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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

How Caregiving Can Change Your Personality 11-07

How Caregiving Can Change Your Personality

Being a long-term family caregiver is bound to make an impact on the kind of person you are.
Some readers worry that their personality changes are negative. Yes, that can happen. There's a sneaky side of caregiver burnout. Stress, exhaustion and responsibility can take its toll.
Yet, many of the changes to a caregiver's personality will be positive and hopefully become lifelong attributes.

Below, I've given just a glimpse of changes different personality types may go through during long-term family caregiving. Much depends, of course, on personal insight, general openness to change, feelings for the person you are caring for and your own physical and mental health.
In the end, whether the changes that remain with you are positive or negative may rest with how you view life in general.
Take charge personality
For people who instinctively want to take charge of every situation, caregiving can either turn them into frustrated tyrants, or mellow their personalities to a state where the best aspects remain, but what may be an overly-aggressive approach to life can be smoothed out.
It's easy to step into the "do as I say" role with ailing parents.
After all, you know that driving is not an option for your elder. You know what medications need to be taken and that a schedule needs to be followed. You know what the weather outside is doing, therefore you know the type of clothing they should wear.
To handle these (and hundreds of other issues while caring for your parents) and not slip into an overtly "parental" mode yourself can be difficult for anyone. However, for this super-efficient personality, the challenge can be nearly overwhelming.
It's helpful to remember that there's likely no greater route to depleting the self-esteem of an ailing elder than to have their children boss them around. Therefore, it can be beneficial to consciously repeat the mantra that your parents are still your parents and they deserve to be treated as such.
Even the strongest take charge personalities can mellow somewhat, if they remember that empathy and dignity are more important than efficiency.
Kindness sometimes means not gloating over being "right." Showing respect is more important than trying to force elders to understand that which no longer makes sense to them.
It will be a challenge, but there are few rewards greater than taking time to respect the importance of the legacy of this person's life, and keeping this history in mind during the long, exhausting duties of caregiving. Doing so may eventually take the edges off of your strong personality, leaving you smart and efficient, but making you a better mate, a better friend, a better employee.
Disorganized personality
If you have a laid back, easy going personality and find yourself rather lax about organization, caregiving will likely force you to tweak your natural tendencies.
Learning the basics of at least minimal organization will help you locate a Power of Attorney (POA) for your elder quickly when needed or make certain that your parent's bills get paid on time.
It's best to start folders and keep records early in your caregiving journey, because you may find yourself mired in Medicare statements and other medical issues, as well as having to make financial decisions. To do this, you need some kind of organization and to adopt some key caregiver time management skills, even if it's a system that only you understand. 
Don't worry. A bit more organization won't upend your appealing laid back personality. This need for some organization will likely make your whole life run a little smoother because it will become ingrained within you and remain, even after caregiving is over.
You will still remain you.
Timid personality
Someone who is by nature quite timid may have to learn to be more assertive with ailing parents.
Telling your parent that it's time to use the bathroom or time for medicine, especially if the parent is responding negatively, can be tough for a person with a timid personality. A more timid spouse caring for his or her mate with the more dominant personality in the pairing can also find subtly taking over the dominant role quite difficult.
Knowing that your parent or spouse needs a certain routine in order to get well, or at least endure minimal pain, may allow this type of personality to grow stronger. Knowing that loved ones depend on you to be their advocate in the outside world will give you additional motivation and courage.
You'll need to learn to cope with medical people, social workers and others whom you may never have confronted in your pre-caregiving life.
Have faith. You are up to the task. Your reticent personality that allows others lots of room to be themselves will remain, but through caregiving, you will be a stronger, more assertive version of yourself.
Did my decades of caring for multiple elders change me?
Indeed it did. There are many rewards of family caregiving. I believe the experience strengthened me and made me more assertive and organized in the advocate role. It enhanced my natural empathy toward the problems others face. It made me realize just how difficult life can be, even for the smartest, most talented person who may develop dementia or other illnesses. It helped me understand that one has to go the distance, but knowing when to ask for help can be part of that process.
While some of the depth I've hopefully gained over time could be chalked up to general maturity, I do believe that my years of care giving have enhanced my perspective on life in general.
For that opportunity, I remain grateful.

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