How to Not Take It Personally

This is good advice for those who cannot help but take personally the words of their spouse or family member. It’s easy to say “Just let it go”, but not so easy when you are the target of the verbal abuse.

By Paula Spencer Scott, senior editor

There’s a tricky underbelly to caregivers’ intense relationship with their care receivers: A can’t-always-help-it tendency to take situations too personally.

Why? senior medical editor Ken Robbins, a geriatric psychiatrist, explains that caregivers tend to be a special personality type: Big-hearted, sensitive, responsible, well intentioned…people who are motivated by and take deep satisfaction in doing right by their loved one…and people who, when unpleasant things happen, therefore, are prone to blame themselves, even for situations beyond their control or irrelevant to what they say or do, or fail to say or do.

Consider these six situations:

When your loved one is gruff and cranky
Even when cross behaviors are directed straight at you, you’re not usually the
underlying reason. More likely the outbursts are your loved one’s expression of
anger at the disease and the situation. For someone with even mild dementia,
outbursts reflect disease changes at work. You’re just the easy target.

When your loved one with dementia doesn’t recognize you It’s not because you’re no longer important to him or her. It’s not because you’ve failed to “imprint yourself” on him or her forever through the quality of your care. Failing to recognize friends and family, even primary caregivers, is an effect of the disease.

When your loved one vexes you with annoying behaviors (asking the same question over and over, leaving disrespectful messes, moving so slowly) Remember how the person “used to be.” In that context, it’s easier to see that illness, not an intention to be hurtful to you, can usually explain irritating actions.

When your loved one has an accident It’s not because you’re not managing incontinence perfectly. Accidents happen.

When no one says thank you It’s not because your actions don’t deserve thanks. More likely: You’re so effective at what you do, it’s practically invisible to family members.

When your loved one doesn’t say thank you Especially if he or she has dementia, the person’s ability to be aware of how much you’re relied upon becomes lost. Your loved one is so dependent, he or she literally doesn’t know thanks are in order.

I’m not saying feeling slighted isn’t a perfectly legitimate reaction to scenarios like those above. Nobody could blame you for sulking a little. But then — move on. Dwelling on imagined slights is energy-sucking and leaves you feeling needlessly sad. Re-framing these situations as having a bigger context helps you take them less personally. They’re not about you — they’re terribly unfortunate bumps that are about the road itself.

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