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Tell Yourself a Better Story

Words can hurt or heal. Choose yours carefully.

Here's a reality about life with aging parents: There will be times when you lose it.

There will be times when you feel frustrated. When you feel resentful. When you feel angry. You're going to make mistakes. You're going to snap at the people you love the most. And you're going to feel guilty about it.

It doesn't matter that your brother had it coming. It doesn't matter how many times you told mom the television is too loud. Or how exhausted you are from juggling all the other priorities in your life. Regardless how justified your feelings and actions may be — and they probably are — you're going to feel bad.

The Relentless Voice in Your Head

The voice in your head will make sure you do. The voice that says you're selfish because you don't want to deal with your mother today. The one that wants to tell your brother to step up or shut up. The one that says that nothing you do is ever good enough.

Sound familiar? Of course it does. That voice is always there, and nothing is more critical or unforgiving. It's so relentless, in fact, that we don't even notice the brutal way we talk about ourselves to ourselves — especially when we're under stress.

How to Change Your Script

Having the strength and resilience you need to keep showing up for your parents begins with taking care of yourself.

And one of the easiest ways to start is by using a simple self-compassion strategy to stop the abusive, undermining a-hole whispering in your ear.

Here’s how:
  1. Notice the pain. What is that voice telling you? The critical one that never stops and never forgives. What is the story you're telling yourself?
  1. Acknowledge the pain. The act of catching and calling out your pain is powerful, because it's easy to accept the negative narrative in your head as normal. To break the pattern, keep it simple: "Okay. You are feeling pain. You are telling yourself a negative story." Or my personal favorite: "You are shit-talking yourself again."
  1. Forgive yourself. You're not perfect because no one is perfect. You're human. And there's nothing more human that learning to live with the fact that you — and no one you know —will ever be perfect. Again, keep it simple: “Forgive yourself. You are not perfect. No one is perfect.”
  1. Tell yourself a better story. Talk to yourself with the same kindness and support you'd give your best friend if they were in your situation.

Important: Talk to yourself using “you” instead of “I” — a tactic called “distanced self-talk.” Talking to yourself in the second person (or using your name) helps process stress by creating emotional distance and perspective.

Some suggestions:
  • This is a difficult moment, and you are doing the best you can.
  • You are a caring and loving person.
  • You are kind and compassionate to yourself and your family.
  • You are showing up to help with the best of intentions.
  • You've got this!

Now, talking to yourself in the second or third person is going to feel weird. Find a private moment and try it anyway because hearing supportive self-talk out loud helps. If privacy isn't an option, repeat the positive statements above to yourself.

Learning how to talk to yourself with compassion is an essential survival tool, but it's not an instant solution. Self-compassion is a habit that requires practice. And when you're expecting aging parents, the sooner you start, the better.

Thanks for caring,

Ethan signature graphic

Stay Aware

The Flaw of Gravity

Falls are the leading cause of emergency room visits for older adults. Fractured bones are common. Fractured bones, head injuries and hip fractures that require extended hospitalization and lead to reduced mobility and quality of life are common.

Want to help your parents preserve their independence? Assess their fall risk before there's a problem. Start with this free online fall risk assessment from The National Council on Aging.


When Seconds Matter

Mom or dad living alone? In a medical emergency, first responders won't hesitate to break down a locked door to get inside, if necessary. And if your parent has mobility challenges, a history of medical problems or falls, that's a real possibility.

Here's a better option: Install a first responder lockbox near the front door. Start by calling your parent's local fire department. Many sell (and may even install) models from Knox that give firefighters a master key for rapid access. You can also buy first responder lockboxes online. Secure installation is essential, so hire a contractor or handyman to do the job right. And be sure to register the access code with the fire department.

Take Care

Positive Possibilities

A big part of helping an aging parent is coping with stress and uncertainty. But that's not the whole story. It's just the part of the journey that most of us focus on. Caring as an obligation. A responsibility. A burden.

Positive caregiving sees this time as a rite of passage — an opportunity for personal growth and deeper connnection. And it's not about denying negative feelings or forcing yourself to always look on the bright side of life. It's about savoring the good and using positive emotions to move forward. (Even if you and your parent aren't on the best terms to begin with.)

For More

How to live through midlife with aging parents.

Practical tips and strategies to manage the changes and meet the challenges of helping your aging parents. Hand-picked and delivered by email biweekly. 

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