Coping Mechanisms of Family Members of Ailing Patients

When you find out that a member of your family is suffering from a terminal illness, it turns out to be a devastating situation. Many of us don’t know how to react, what to say to each other or the patient or, what to do next. We wish we could just pretend like nothing has changed from yesterday, and behave normally.

 In some other cases, the disease might’ve progressed from bad to worse over a period of time in which case the family will be well aware of the changes that they might have to prepare for. Consultations with doctors generally engage family members of the patient so that:

  • they are aware of the characteristics of the disease & its impact on the patient
  • they have their consent for suggested medical procedures

There is no way that we can imagine getting through a situation where a family member is terminally ill, without awareness on the disease and its manifestations, a heads up on how soon to expect death, or how we can take care of ourselves and them in the best way possible. It is but evident that the idea of caring for a loved one who might pass on soon is disconcerting and scary. Many of us would’ve rarely encountered that kind of a situation before. All our skills and prowess developed over the years might suddenly seem like they count for nothing.

All of the above might be true. However, there is no need to feel like all hope is lost. There are very many families that handle such predicaments fairly well. Their love for the ailing person invokes a desire to become strong and keep the patient happy in his/her last days. This is an act of bravery and often requires a lot of work & some form of motivation or support from external sources. The good news is that there is support available for such family members, which helps them with realizing and adopting favourable coping mechanisms.

Coping Mechanisms that family members of ailing patients adopt:

When even the slightest of setbacks or problems at work or with friends cause emotional outbursts, it is but common to expect that repercussions of such events take the form of psychological manifestations. Following are some means by which these family members are advised on coping with their situations to help segregate the negatives from positives and focus on the positives.

  1. We side with the fact that communication is the key to resolving problems. This saying holds good in this scenario as well. Many family members talk to each other and confide in each other to feel lighter. Knowing that there is somebody who’s shoulder they can cry on is a comforting feeling. Communication may be verbal or written, as long as there is some sort of dialogue between a person and his/her immediate family members. This is categorized as emotion-focused coping strategy. Psychiatrists and psychologists generally offer this form of support.
  2. Another approach is cognitive distraction that is also an emotion-focused strategy where certain activities carried out by family members of ailing patients help distract themselves from the painful situation in hand. This primarily limits the attention and concentration of these people and as a consequence, from instinctively reacting to everything that takes place. Again, psychiatrists and psychologists provide support in this direction.
  3. Many seek out support groups to meet people from various backgrounds and walks of life, all ultimately dealing with a similar situation of caring for an ailing, beloved family member. This makes for a platform where people can freely share their experiences, emotions and hardships and also cry as it is central to coping strategies to get the weight off one’s chest. All the people in such groups understand each other’s situations and circumstances well.
  4. Many of us have faith in god or some form of divine intelligence. There are spiritual groups that bring together people from the same faith and take them through prayers and spiritual discussions that aim at health appraisal. It helps to keep ourselves connected to that faith through worship at a holy place or just spending a few minutes everyday, on prayers. You might want to take some alone time to do some reflection on the day’s happenings and introspect on your behaviour and reactions to situations. Spiritual growth and connection with oneself makes for good grounding and maintenance of favourable mental health. You cannot give until you have!

These mechanisms work differently on different individuals considering the backgrounds we might be from, the strength of the relationship shared with the ailing family member, our upbringing and environment exposed to over the years growing up. Although above mentioned strategies are generally adopted, often psychiatrists and psychologists customize their application by these family members, for best outcomes. 

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