Lessons from Caregiver Academy: How to Manage Conflict

Elaine Whitford Give_Receive_Care

The Center’s Caregiver Academy participants finished their course last week and are already seeing results.

Being a Caregiver involves many challenges that require mastering new skills. The biggest challenge is learning to take care of yourself and not trying to do it all. These are two of the reasons The Center offers Caregiver Academy that is based on “Powerful Tools for Caregivers.”

One problem Caregivers frequently experience is learning to communicate effectively with others. George Bernard Shaw said it best, “The greatest problem in communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.”

All relationships have conflict. Research shows that it’s not the conflict that makes a situation difficult, it’s how the conflict is resolved that predicts the success or communication failure in a relationship.

One of the participants shared that she overcomes conflict by using antidotes known as the The Four Horseman developed by Drs. John and Julie Gottman. The first step is identifying the conflict and using antidotes to effectively manage conflict.

  1. Criticism: A complaint focuses on a specific behavior, while a criticism attacks the character of the person. The antidote for criticism is to complain without blame. Talk about feelings using “I” statements and then express a positive need. For example:
  • Criticism: “You always talk about yourself. You are so selfish.”
  • Antidote: “I’m feeling left out by our talk tonight. Can we please take a moment and discuss my day?”
  1. Defensiveness: Defensiveness is defined as self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victimhood in attempt to ward off a perceived attack. The antidote is to accept responsibility, even if only for part of the conflict.
  • Defensiveness: “It’s not my fault that we’re always late, it’s your fault.”
  • Antidote: “Well, part of this is my problem, I need to think more about time.”
  1. Contempt: Statements that come from a relative position of superiority that display contempt include when a person uses sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery and hostile humor. Contempt is the greatest predictor of failure in a relationship.
  • Contempt: “You’re an idiot.”
  • Antidote: “I’m proud of the way you handled that conference.”
  1. Stonewalling: Stonewalling occurs when the listener withdraws from the interaction. The antidote is to practice physiological self-soothing to stop the conflict discussion. Let your partner know you’re feeling flooded and need a break. It’s crucial that a break last at least during twenty minutes and during that time you avoid negative thoughts. Spend your time doing something that’s soothing and distracting such as listening to music or taking a walk.

Caregiving is not easy and increasing your set of communication tools takes practice. Being able to communicate your limits and ask for help in positive ways will increase feelings of acceptance and love.

The next Caregiver Academy is planned for the Fall. If you are interested, please email Mary or call 919-460-0567.