Obstacles to Practicing Kindness in Caregiving

By Dr. Jamie Huysman, PsyD, LCSW

Being a primary caregiver can be a thankless job – particularly when you’re doing the best you can, and it’s still not enough. Family dynamics can be treacherous. Other family members may have very strong opinions about how they think things should be handled. Fortunate is the family that can work together for the greatest good without breaking the ties that bind.

“Be kind to unkind people; they need it the most.” – Robin Williams

It’s helpful to remember that everyone handles emotionally charged situations differently. Well intentioned, but thoughtless comments can wreak havoc on the psyche of a primary caregiver and/or their caree. While everyone should have a say, when you’re the one in the trenches coordinating all the moving parts daily, the last thing you need is dissension and undue pressure. That’s why having your own place to vent your feelings in a support group or to a trusted friend is so important.

It’s been said that 10% of conflict is due to a difference of opinion, and 90% is due to the wrong tone of voice. Sometimes it’s not what you say, but how you say it. Choosing words wisely, thinking before speaking, and speaking in a manner you would like to be spoken to are important communication skills; some say considering the source is an art.

There are some attitudes, feelings, states of mind, and personality traits that can impede being kind and genuine communication – these may belong to the caregiver, the caree or anyone else in the mix. They are human. I’ve identified the ones that seem to cause the most damage.

First and foremost is Fear. Fear prevents action and many times has its roots in unresolved anger. Self-judging thoughts of “What if I make a mistake” and “I can’t do this” keep us stuck. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

Frustration is a manifestation of undirected negative energy; it will wear you out and can cause you to make errors in judgment and other mistakes. Practicing kindness toward yourself can mitigate the toll frustration can take on your health and happiness.

Guilt is a tyrant. It saps not only energy but also the confidence needed to be your best as a caregiver. Why are you guilty? Making amends for the past does not require guilt as an incentive. If you are present and doing your best, let the rest go; you are enough.

Impatience is frustration’s sibling. Its energy can fill a room and make everyone uncomfortable. There is time to do what you need to do without animus. You can always apologize for being in a hurry and just get on with it. Kindness is an unselfish act and only takes a minute.

The arch-rival of self-esteem is Perfection. The notion that things need to be just so is self-defeating, making nothing good enough, ever. It’s not a perfect world; get used to it.

Allowing for people, places and things to be perfectly imperfect will make the world a happier place.

Lastly, Resentment breeds contempt. Feelings of resentment are the #1 obstacle to effective caregiving. If you are resentful about being a caregiver, perhaps it is not a job you should undertake. It’s okay to know that about yourself. Not everyone is made for the sacrifices or level of responsibility.

In the end, kindness can prevail, in spite of the presence of fear, unresolved anger, frustration, impatience, perfection, and even resentment when practiced diligently.

My favorite mantra is, “BE KIND. For everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

Dr. Jamie is a popular keynote speaker, media expert, and author. He co-authored the acclaimed “Take Your Oxygen First: Protecting Your Health & Happiness While Caring for a Loved One with Memory Loss.” Dr. Huysman writes for Caregiver SOS, Connections, JoanLunden.com, Huddol.com, and blogs on PsychologyToday.com.