in young adulthood, along with other traits like agreeableness and emotional stability. So there’s a lot of development that happens in adulthood that happens later than many people stereotypically would think. And it shouldn’t be ignored because it’s really important when it comes to who we are and how we do in our health outcomes.
The Results of Risky Health Behaviors
0:39:49:66 Pamela D Wilson: So you mentioned the link between conscientiousness and what I call health-promoting behaviors. What’s the opposite trait that would indicate health risky behaviors?
0:40:00:85 Dr. Brent W. Roberts: Well, there’s a few that we think of—we think of course of low conscientiousness with health risky behaviors. If you think, what are health risky behaviors? They are doing things like taking drugs or drinking too much. Getting in fights or driving under the influence of alcohol. These are some of the main issues when it comes to risky health behaviors. People who are low on conscientiousness are otherwise thought of as impulsive, tend to participate in these more.
0:40:32:68 Dr. Brent W. Roberts: Also, people who are high in extroversion. In fact, there is a kind of combination of high extroversion, low conscientiousness that we call sensation seeking. And these folks tend to participate in a lot of these risky health behaviors more so than other people do. And that can cause, of course, the potential negative consequences for their health because those health behaviors, as you know, lead to the degenerative diseases that we suffer from—cardiovascular disease and cancer more often than not.
0:41:00:57 Dr. Brent W. Roberts: And so those things you do, if you do them for too long when you’re young, might lead to adverse consequences for you when you’re older. And the people who are less conscientious and more extroverted tend to do that more. There is some small role for neuroticism or emotional stability in there too, but it’s not as important as the first two traits.
0:41:17:70 Pamela D Wilson: I found you researching personality traits and mortality, and you have an article about this. So let’s say somebody isn’t healthy and they have a heart attack. And now they’re thinking, “okay, I want to be healthier.” How can they focus either on health prevention or intervention—personality traits. What do they have to move toward to focus on their health and establish those habits?
Is It Possible to Change Behaviors?
0:41:45:50 Dr. Brent Roberts: Um, how do you change? [chuckle]
0:41:50:34 Pamela D Wilson: [chuckle] Yes, like we have a parent who is really sick, and we’re like mom or dad, you have to do this! But how do we help with that?
0:41:54:92 Dr. Brent W. Roberts: You know it’s a really good question. And first of all, I should say to those of you who suffer these experiences, you have my sympathies. I share in them, in fact, so I understand on a first-hand basis what you might be going through. The answer to the question, I can give an answer and I will give one. It’s one that I think we should acknowledge is a bit more fraught and poignant with our friends and family who are older. Because they do have some decisions to make, I think that are complex in those situations.
0:42:24:93 Dr. Brent W. Roberts: So this is what we know from our attempts to change personality or attempts to change the other behaviors that are related to health. Which I think are very similar. If you think about it, often what we face when we go into that situation is a doctor telling us, “okay, you’re going to have to start eating well. You’re going to have to start exercising. You’re going to have to give up smoking.”
0:42:44:23 Dr. Brent W. Roberts: And those things are just like your personality. They’re dug in behavior patterns and habits that we’ve been doing for a long time. So it’s not easy to change those things. The first thing that you need from our perspective is that you need to have the motivation to do so. Often, of course, an experience like a heart attack or experiencing cancer is a pretty good motivator. So you tend to get a big message that if you want to stick around and maybe haunt your grandchildren a little bit longer, it would be good to change these things.
Change Requires Motivation
0:43:16:41 Dr. Brent W. Roberts: And so you’re motivated to do so. But that motivation is really critical. If people don’t want to do the change at that time, it’s going to be very difficult for us to get them to do something. And I think that’s a conversation that all of us should have more often and with our loved ones especially, and we might not have that. You’ll have doctors and nurses telling you this. Whether you respond is another question.
0:43:38:23 Dr. Brent W. Roberts: If you decide to try to change—I mean, one of the comforting things is that I think the medical systems have built a system around patients that is designed appropriately. So the first thing that they’ll do after you recover from a heart attack sends you to cardiac rehab and get you active. That’s a great thing. Participate in those activities to the extent that you can. Because we know that if you do things in a group.
0:44:00:03 Dr. Brent W. Roberts: If you do things in a social way that it’s more likely that you will adopt a new behavior, and you’ll maintain it. I think that the issue that we see is that you need a little bit more than what you get out of the typical medical care system. So they’ll give you cardio rehab for eight weeks or so. well, that might be enough to get you moving a little bit, but it’s not the kind of change you need if you want to affect your health.
0:44:28:63 Dr. Brent W. Roberts: And that’s where thinking about it like a personality change is really a good thing because you don’t want to think about it as “I’m going to achieve this by getting myself to the point where I can walk two miles.” The goal isn’t to achieve some endpoint like that. The goal is to actually make the change a lifestyle. And that’s like changing your personality. So having the motivation.
0:44:55:21 Dr. Brent W. Roberts: Having the social support so once you get beyond cardio rehab—getting friends and family to help you and aid and abet you in your efforts. If you don’t have friends and family, hiring a coach or a trainer at a gym. They work with people and keep you accountable for what you want to do. And do the activities until they become a habit. And that’s the way to kind of work yourself into a situation where you might adopt the behaviors that you need to do to maintain a healthier lifestyle or one that might lead to extra years.
0:45:031:29 Dr. Brent W. Roberts: That kind of change process is the same for changing exercise as it is changing conscientiousness. Where we think about changing a personality trait, that process, if taken to that length, is what would lead to personality trait change. So the two processes are the same. But they’re not easy in the sense of —I don’t’ think we should think of things in the sense as something that anybody can do at any time. And there’s just a little change of mindset. It takes a lot of dedication, and it takes a lot of support. And I think we need to think about it in that way.
0:46:06:40 Pamela D Wilson: Dr. Roberts, I thank you so much for your time.
0:46:09:71 Dr. Brent Roberts: My pleasure, thank you for the invitation. It’s a pleasure to talk to you. I hope you find something of use from what we discussed.
0:39:30 Pamela D Wilson: Caregivers, as you look at your care situation and all of the changes that are happening, keep in mind that simple changes for an aging parent may be more difficult than you can imagine as we discussed with Dr. Brent Roberts. Look first at yourself and longstanding habits that you may be unwilling to change so that you can gain compassion for the struggles of parents and others. Many caregivers burn out because they are unwilling to change their habits around self-care. If you’re unwilling to change—is it realistic for you to expect an aging parent to change behaviors? That’s something to think about.
0:47:01:31 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 or music app to the cellphones and computers of family members and aging parents so that they can listen each week. We’re off to a break. This is Pamela D Wison on The Caring Generation. Stay with me; I’ll be right back.
0:48:02:21 Pamela D Wilson: This is Pamela D Wilson on The Caring Generation, where we talk about aging, health, and everything in between to support caregivers and adults of all ages. Caregiving is not limited to caring for aging parents. It is a lifelong journey. Parents raising young children are caregivers who will eventually care for parents and spouses. Even though they don’t yet realize it. If you are struggling with a care situation or looking to plan for your own care or the care of a loved one, schedule a 1:1 eldercare consultation with me.
0:48:36:14 Pamela D Wilson: Visit my website PamelaDWilson.com, click on how I help, then family caregivers, and then eldercare consultation. I want to talk about caregiving and the holidays for the last part of this program to give a perspective to family members who aren’t actively involved in caregiving for parents but who call or visit during the holidays.
Advice for Family Members Who Are Missing In Action
0:49:01:82 Pamela D Wilson: While the holidays are a much looked forward to event for most people, holidays are days that can be dreaded for caregivers who watch family members and friends go on with their lives. That would be you. More questions of why won’t my family help me come up for caregivers during all holidays of the year – from 4th of July to Labor Day to New Year’s. Each year that passes may have the caregiver asking why time seems frozen.
0:49:35:37 Pamela D Wilson: The health of a spouse or aging parent may continue to worsen along with the caregiver doing more and more. Holidays can always be a time when family visits and doesn’t realize that they disrupt normal caregiving activities that make more work for the caregiver. There may be an expectation that the caregiver will cook the holiday meal and wait on guests. Instead of family members who visit asking what they can do or how they can help the caregiver.
0:50:11:80 Pamela D Wilson: Or you may be in a situation where you are an adult child who flies into town for the holidays. You fly back out, and then you go MIA (missing in action) during the remainder of the year. Think about this. Instead of being the absent family member that leaves the caregiver wondering why won’t’ my family help me—start asking how you can help. Whether you realize it or not, being a caregiver and the care receiver can be one of the most lonely and stressful jobs in the world because there is little or no family support or no outside support.
0:51:30 Pamela D Wilson: If you have aging parents and you can’t participate in helping with daily or weekly care activities, what other things can you do? Hint: buying gifts that you think your parent needs without asking the caregiver isn’t helpful. Offer instead to do other things. Contribute to the weekly grocery bill. Pay for prescriptions. Gift your parents an in-home caregiver regularly so that your burned-out sibling can have some time off.
0:51:24:29 Pamela D Wilson: Your parents might enjoy having someone else around. Take a week’s vacation to care for your parents so that your brother or sister, who is the primary caregiver, can take a real vacation. Many caregivers have forgotten what it’s like to have a day off. While your life goes on, that caregiver, their life progresses in slow motion. It’s as if it’s on-hold year after year, waiting for elderly parents to die. Waiting for caregiving to end. Some day, whether you realize it or not, you will become a caregiver if not for aging parents, for a spouse, a friend, or yourself.
0:52:10:34 Pamela D Wilson: Only then will you recognize the stress of asking the question, why won’t my family help me? Caregivers, one other suggestion for you to consider. Find a way to keep in touch with your siblings through email, a text or a monthly phone call to provide updates. While you think you shouldn’t have to do this and it’s one more thing on your list, make the time. If you genuinely want help, the only way you’re going to receive support is by providing ongoing updates to educate about the status and the care needs of your parents.
0:52:47:55 Pamela D Wilson: Also, caregivers encourage your parents to initiate phone calls or help them make phone calls on a regular basis to your brothers, sisters, and other family members. We all know that caregivers and care receivers become isolated and lonely. It’s up to you as the caregiver to do the outreach to others to remain connected so that the door remains open for others to offer help. Everyone today is so busy. We all have competing priorities. Being the caregiver isn’t easy.
0:53:20:00 Pamela D Wilson: It’s a full time job. Caregivers take on more responsibilities than they can eventually manage. So rather than asking why won’t my family help me, take steps to help your family to help you by helping them understand the time commitment and sacrifices you are making to care for a spouse or an elderly parent. Begin asking more questions about criticisms or unsolicited advice, as we discussed earlier, so that communication remains an open door.
0:53:54:50 Pamela D Wilson: Many caregivers become overcontrolling of situations because you want everything to go smoothly. But you don’t realize that your behaviors can run helpful people in your family away. Don’t be that over-controlling caregiver. Everyone needs help and support, especially the person for whom you care—your aging parent, your spouse Keep the door open even when family members appear to be challenging or difficult. They may see you in the same manner.
0:54:25:77 Pamela D Wilson: I know. Surprise! If you are an aging adult or a caregiver, if not sure what to do or how to plan for care, or how to get your time and your life back, my website PamelaDWilson.com offers resources for caregivers. Check out my caregiving library, my Caring for Aging Parents blog, listen to all of The Caring Generation podcasts, read the show transcripts that include links to research by program guests, and check out my online caregiver courses in webinar format – they’re like binge-watching your favorite television show. You can also watch hundreds of videos, 500, 600, 700 on my Facebook and YouTube channels that answer questions from caregivers.
0:55:08:90 Pamela D Wilson: There’s something for everyone at PamelaDWilson.com. 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 a great week until we are here together again.
0:55:29:16 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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