Do You Have a "Natural Caregiver" Personality?

Last updated: May 05, 2010
My heart in your hands
Image by aussiegall used under the creative commons attribution license.

How much is your caregiving stress level affected by the personality you were born with? We all know people who seem to roll with caregiving more easily than others. Research shows that this is partly due to factors like the amount of support a caregiver has, the type of support, and the nature of his or her self care. And then there's the situation itself. (Dementia caregiving tends to be higher stress than, say, diabetes care.)

But could it also be that some people have more of a natural "caregiver personality" than others? And if so, how does that buffer their experience?

Just look at the reaction to my last post about caregiver resentment -- a.k.a. "the emotion nobody talks about". Some folks cherish the role; many more embrace it more dutifully or even with difficulty.

I'm not saying any personality type makes a better caregiver than another. Any type can get the job done. But we each enter caregiving from different natural starting places -- usually one of these three common caregiver profiles:

Natural-born caregiver

You know how to fuss over the sick without consulting a how-to manual. Your patience runs longer than a day with sundown syndrome. Aside from eldercare, you probably nurture pets, plants, and children. You remember to ask people how they're doing -- and then really listen to their answers. You feel fulfilled and charged by caregiving. This can make it a little hard for others, and you, to realize that you have limits, and can burn out, just like the rest of us.

Case study: My sister-in-law Laura, whom I've written about before because she knows her limits despite simultaneously taking on six kids, three elders, two dogs, two cats -- and my brother!

Natural-born advocate

Your bedside manner is iffy (even though you mean well). But a crisis galvanizes you into action: research, checklists, plans. You manage to be organized and useful, even when you're not entirely sure what you're doing. Still, you're relieved when somebody else handles the showers and potty runs. You battle guilt and that gnawing feeling of never doing enough, well enough.

Case study: Yep, me. While my mom recovered from a broken pelvis and, later, navigated cancer care, the physical part of caregiving felt awkward and uncomfortable. So did talking to her about her feelings -- I have so many questions I wish I'd asked Mom. But talking to doctors? Winnowing options? Making sure she was well treated and her wishes were met? That I was good at.

Dutifully devoted caregiver

You never pictured yourself as a caregiver. you are, doing what needs to be done. And you're doing just fine. Whatever your degree of enthusiasm at the outset, you're responsive, loving, dependable. You probably manage to pay your bills on time (or in the nick of time), though you may not remember to send birthday cards. But because your caregiving answers a need more than answers a calling, you feel the burn. And you're vulnerable to doing the job to the exclusion of treating yourself just as well.

Case study: Elizabeth Shean, the "Dad Has Dementia" blogger. Read a few posts. Can you relate? I suspect the vast majority of the caregiving millions fit this profile. And thank goodness for them all!

Are there other categories of basic "types"? At first, I thought I'd have a huge list. But these three cover a lot of ground. Not scientific -- but interesting. A lot of caregiver stress comes from the same sources. But it stands to reason that some of it depends on who we were even before anybody needed our help.

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9 Comments So Far. Add Your Wisdom.

over 4 years ago

Finding yourself a caregiver (at least of someone aging with illness) can be chalked up to the demographics on one end, and karma on the other. I find it ironic that I, who had fought for a tubal ligation and got one at age 28 in 1979 (took me four years to convince the doc I genuinely DID NOT want kids) now find myself with an 87 year old child, who will become more dependent instead of less. I do not know fully what contract my soul made for this lifetime, I'm sure this has more to do with me than my dad necessarily. I just hope I pass this test this lifetime, because I don't want this in another. And I will make sure that I do whatever I need to to prevent me from burdening any family and friends when I get old and dependent...when I look around and see into the future what my financial circumstance will be like given I've lost most of my financial reserves in this recession and unemployment, I realize I have a decade or less to provide funds for care as I age. If my father did not have a decent (not plush) pension, he would end up banrupting the whole family to provide care for him. God help us Boomers fifteen years out when the system starts to collapse. Who will care for today's caregivers?

over 4 years ago

I'm loving all these stories. How we become caregivers in the first place, and then what happens, really does shape our experiences. Isn't it interesting that so few of us are "naturals" and yet have so much responsibility for doing it anyway?

Anonymous said over 4 years ago

I am a mixture of two and three and maybe even the fourth (not listed). I became a caregiver because my mom became suddenly ill and could not care for herself. I am retired from a professional job and other than my 3 children who are now 52, 50 and 46, I have never cared for anyone ill. I have always hated answering questions when I thought the personn knew the answer or could find out with little effort. Now that my mom is better physically (but still needs constant assistance.) I find myself losing patience with her asking me the same thing over and over, even what time it is when she has her watch on and correcting me if I am a few minutes off. I take really good care of her with fresh homecook meals, clean clothes, linen, room. I do well with ordering and administering her meds and Drs. visits and bills but I can only stand a couple of television shows (her choice) per day. I don't have much patience with the things that worry her and shouldn't like how someone elses' hair is styled or what someone else is wearing or how much weight they have gained. Today for the first time in my 72 years I realized how men much feel when women chat on and on about things that don't interest them whatsoever. (LOL). I am honored that I am able to care for her. I have one sister who doesn't almost nothing to help and visits once or twice a month for an hour or so. I plan to keep her with me as long as I can care for her but the innate feeling of being a caregiver is not me. In fact the same monotonous things, cleaning, cooking, washing all day and not being able to go when I please is a major handicap. I would hate for my children to feel this way about caring for me and so I say this with all the guilt that is within me but I'm sure there is someone out there than understands.

over 4 years ago

Sorry, I hit enter by mistake. It turned out that the insusrance was not for nursing home care. My brother died 10 years ago, leaving me as the only child left in the family. I sometimes think of myself as "hard" because I'm not emotional, even though I will cry at movies. I think my lack of emotion is due to all the useless tears I shed as a child, knowing my mother chose to raise other children after leaving me with my grandmother. She always told me she didn't like girls, she wanted boys. We lived in the same city but she was always seen around town in her stationwagon full of foster children, even three girls. Maybe that's also where my "resentment" stems from if that's what you want to call it. Nevertheless, I take care of her, I left a very satisfying job to take a pay cut so I could work closer to home in case she needed me. I have now retired from the job I disliked to be a full time caregiver for her and my aunt with ALZ. I'm not unhappy, I just don'g have a gushing personality. I've always been alone until my marriage so I have a rather quiet personality. The one thing that I'm grateful for now is that my grandmother raised me. I've seen the result of being raised by my mother and it's not good at all. So, resentful, I don't think so, caregiver, yes, just not one with a bubbly personality.

over 4 years ago

I'm not sure which category I fit into, but it's definitely not the natural born caregiver. My mother moved in with me 2 1/2 years ago. She is an invalid possibly by choice. By that I mean she had knee surgery on both knees about 6 years ago. She loved the attention, always has. She would not keep up the therapy after a session; we have had her to go out for therapy, therapists have come in. Either way, she would do nothing after the sessions but sit and order service. At the time she was living in her own home with her foster daughter (45 years) and the foster daughter's son (19). There were constant fights between the mother and son and I felt the situation was not safe. She called the police on him several times. I told her years ago that she needed to get out of that house or put them out. She loved the fact that she had control of their SSI payments. When the fights began to come more often, she called and said she wanted to move in with me. Fine. I gave up my bedroom because it has a half bath. At the time I had a foster son in the room next to mine (He has since been reunited with his mother). I take care of my mother simply because there is nobody else. She told me she had long term insurance

over 4 years ago

Well I like this conversation, My dad ended up in a nursing home, long story, freak of nature anyerisum spelling sorry, ended up a paraplygic, again sorry for the spelling, we tried to keep him home I was against it, and so was one of my sister, two for two against I lost. to high needs and I knew the two sisters that wanted him home had no idea what they were in for, well he stayed home about three months and that was the end of that, I thought one of my sisters relationship with him was ended to demanding, not willing to give his way or no way. I saw it coming. anyway he is in a nursing home now, and He LOVES it. did I feel bad oh yeah horrible, sitting on the bed watching your dad sobbing in tears because you don't understand, to this day I cannot get that image from my mind, but I knew my life was not as such that I would be willing to give it up for him. selfish me. So I took an LNA class, thinking perhaps I can do this I love the elderly I love taking care of them, just not my relitives. So I lasted one month in the nursing home, not because I couldn't get along with the residents I loved loved being with them and feeling like I made a differance, but OMG, I am 54, in good health but I knew to long there and My back was going out, or something else. So I opted for a long and somewhat healthier life and got done, I do miss it. now my mother in law who is 76 and should be in a nursing home and of course refuses, is in need of help, she is a care giver to her brother in law, who is 92, and yeah that is quite a site, I cannot believe my husband and his sisters allow this, or even the state, but..........I will not help. She is the most ungrateful, unreasonable woman I have ever met, calls her, yells screams and crys at my husband constantlly you need to come here now, fix my wather plant my garden till my garden, buy me a new toilet, a new door, we buy, we fix, we do, we shovel snow in the winter, mow in the summer. she cannot take care of herself. and yes I did use to help. but after the most resent insident of getting yelled and screamed at because I didn't stack her wood the way she wanted me to, I am done. I feel gulty, ashamed and a rotten person. and I am an LNA, shame on me.

Anonymous said over 4 years ago

Adding to my earlier comment: the painful irony is that my father and I were very close. And I've had to 'rescue' him from his own arrogance and naivete in business more than once, costing me financially, burdening me with a bankruptcy. He berated my mother (who I was never close with) for not allowing him to mortgage and borrow to fund other ventures, and refused to fix their house so he wouldn't 'reward' her for smoking, drinking and being uncooperative. For years I played into this codependence, and just when I believe I was finally able to walk away when they got crazy, my mother died, and I became his 'go to' substitute. After 30 some years of this, I am tired. I have no guilt about placing him in a VA home, in fact, it will be good for both of us. He will have the round the clock care and company of old soldiers, will be only 40 miles away, and my visits and his overnights with me can take on a lighter tone, not that of arguing, cajoling, explaining, pleading. AT this point, my final memories of him are tainted by the last few years of remote and hands on caregiving, and I hope I can reverse that. I really don't like care givers in my home, and god forbid them staying overnight if a new job require travel. I'm hoping to find some respite centers that can deal with a couple of days a week until he gets into the VA center. When they were here, they basically found themselves with nothing to do because he doesn't like puzzles, games, etc. So my salvation is his salvation.

over 4 years ago

I am not a natural caregiver, either. Not in the sense that we are discussing here. I was a high school teacher for over 30 years, and I was good at giving support and encouragement. But physical caregiving is an entirely different thing. My situation is different from the Anonymous above, because I care for my mother who cannot walk. She can do practically nothing for herself, but she is sweet and kind and only rarely gets confused. But she needs constant attention of all kinds, and I am completely tied down. I never envisioned myself being responsible for anyone else, but I have no choice. I do take good care of my mother, and I don't resent it, but I do not have a caregiver's spirit at all. People are always telling me that I'm doing a good job, but they don't know how challenging it is. I don't think I am doing a good job at all. I do what I have to do, and she's comfortable and cared for. But I think there is much more to it than that.

Anonymous said over 4 years ago

You really missed the fourth caregiver model, and that is the one that hates it, never wanted it, wishes it were over. Caregiving is doing the basics: meals, laundry, doctor appointments, but life circumstances and personality don't take it much beyond that. Let me be clear, there is no abuse, but a lot of frustration and resentment. I've been alone by choice, no kids, had a responsible professional job. The timing aligned to take in my dad for what was hoped to be a temporary transition to assisted living while I was out of work. That's now going on over a year. While he has dementia/mid stage Alzheimers, he is high functioning in many respects and he is not stupid. He willfully ignores basic behavioral things despite signs all over the house to remind him. I drew the short straw because I am the daughter, was/is jobless, and needed to share expenses in trade for care. I am on the computer or phone all day looking for work, or taking courses to qualify for a job. Or am out interviewing or going to job centers. I have little companionship to offer, and when I try to do something, it usually ends up in a battle, much as it did with my mother.He would do better in a home with others around...though he does like having my cats around. So the Dutifully devoted may be your version of pressed into service, but many of us are NOT doing fine. After serving as his 'mind' since my mother died in 2005, I cannot handle the loss of my power, my soul and its professional and personal repercussions. He has to go into a skilled care facility before I am irretrievably lost.

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