Rescuing Relationships – Guilt and Anger Are Poor Tools for Getting Care From Family Members

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Rescuing Relationships

The Saying That “You Catch More Bees with Honey Than You Do From Vinegar” applies to family caregivers. Guilt and anger can sometimes be common emotions experienced by individuals who are seeking care from their family members. However, research suggests that these emotions may not be effective tools for obtaining care and support from family members. Here are a few examples to support this claim:

Overall, while it is understandable that individuals seeking care from family members may experience emotions such as guilt and anger, research suggests that these emotions may not be effective tools for obtaining the care and support needed. Instead, clear communication and positive strategies may be more effective in promoting positive relationships and obtaining the necessary care.

Lots of different factors affect whether you’ll be able to access the help that you need on your caregiving journey. Some of those factors involve things you can do something about, such as letting your own emotions run the show.

Guilt Is a Powerful Motivator, but it Does Damage

You can definitely leverage guilt as a way to get your family members to help out more often. The problem with that, however, is that it doesn’t work as well or as long as you’d like. They’re more likely to become angry, defensive, and may start to avoid you and your family member altogether. That’s not the result that you ultimately want. You honestly just want some more help and you likely also want family members to have a good relationship with your senior. Guilt isn’t the way to get that on a long-term basis.

Resentment Builds Quickly

Resentment is going to build very quickly with guilt as your lever. You’ll experience just as much resentment as family members will. That happens because you know on some level that guilt is a poor choice, but you’re determined to get what you want. Soon you start to resent that you have to stoop to such a plot. Before long, you’ve got resentment on both sides and no one is getting what they want.

Find Ways to Work through Negative Emotions

You’re going to need to work through these emotions in order to fully process them and send them back on their way. Instead of resorting to a guilt trip, focus on what you’re really feeling when a family member tells you that they can’t help. You’re likely angry, frustrated, and possibly a little bit jealous because you don’t have the option of saying no as often. Journal, talk to a friend, or even work with a counselor to find the right ways to manage those feelings.

Be Mindful of Your Approach

None of this means that you should stop asking family members for help. You should, however, be mindful about how you do it. Watch your tone of voice and the choice of words that you select. It’s very easy for your approach to share how you’re feeling and even be misinterpreted as a guilt trip when you didn’t intend it that way.

Remember that you can’t force someone to help if they truly can’t do it. This might be the perfect time to investigate other options, such as hiring elder care providers to fill in the areas where you’re missing the most help.

You Get What You Pay For

Cost is a factor and it’s no different in caregiving. But just as there’s a cost to getting care there is also a cost in giving care. If you are looking for help from family, what is the cost for them to do that for you? Do they work? Have young children? Have health issues themselves? We know that caregivers need to care for themselves before they can care for others well.

Early on in our home care business, we realized that having an unrelated caregiver could rescue a relationship. Instead of being a caregiver, being a son, daughter or spouse should take precedence. If cost is an issue, there are programs that can help. Local Area Agencies on Aging can provide guidance. There are even some where a family member can become a paid caregiver.

  1. Another study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family found that using guilt to influence family members can lead to resentment and emotional distancing, which can ultimately undermine the quality of relationships within the family (Pillemer & Suitor, 1991).
  2. A review of the literature on family caregiving, published in the Annual Review of Gerontology and Geriatrics, suggests that positive communication strategies, such as clear and direct requests for help, are more effective in obtaining care from family members than negative strategies that rely on guilt and anger (Biegel et al., 2014).
  3. According to a study published in the Journal of Family Issues, guilt-tripping and anger towards family members can actually lead to increased feelings of strain and conflict within the family, rather than increased care and support (Cheng & Chan, 2006).