Pillars of Caregiving: Responding to an Angry Loved One or Client

Pillars of Caregiving

A plate of freshly served food slams against the wall with a clatter.  “I am tired of you serving my food without a glass of lemonade—as I’ve requested every time!” shouts an angry Sandra. “Your lemonade is in the kitchen. I brought you the plate first because I had to carry your medication in my other hand,” explains Elisabeth, Sandra’s caregiver. “I don’t care what you say. I am sick of you!” Sandra fumes in response.

Elisabeth has been caring for Sandra for three months and has been struggling to maintain a positive relationship with her client. Unfortunately, this is the kind of situation in which many caregivers find themselves and must function—whether they are paid to do so or are serving a loved one out of kindness.

According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, there are at least 53 million Americans currently caring for a loved one. The Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute suggests there are an additional 4.6 million frontline caregivers who provide care in long-term care facilities, home care, and assisted living communities, many of whom are not prepared to respond when a loved one or client is angry.

In this article, we will discuss six strategies for dealing with a loved one or client when they are angry.

However, before we dive into these six tips, there’s something you must first consider.

Honor Your Boundaries

While some people deserve awards for their patience, the truth is that we all have our limits. There comes a time when things are too much to bear, and you may need to step away from that situation. As a committed caregiver, stepping away from someone you’ve pledged to care for can be difficult. However, you may find that you need to leave a situation temporarily—or in some extreme cases permanently—for the betterment of all involved.

The following are some things you might say to yourself as you pause and navigate caring for a difficult client or loved one:

  • “No matter the provocation, I am led by self-control.”
  • “I eliminate distractions and unnecessary worries.”
  • “I am relaxed. I am in control of my behavior.”
  • “I remain focused. I disregard unnecessary distractions.”
  • “I am in charge of my actions and reactions.”
  • “I am not led by fear, stress, or negative thoughts.”

Only return to interface with your loved one or client if and when you have had the opportunity to regain your composure.

6 Tips for Responding to an Angry Loved One or Client

  1. Build Trust

We’ve all been tempted to respond negatively in situations that resemble past upsetting experiences. In the case of Sandra, she had to deal with a previous caregiver who disregarded her more complicated requests and only did what was convenient. To navigate such a situation, Elisabeth will need to build trust and spend time compassionately listening to the requests of her client and proactively communicating with her about them. The genuine effort made will pave the way for more positive interactions.

  1. Listen

Be an attentive listener when your loved one or client shares their complaints or preferences. When a person being cared for feels you are being dismissive, they will often become angry and non-cooperative. By listening carefully and not interrupting or ignoring them, you will strengthen your relationship.

  1. Avoid Triggers

Sandra was triggered by Elisabeth not presenting the glass of lemonade along with her meal because she believed her former caregiver would intentionally do it to aggravate her. This experience was behind her impatient outburst. Learn your loved one or client’s triggers and be diligent in avoiding them.

  1. Apologize

We all make mistakes, and while mistakes are no excuse for someone disrespecting you, consider offering a sincere apology if you do slip up. To maintain the validity of your apology, avoid blaming, justifying, or criticizing while delivering it.

  1. Don’t Promise Something You Can’t Deliver

No one likes to work with someone who doesn’t live up to their word. The practice of keeping your word and only promising what you are sure you can deliver goes a long way in maintaining a healthy relationship with your client or loved one. If your ability to deliver on something is uncertain, either avoid mentioning it or be transparent about its improbability.

  1. Collaborate

Finally, consider collaborating with your loved one or client to avoid or mitigate tense situations. That means letting the person you are caring for play an active role in determining how certain tasks will be performed. Take their lead whenever appropriate. Collaborating with care recipients leaves them feeling empowered.

Caregiving is a profound task and small decisions tend to make or break the relationship between the person offering care and the receiver. By following the above tips carefully, you will be able to better respond when a loved one or client is angered.

For more on caregiving, read my latest book “The 7 Pillars of Successful Caregiving.” The book goes into greater detail on hard-to-deal-with care recipients and will expand your knowledge of the art of caregiving.

About the Author

Dr. Eboni Green is an inspirational author, Registered Nurse, and passionate advocate for caregivers. Her insightful books have become essential resources for those navigating the complex journey of caregiving.

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