Caregivers’ Corner: Learning to say no

Joan Jackson
By Joan Jackson September 15, 2013 17:50
Joan Jackson

Joan Jackson

‘I’m just a girl who cain’t say no. I’m in a terrible fix. I always say, ‘Come on, let’s go! Jist when I orta say nix …’  – Ado Annie, “Oklahoma”

Learning to say “no” is both an art and a survival skill for family caregivers. But getting to the mindset that allows that word to come out of your mouth is not so simple.

Many of us grew up believing we must explain ourselves or explain the situation, the circumstances, the reason. Saying “yes” tends to be entwined with being a good person and avoiding guilt. But the price is huge, especially for caregivers.

The death rate for family caregivers is 63 percent higher than non-caregivers of the same age, one study found. Many neglect their own health and needs while providing care to a loved one, and most dance on the edge of burnout – if they’re not already there.

The language of “no” can be direct and surprisingly simple, sometimes without even having to say the dreaded “n” word.

Consider responding to a loved one who has dementia with phrases such as “I’m busy right now” or “Not today, dear.” For other friends and family, try these: “Sorry, my plate is full,” or “Gee, I can’t do that.”

If it feels abrupt to you, bridge to another topic. “How are you doing?” or “When will you see the new grandbaby?” Notice the absence of “hooks” such as explanations, excuses, maybes or words like “because.”

Tips on getting to “no”:

  • Prepare by thinking of two or three “no” phrases. Feel free to adapt the ones above. Check for and remove any hooks.
  • Practice. Say the new phrases under your breath, say them to yourself in the mirror and repeat until you are comfortable. Try them on family members and friends.
  • Be prepared for some guilt, some failures and potential push-back from those who are used to you saying “yes.” It’s part of the territory.
  • If you get push-back, it’s fine to sound like a broken record. “My plate is full. I can’t do that. My plate is full.”
  • Keep practicing. It does get easier.

Joan Jackson is a partner with Peter Carrillo in Practical Dreamer (588-1835), whose services include free caregiver support groups sponsored by Area 12 Agency on Aging.

Copyright © 2013 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Joan Jackson
By Joan Jackson September 15, 2013 17:50
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1 Comment

  1. peppercat July 27, 15:53

    Your article is very important to neighbors who know there is a serious problem but are unable to do anything for the individual: no family, no friends, unable to assess what is real or not, does not tell truth to medical folks, compensates when adult services was called. The sad story is she will die alone, perhaps tragically–we are all old with our lives and problems. Our systems do not help.

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