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by Dr. Ronna Phifer-Ritchie
Good, close relationships are essential for our mental health, and that is even more true for the millions of Americans facing the medical challenge of diabetes. Theirpsychological well-beingis essential to sustaining the motivation and the perspective needed to live life well with the extra demands diabetes places on life-management resources.
The research is clear: psychological and medical issues need to be cared for together to create the best outcomes with this health challenge (Monitor on Psychology, More Psychologists Needed to Treat Diabetes), and healthy family relationships create a foundation for effective management of this disease that should not be overlooked. The question is, how do we, as family members, best create that kind of healthy relational environment for our loved one diagnosed with diabetes?
The research supports this closer look at relational health in families as an essential strategy for dealing effectively with diabetes:
95% of the diabetics in this country fall into the Type-2-Diabetes category, where lifestyle choices have been shown to be even more effective than medication (NIH-funded Diabetes Prevention Program, New England Journal of Medicine, 2002).
Therefore, our ability to show up for these individuals in ways that encourage their best behavior choices is worthy our ongoing attention, especially if we in their circle of highly significant family connections.
These 2 areas tend to be mismanaged most in family relationships with diabetics:
In my work as a relationship coach and personality style researcher, I have observed that family members’ relational styles often deteriorate, become more automatic and less relational, in response to stress.
When this relational style deterioration gets triggered, family members can easily slip into mismanagement of the line between actual therapeutic relating and “overdoing” a relational pattern (instead of relating). This tends to occur two key areas, when a family member is diabetic:
1. Supporting life management:
The line between providing support, and engaging in too much supervision (modeling anxiety, creating resistance by attempting to control to many of the diabetic individual’s behaviors, etc.)
2. Encouraging independent life management:
The line between encouraging independence and disconnecting (moving into dangerous denial, unconsciously closing pathways to contact, avoiding necessary honest confrontations, etc.)
How understanding our relational styles can help us createa more therapetuic relational environment for our loved ones:
This is where an understanding of our relational style can be so helpful for the concerned family member of the diabetic who truly wants to support and encourage their loved one in building an effective life and good relationship with reality.
TheEnneagram of Personality is one powerful tool we can use for this self-awareness piece around relational style. (For more on the Enneagram of Personality and relational health, visit my website: www.RelationshipDoctorOnline.com)
IfI, as a family member and support person, notice that I am starting to slip into my personal Enneagram relational style “over-doing-it” traps, that is a clear signal that it is time for me relax, take care of myself, and do some work on my own supporting and encouraging patterns.
If I lean towards being a….
REFORMER Type: I’m wonderfully principled, idealistic. But, under stress, I can slip into feeling an obligation to “fix” my loved one or resenting them for managing their program imperfectly, and criticizing and finger pointing from an almost parental position.
HELPER Type: I’m astoundingly caring, interpersonal. But, under stress, I can slip into doing things for my loved one just so I can feel needed, leaning into their life in an imposing way, forgetting to have a life of my own and ignoring my own needs.
ACHIEVER Type: I’m remarkably adaptable, success-oriented. But, under stress, I can slip into being overly concerned with image and what others think of my loved one’s ability to manage their illness, even pushing him/her for the sake of appearance.
INDIVIDUALIST Type: I’m exquisitely introspective, romantic. But, under stress, I can slip into withholding myself from family due to feeling defective, pulling back from needed structures in the household, with a self-absorption that can cause me to miss important things going on with my loved one.
INVESTIGATOR Type: I’m profoundly perceptive, cerebral. But, under stress, I can slip into detachment, and being so high-strung and intense when I am around my loved one that I flee to isolation, instead of nurturing the healthy relational contact we both need.
LOYALIST Type: I’m honorably committed, security-oriented. But, under stress, I can slip into being overly cautious and indecisive, and reactive. I can get stuck in irrational doubt about myself and my abilities to handle things, and in suspicion about my loved one’s compliance with treatment.
ENTHUSIAST Type: I’m excitingly busy, optimistic. But, under stress, I can slip into constantly seeking new and exciting experiences, becoming distracted and exhausted by staying on the go. I can run from the reality of my loved one’s discomfort and needs in this flight.
CHALLENGER Type: I’m impressively powerful, aggressive. But, under stress, I can slip into believing I must control my environment, especially my loved one, sometimes becoming confrontational and intimidating. This can damage the needed vulnerability between us that builds relationship and helps my loved one feel his or her own power.
PEACEMAKER Type: I’m deeply easy-going, self-effacing. But, under stress, I can slip into being complacent, simplifying problems and minimizing anything upsetting. The inertia of our family patterns and my stubbornness can keep me from noticing when my loved one needs important intervention in their health journey.
The remedy when I slip into unhelpful relational patterns with my family member?I need to remember that I can stay awake to this kind of relational style automatic “slippage,” and correct course when necessary. Then I can continue to be a well-functioning part of that relational foundation so necessary for my loved one’s best psychological and medical outcomes in life!