You can be proud of your efforts, even if they do not bring the desired results.
After someone is diagnosed with diabetes, how family members react will vary according to their individual personalities, how attached they are to the person with diabetes and their sense of responsibility. Their reactions can reflect a lack of knowledge, anxiety, fear or even a desire to help.
People don’t always know what to do when someone is diagnosed with diabetes. Here are some suggestions to help you support a family member on his diabetes journey.
Do your best but don’t ask the impossible of yourself
Be realistic about your role. You can do everything humanly possible and still not succeed in changing the behaviour of the person with diabetes. Remember: you are not responsible for the things over which you have no control. If the diabetic individual’s condition deteriorates, this is not necessarily due to something you didn’t do.
Remember that you’ve done your best with the resources and knowledge you possess, within your limitations. You can be proud of your efforts, even if they don’t lead to the desired result.
Focus on what’s possible instead of the ideal. Your goal is not to make the person with diabetes completely happy every moment of the day for the rest of his life. That’s impossible. He, like the rest of us, will have to deal with frustrations and disappointment. You can’t possibly know, understand and anticipate everything, so give up that notion.
Encourage a sense of responsibility
While you can be present and guide the person with diabetes, allow him to assume his responsibilities, which will help him regain control over his life. You can be there to listen, to counsel and support, but there are things you must let the person do for himself.
Be careful not to become overprotective: the person with diabetes must learn to take responsibility and look after his diabetes.
Look for good quality information
Help the person with diabetes find the information relevant to his disease and treatment. Facilitate access to this information and, if necessary, put him in touch with experienced diabetics. A thorough understanding of his disease will help him feel more in control of his new reality.
Encourage adherence to the treatment
Family is often the motivating agent, reminding the diabetic of his disease, the importance of dealing with it, the solutions to improve his quality of life, as well as his own ability to promote his well-being. Encourage him to have realistic expectations and to persevere even if the results are not as satisfactory as he had hoped.
Applaud the successes
Congratulate the person with diabetes for his successes. Mention from time to time how much you appreciate his efforts and the fact that this will increase the chance of having a long and pleasant life together.
Encourage all activities and decisions that lead to more autonomy, competence, self-control and self-esteem.
Speak from the “I” perspective
If you accuse someone or make him feel guilty by saying, for example, “You can’t stop cheating. You have no will power!” you risk the opposite reaction: as an expression of frustration or independence, the person with diabetes might cheat even more.
To avoid provoking a rebellious reaction, avoid directly confronting the person with diabetes or challenging his arguments.
Instead, turn the discussion around and focus on how you feel: “I feel uncomfortable when you eat without considering your diabetes. I am afraid that your health is going to suffer. It makes me sad when I think that you could get sicker and that I could lose you.” You will have a greater chance of being heard.
Set an example
You can set an example by adopting a balanced lifestyle and healthy diet for yourself. You can also be a model of flexibility and adaptability in tough situations (changing jobs, changing habits, improving your health behaviours).
You needn’t go so far as to follow a diet as restrictive as the diabetic’s. You are two different people. You have the right to your own life.
Learn to say No
You can refuse to do something you consider harmful to the health of the person with diabetes, such as buying or making certain foods he must avoid. You can decide that his demands are sometimes excessive or simply give priority to your own needs. Take a critical look at what you have to do. You, too, have the right to a good life.
Take care of yourself
Respect your limits. When you believe you have done everything you can, give yourself permission to turn your attention away from the disease. Get involved in other things. Learn to relax.
Don’t try to continually control your feelings, to always appear happy, calm and serene. Like the rest of humanity, you are entitled to express the full range of emotions.
Give yourself permission to be tired or sick. Take time for yourself. You will be of no use to anyone if you become completely exhausted.
Regularly assess your interest, availability and ability to help. Express how you feel to a confidant. That will help you better understand what you are experiencing. Accept help from your family and friends.
Ékoé, Jean-Marie. (2010) Vivre avec une personne atteinte de diabète, Montréal: Éditions Bayard Canada. Available in the store (French only)
Research and adaptation: Diabetes Québec Team of Health Care Professionals
Scientific review: Dr. Alain Janelle, Psychologist
Fortin, Bruno, Psychologist. (Spring 1993). “Vivre avec une personne diabétique,” Plein Soleil, Diabetes Québec, pp. 5-7.
July 2014 (updated on July 2018)
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