Ditching the Emotional Baggage: Defensiveness

You are juggling 4,569 metaphoric balls. You are keenly aware of how many of them you are dropping. You haven’t slept in weeks. And so the mere suggestion that you might be able to improve any aspect of your caregiving—even if that suggestion is something as innocuous as getting some help—tends to trigger a stalwart defense mechanism.

The message you signal: “You don’t know what you are talking about. I’ve got it all under control. Go away.”

Unsolicited advice is rarely welcome. And that goes double in a caregiving situation when the suggestion is coming from someone who doesn’t appear to be shouldering their fair share of the work.  But it may, in fact, be useful. So don’t dismiss it out of hand.

Three tricks to counter defensiveness:

  • Be aware. Listen to yourself. Are you busy justifying your actions—maybe even before anyone has offered an alternative?
  • Breathe. (This is always good advice). Remember, no one is suggesting you are a bad person; they are suggesting things that may make your life or the life of your care recipient easier.
  • Put it in the third person. You know your situation best. But you may be too close to the action to judge some things accurately—that whole "not-seeing-the-forest-for-the-trees" thing. Try thinking about a friend in a comperable situation.  If someone gave them similar advice, do you think they should take it?
  • Give yourself a break. Above all, recognize that you are doing the best you can, and that your best is all anyone can ask. Even you.

This is part six in our series: Ditching the Emotional Baggage. Please also visit: Anger, Guilt, Loneliness, Fear, Resentment, and Grief.