We humans are born to love and be loved. But being a loving and supportive friend, partner or family member can be a struggle even under the best of circumstances. Adding a side of diabetes to the mix can create unique challenges to our relationships (and our sanity).
Diabetes often threatens the diabetic’s sense of balance and serenity. But it doesn’t stop there. Family, friends and partners are also affected. Meeting the needs of our loved ones while managing our stress and maintaining a strong sense of self is key. Knowing how to get there is the hard part.
Whether you’re loved is newly diagnosed or is a diabetes veteran like me (22 years this Easter), implementing my three simple rules for loving a diabetic is bound to change things for the better. I recommend giving yourself at least a solid three weeks for the cumulative effects to shine.
And if you’re anything like me, you’ll slip up more than you succeed, especially in the beginning. But if you make the commitment to consistently implement these rules (which are really suggestions), I guarantee you’ll be happily surprised by the results.
So, in no particular order, here are Amylia’s Three Simple Rules for Loving a Diabetic:
- Be an Extreme Encourager
- Cultivate Empathy
- Detach with Love
Learning how to best meet the needs of your loved ones (whether diabetic or not) and still keep your sanity and wits about you is not a one-time-only event. We humans learn by trial and error. We get it eventually. But quick-fixes rarely last. Be patient as you try these three rules. I guarantee they’ll make the journey to greater health in your relationships–and yourself–more enjoyable.
1. .) Be an Extreme Encourager
This one rule alone can change your relationships, and your life.
Here’s the thing: no one is harder on ourselves than we are. Diabetes demands damn near perfection, and yet reminds us daily how utterly imperfect we are, and forever shall be. Odds are good that the diabetics in your life are keenly aware of their faults and failures (and flogs themselves over these things repeatedly).
My mentor, Christine Kane, taught me the anatomy of extreme encouragement. In essence, extreme encouragement allows you to be real without being rude. To be kind without having to lie. Lifting up those in need is really a gift to ourselves. Not only does real encouragement make others feel good, it makes us feel pretty darn good, too.
Being an extreme encourager means finding that place within that knows there is power in seeing beyond the drama or “facts” of a given situation (or person) to the deeper truth. It’s a bit like doing the work of Byron Katie, only more fun.
An extreme encourager trusts in the diabetic, and their enormous capacity to learn and grow from every misstep, set-back and screw up, as well as from their deepest desires. The result of extreme encouragement is that it helps people trust in themselves. Diabetic or not, we all need people to believe in us. Besides, the truth about “reality” is that everything we experience is based on our perceptions. “Reality” is little more than a story we tell ourselves. In other words, life is an illusion. So why not make it a good one?
2. .) Cultivate Empathy
The basis of empathy is attunement (giving another your full attention, without distraction). You have to really see the person. True empathy goes beyond imagining what it’d be like to “walk a mile in a diabetic’s shoes,” and involves a deep awareness of self and others. It’s easy to be kind and empathic when we’re not in a rush or stressed out. But life with diabetes can be tough; empathy is often put to the test when dealing with stressful, emotionally-charged situations.
Emerging brain science is proving the superior functioning of people who develop skills of self-awareness and self-regulation of emotions, of which empathy is a part. Watching helplessly as a diabetic slowly recovers from a low blood sugar reaction can be heartbreaking and extremely worrisome.
Witnessing the nauseating consequences sustained high bloodsugar can have on the body, mind, and spirit of a beloved diabetic friend, partner, or family member can be overwhelming. It takes a toll on us, too. Yet our health-care team rarely teaches us how to manage our emotions in these tough situations.
Self-regulation of emotions is key. Whether you’re Type 1, Type 2, Type 1.5 (LADA), or consider yourself a beloved member of the Type 3 family, becoming skilled at managing your emotions will serve you well in life.
Unmanaged (or _mis_managed) emotions tend to fuel thoughtless behaviors. The anger and frustration borne from the fear and worry diabetes brings to the fore, while understandable, simply lead to even more anger, frustration, and resentment. It’s a vicious cycle.
To stop this, it’s important to give our thinking minds a chance to catch up with our emotional minds so we can choose how to respond–instead of simply reacting in the moment. Our old, conditioned patterns of thought can be hard to break. Attunement is the antidote.
Attunement allows us to respond empathically in the midst of intense emotion. It is the foundation of true intimacy. Good luck cultivating empathy and a healthy relationship without being attuned to your partner.
By being fully present to the moment before us, we step into our power and claim it. From there, it’s much easier to come from a place of love. When we cultivate empathy, it’s amazing how seamlessly good feelings flow and strengthen us and our relationships.
3. .) Detach with Love
Detaching with love means being able to separate yourself from the “reality” (see rule #1) of what’s going on with a loved one or in any given situation. Detaching with love involves learning to separate your relationship with the diabetic from your opinions and judgments about the diabetic and their relationship or management of diabetes.
Diabetes often feels like a complete loss of control over one’s body and its functioning. As hard as it is to watch without judgement or listen without prejudice, doing so helps keep frustration and anger at bay.
Being mad at a diabetic for being diabetic is kind of like being mad at your cat because its a cat and what you really wanted was a dog. If you wanted a dog but got a cat, it’s up to you to take responsibility for that choice. Then, decide what you’re going to do about it. There are plenty of lovely people out there who would gladly love and care for a cat (without secretly pining away for a dog). It’s okay to redecide. It’s okay to change your mind. And it’s perfectly fine to want a dog instead of a cat. Just don’t take your frustrations out on the cat. Decide for yourself what you want. Then, take responsibility for your choices. Same goes for the diabetic.
Remember, if you allow your well-being (and the well-being of the relationship) to be determined by the level of care a diabetic gives to their disease, you create a no-win scenario. It is up to the diabetic to make the necessary changes to their approach to diabetes (or not), not you. Pushing someone to get there before they’re ready is futile and extremely frustrating for all involved. It leads to bad feelings and resentment.
Think about how hard it is for you to create lasting change, even when highly motivated. Let’s be honest: you are not in a position to change the diabetic, let alone change their feelings toward diabetes. Why not save your energy for more fruitful endeavors? Let your relationship with your loved one be based on the feelings you have for each other.
Call to Action: Give yourself a few weeks to try out my 3 simple rules for loving a diabetic. Whadya have to lose besides your daily dose of frustration, misunderstanding, or worry?
P.S. Like diabetes, there is no one prescription for success with relationships. But where other techniques fail me, these three are forever holding steady–no matter which side of the figurative fence I find myself on. The changes that occur organically when you’re an extreme encourager who is cultivating empathy and detaching with love are simply remarkable. Life changing even. Try them out and see for yourself.
What advice about relationships do you have for diabetics and those who love them?
Amylia wrote for HealthCentral as a Patient Expert for Diabetes.