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Coping with the Diabetes Police

Tips for helping those who want to help

Stop!  In the name of love…” – The Supremes

Do friends and family nag you about your diabetes? Most people assume that these individuals, often known as the “diabetes police,” criticize food choices, monitor blood glucose results, and offer unsolicited advice out of love and concern. But the motivations behind their behaviors may actually be more complex. Friends, family members, and even strangers may display “diabetes police” behavior because:

They feel awkward.  Many people say that they find it incredibly difficult to stay silent while their loved one fumbles with blood glucose equipment or contemplates what to order from a restaurant menu. The temptation to say something is apparently quite strong and uncomfortable. Simply standing by or watching without saying a word is a real challenge for them.

They don’t know their role. When diabetes enters a relationship, roles can shift.  A wife may suddenly feel compelled to mother her husband. An adult child may begin to parent his or her father who is living with diabetes. These shifts can be stressful and cause tension to develop. How about a sexual shift? I write a lot about how diabetes can affect romantic relationships. Can you imagine what it would be like to suddenly view your intimate partner as a mother figure? That could certainly take some of the fun out of your partnership.

They don’t know how to help.  Many diabetes police officers want to know how to motivate their loved ones to take better care of themselves and their life with diabetes.  Some share scary stories about relatives who have developed complications.  They don’t enjoy this approach, but do it because they don’t know any other options.

I’ve seen these reactions in my own clients and some researchers have found some similar results.

So how might you be able to help the “diabetes police” stop policing you?

Try opening up the discussion. Provide your family and friends with information about your needs and wants. One great way to do this is to hand them a copy of the “Diabetes Etiquette Card – For People Who Don’t Have Diabetes,” created by Dr. William H. Polonsky, PhD, CDE, and available from the Behavioral Diabetes Institute. It highlights ten requests that you may want to ask of your loved ones to help them help you.  Some examples from the Etiquette Card include:

“Don’t offer unsolicited advice about my eating or other aspects of my diabetes.”

“Do realize and appreciate that diabetes is hard work.”

“Do ask how you can be helpful.”

Each statement is followed by a brief, explanatory note. I’ve recommended the card to many people who have found it helpful.

Another way to help educate your diabetes “police force” is to invite them to join you at a local diabetes class or to come to an appointment with your diabetes educator or other health care provider. If they do, they will have an opportunity to get expert answers to their most pressing questions.

For additional tips (and a good laugh), consider watching “My Life as a Pin Cushion: Diabetes Police,” a creative and educational video created by Mike Lawson that identifies three different types of “diabetes police” and potential ways to deal with them.

Bottom line – don’t let the diabetes police get you down. Try some of the suggestions to educate and inform them, and see what happens!

Janis Roszler, MSFT, RD, CDE*, LD/N is the American Association of Diabetes Educators 2008-09 Diabetes Educator of the Year. She is a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, and marriage and family therapist. Her books include Sex and Diabetes and The Secrets of Living and Loving with Diabetes. Roszler is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.

© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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