Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Emotional Intelligence in Caregiving – It’s All About the Loved One

Emotional intelligence is critical in family caregiving.  When caring for someone with whom you’ve had a long relationship, the very act of caregiving can trigger both new emotions and long-buried emotions.  Some examples, which I have felt and those with whom I share caregiving duties have felt:
             Sadness at seeing someone who was once so vital and strong turn, before our eyes, into someone so needy.
             Anger at the amount of time and effort caregiving is taking – and is taking away from our own families. 
             Guilt for having the audacity to feel anger.
             Fear of the unknown, of the looming losses, and of not doing the right thing by the loved one.
If the relationship with the loved one has been rocky, for example, if you were neglected or belittled as a child, seeing the loved one in the role of the child may trigger the strong negative feelings you felt way back then. 
So we toss about in this maelstrom of our own emotions while the person we are caring for – sometimes the very person we’ve always expected to help us deal with our emotions – is tossing about in her own emotions.  Each of us is expecting the other to throw the lifeline. 
This is where emotional intelligence skills come in.  As caregivers, it’s up to us to help our loved ones deal with their emotions.  Of course, we must acknowledge our own emotions, but we must deal with them outside of the caregiving arena.  When we cross the threshold into caregiving, we must literally check our emotions at the door.  We need to stand ready to throw the lifeline.
This doesn’t mean ignoring all emotion.  It would actually be a lot more efficient to just focus on what needs to be done and disregard the angst of the situation.  But the angst of the situation is there – and must be acknowledged at a minimum, and in the best case, dealt with.  Use the emotional intelligence skills.
Self-awareness:  acknowledge your own emotions and how they may be either helping or hindering you in your caregiving responsibilities.
Self-management:  check your emotions at the door.
Social awareness:  help the loved one and other family members talk about their emotions and listen to one another.
Relationship management:  use the caregiving experience to help you forge deeper, stronger relationships with your loved one and your fellow caregivers.

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