SF #018

This material has been developed by and is presented by The Sandwich Generation (r)


stress and you

By Carol Abaya, M.A.


Stress usually creeps up on a person, and one tiny thing or happening sends a person into a crisis situation. When this happens, all elements of a persons life are affected as if they were in a circle.

Most people feel they can handle problems themselves. It takes time for someone to accept that things are out of control and to seek help, says Robert J. Ackerman, Ph.D., a behavioral scientist and professor of Sociology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Ackerman notes that if the rate of change is too fast, then stress can result. And how one views change impacts the stress level. About 20% of the time, people are against change and have difficulty accepting it; 20% look at change in a positive light; and 60% take a wait and see attitude.

Changes in relation to aging usually means loss of control of lifes important roles and of abilities to do for self and others.

When this happens, Ackerman says, People have a sense of betrayal. Its a big morale element.

Where does this put the Sandwich Generationer??

Adults Under Stress


Ackermans theories focus on eight different types of people and their characteristics. In each of these types, there are positive characteristics which help a person successfully move through daily responsibilities and relationships. However, when stress dominates a scenario, then negative characteristics can interfere with the persons own health and ability to deal with the situation. This is important in elder care scenes.

Besides describing characteristics, Ackerman makes specific recommendations to overcome the negatives in the emotional structure of that type.

Type of Person Emotional Motivation
  • The Achiever
Fear of inadequacy
  • The Triangulator
Anger, hurt
  • The Passive One
Low self-esteem
  • The Other-Directed One
Fear of rejection and abandonment
  • Confilict Avoider
Fear of exposure and inadequacy
  • The Hypermature
Strong need to control
  • The Detacher
Fear of vulnerability, anger, rage
  • The Invulnerable
Leads a fulfilling life


The Achiever


The Achiever is a competent person, successful, a motivator, meets goals and is reliable. However, he/she is overly competitive, a perfectionist, has difficulty relaxing, fails to care for self, and is externally validated only, says Ackerman. I am what I do. If I dont do, then Im nobody, explains Ackerman. If such a person is validated through work, then relationships elsewhere may be difficult. There is always a sense of inadequacy. There are internal negative feelings in relation to validation. Such a person fears failure, and this has implications in relation to parent care and failing health of a loved one.

The Achiever needs to learn to say no, find time to relax and slow down, and to appreciate self, says Ackerman.

The Triangulator


More men than women are Triangulators. They are creative, courageous, good under pressure. However, they have never learned to deal with problems head on and have a lot of unresolved emotional issues stemming from their childhood. Such a person has poor communication skills, blames others for his problems, is manipulative, irresponsible, often angry and passive-aggressive. Being unable to deal with problems, they find diversions so they dont have to deal with them. In family situations, this means sisters are left to cope with aging parent care because the son walks away, says Ackerman.

The Triangulator needs to accept responsibility for his own behavior, learn how to communicate directly, and find alternative ways to handles stress and anger, Ackerman says.

The Passive One


Ackerman says more women than men fit into this category. They are willing to help others, highly adaptable, loyal, independent, good listeners and empathic. However, he says, such women dont stand up for themselves, always put others first, have a low self-worth, and are often used by others in relationships. In relation to elder parent care, it means that others take advantage of them, dumping most chores and responsibilities on them.

Passive people, Ackerman advises, have to learn to take care of themselves first, do things to raise self-esteem, and to feel good about self. Having loyal friends, The Passive One needs to learn how to accept being liked by others, which helps self-esteem.

The Other Directed One


More women than men fall into this category, and Ackerman says they are exactly the opposite of their external appearance. These people have a fear of rejection and abandonment and are often resentful of others, though they dont show it. They are charming people, with a sense of humor, anticipate others needs, are cooperative, joyful and energetic, he says. At least this is what others see. In reality, Ackerman says, they are overly controlled by others, tense, anxious, over-reactive, indecisive, have no sense of self and need to please others more than self.

It isnt easy to overcome the negatives here, he says. But it is important to stop being controlled by others, to start doing what you want to do, to express your needs and ideas, and to establish your own sense of self and what is right for you.

In elder care situations, this person can be easily manipulated by a parent or siblings who dont want to participate in care. Physical and emotion breakdowns are bound to occur.

Conflict Avoider


Again, more women than men fit this category, and they fear exposure and feel inadequate when it comes to their own problems. They fool others because they help others solve their problems, -- but in doing so, avoid having to deal with and solve their own problems. While they are good problem solvers, persistent and sensitive to others, they take on too many other peoples problems, are seldom happy and often intimidated. While they help others, they are unable to accept help from others. Often they are lonely people because they dont let others in, Ackerman says.

Ackermans advice: Quit taking on the problems of others; learn the difference between helping someone else and feeling responsible for their problems and solutions; and be willing to receive help from others.

The Hypermature


The Hypermature has a strong need to control situations, relationships and emotions. He/she is organized, analytical, prepared, reliable, and meets goals. However, says Ackerman, this type of person is too serious and shuts down his/her emotions. Stress related illnesses are common, and the person is fearful, avoids taking risks, is critical and blames self too much. In relation to elder care, the chores will get taken care of, but the emotional issues will not be addressed.

Ackermans advice: learn to relax and have fun, let others take charge, and allow yourself to express emotions. Also, adjust priorities to reduce feelings of being overwhelmed.



More men fit this category and have a fear of vulnerability, anger and rage. They are perceptive, can spot trouble and are independent and self-motivated. In many cases, however, parents had detached themselves from their children, and so children are detached from parents. They often cannot deal with problems, and emotionally close them off.

As a result, they have rigid attitudes, are defiant, non-feeling, secretive and harbor inner anger and fear of being hurt. In relation to elder care, they can easily just walk away.

To overcome these, Ackerman says, they need to develop interpersonal skills, identify and express emotions, learn how to handle stress, and to accept help and support from others.

The Invulnerable


This type of person is the most healthy, emotionally as well as physically. They do acknowledge feelings and hurt, they have a sense of humor, a well-balanced sense of autonomy, can work through problems, are neither controlled or controlling, and do not live in fear of the past. These people like the present and themselves.

By understanding yourself, Ackerman says, you can change what needs to be changed and be in a better position, especially emotionally, to handle the challenges of elder/parent care. The most important elements, he notes, are to have an internal sense of self validation, maintain a sense of humor, learn to relax and have fun, and seek out and accept help from others.


When Good is No Good


Girls are always told you have to be good ... or else.... This burden needs to be changed.

Women have a burden we feel responsible for the happiness, and moods of others if we are responsible then we are a good girl. In doing this, we lose our own identity. We lose our self because there is no time to attend to it. The good girl syndrome is with us all the time; we carry that message in our heads all the time; this is how we are brought up. This thinking effects us. We dont take the route of our choice; we take the road others plan for us.

Humorist and psychotherapist Rosemarie Poverman, MSW, BCD, LCSW, goes on to say, Many social myths are lies. Expectations a woman can do it all, alone are absurd. If you try to be what others want you to be (a good girl) then you lose a lot of self, of individuality.

Poverman bashes the womens lib movement saying, It (the movement) only added chores and myths to expectations of what a woman can and should do. Nothing (no chores) was subtracted from the things to be done. This is an absurd message. Im supposed to do it all, alone. This can do it all attitude is accomplished at high sacrifice to self. The NOW message is too extreme.

Poverman talks about women in general and does not narrow these womens issues to elder/parent care situations. But her thoughts and observations are very pertinent to parent care.

She focuses on the gender stereotypes of the female which indicate that if a woman feels bad about not being able to do everything, its because Im not doing my job. Its passive control.

A woman, Poverman points out, is supposed to be (according to society) affectionate, cheerful, not really important, soothing of others feelings, sensitive, tender and yielding. All of these are a diagnosis for becoming neurotic.

The Past


Dont waste time with things you cant fix or change, Poverman says. Dont let the past become todays identity. Dont wear the past like a uniform. Move on. Simplify your life. Do what you enjoy. Too many take themselves too seriously. Dont forget to laugh. Laughter is pro-active. Put a smile on your face during hard times. And hold in your heart a little rebellion (from everyone elses expectations).

Looking at the good girl myth and in a way, rejecting it, Poverman has some sound advice.




Were THE Generation of Survivors


Note: In my travels through articles and information, to select material appropriate for Sandwich Generationers, I came across the following. In a sense, the thoughts noted here provide an excellent explanation as to why Sandwich Generationers -- and their aging parents -- may be confused about role reversal, loss of old roles, and the need for our new role.

Reading it put a smile on my face. I hope it does the same for you.

For All Those Born Before 1945

We are survivors!!! Consider the changes we have witnessed!!!

We were born before television, before penicillin, before polio shots, frozen foods, Xerox, plastic, contact lenses, Frisbees and the PILL. We were before radar, credit cards, split atoms, laser beams and ballpoint pens. Before pantyhose, dishwashers, clothes dryers, electric blankets, air conditioners, drip-dry clothes...and before men walked on the moon.

We got married first and then lived together. How quaint can you be? In our time, closets were for clothes, not for coming out of. Bunnies were small rabbits and rabbits were not Volkswagons. Designer Jeans were scheming girls named Jean, and having a meaningful relationship meant getting along with our cousins.

We thought fast food was what you ate during lent, and outer space was the back of the Riviera Theatre. We were before house husbands, gay nights, computer dating, dual careers and commuter marriages. We were born before the day care centers, group therapy and nursing homes. We never heard of FM radio, tape decks, electronic typewriters, artificial hearts, word processors, yogurt and guys wearing earrings. For us, time sharing meant togetherness...not computers and condominiums. A chip meant a piece of wood. Hardware meant hardware and software wasnt even a word.

Back then, Made in Japan meant junk and the term making out referred to how you did on your exam. Pizzas, McDonalds and instant coffees were unheard of. We hit the scene where there were 5 and 10 cent stores, where you bought things for five and ten cents. Sanders or Wilson sold ice cream cones for a nickel or a dime. For one nickel, you would ride a street car, make a phone call, buy a Pepsi or enough stamps to mail one letter and two postcards. You could buy a Chevy coup for $600...but who could afford one? A pity too, because gas was 11 cents a gallon!

In our days, GRASS was mowed, COKE was a drink and POT was something you cooked in, ROCK MUSIC was a Grandmas lullaby and AIDS were helpers in the Principals office. We certainly were not before the difference between the sexes were discovered, but we were surely before the sex change. We made do with what we had. And we were the last generation that was so dumb as to think you needed a husband to have a baby. No wonder we are so confused and there is such a generation gap today.

But WE SURVIVED!!! What better reason to celebrate???

Author Unknown





A persons body does what the mind tells it to. The mind can say Im upset, angry, and body muscles tense up. The mind can say, Relax shoulder muscles (for example), relax, relax, and body muscles most often do relax, thus helping to reduce stress.

Feel a headache coming on as you sit in traffic? ... as you rush through the supermarket? ... take a parent to the doctor for a non-existent illness?

Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, tune your mind into relaxing, into telling your body what you want it to do.

Take deep breathes, from the diaphragm. Focus your mind on the part of the body that feels tense. Suppose you have a headache. Repeat in your mind, at least three times (better yet five or six times), Scalp muscles relax. After talking to those muscles, talk to all the other muscles in your head, neck and shoulders. Your forehead muscles, eye muscles, cheek muscles, jaw muscles, etc. Tell each of these muscles to relax.

When warranted, talk to your back, arm, leg and feet muscles the same way. This same mind-telling-body exercise can even be used when you feel sleepy, but need to finish up work or chores. First relax all your head muscles, and then repeatedly tell your body, Wake up, and Im full of energy.

This exercise is often called visualization by biofeedback counselors and can be done any place. Needless to say, results can be enhanced if you find a quiet nook or put on some soft background music.

Telling your body what to do, using the visualization method, can also be used if you have a cold. Spend time telling your body to kill the germs and tell the germs to leave your body. Doing this exercise several times a day does help!





Love---Frustration, Anger and Guilt


Honoring thy father and mother, a principal precept of our formative years, takes on new meaning when we become caregivers to an elderly parent. As young children, we saw our parents as infallible, and for many they retain that role. However, as their bodies and/or minds begin to decline, their human frailties become all too clear.

Throughout our lifetime, the one constant is our personality. So, that domineering, controlling or dependent parent is not going to change. Facing the many losses that accompany old age, failing health and the increased dependency on others, tends to exacerbate lifelong personality traits, the good and the bad. The sweet and the dependent mother who never complained is now a martyr and needs your support for everything. The domineering or manipulative parent may use his or her physical symptoms to have emotional needs met. Feelings of loneliness and abandonment go hand in hand with old age. Even the nicest parent, when engulfed with such painful emotions, can become manipulative.

Regardless of a parents personality, his neediness and demands can wear a caregiver down emotionally to the point of physical illness or serious depression.

New Challenge


Traditionally families have accepted the responsibility of older parents and relatives. Why is it more difficult today? More women work and have greater financial responsibility. Life expectancy has increased 25% over the last 25 years. Balancing life as a homemaker, spouse, parent, grandparent and wage earner becomes overwhelming with the caregiving adult child getting the short end of the stick. When an older parents needs demand constant attention or require ongoing care, we respond to the age old precept and honor them often at our own emotional expense.

Far too many caregivers today find themselves in a vicious cycle of emotional turmoil. A caregivers well-meaning intentions make her want to do all she can for her parents. However, when the adult childs best caregiving efforts are met with criticism and ingratitude, those loving feelings turn to anger, then guilt. We need to take a long clear look at the meaning of honor, so we can do our best with all our priorities, obligations and responsibilities, especially to ourselves. Yes, ourselves, for without us whom do our parents have? We hold their well-being and safety as primary concerns. We want what is best for them. Frequently when we express our concern they become angry. They behave like the parent, and we respond like young children. Well, they brought us up to be responsible, so we have to work around their emotions, deal with our own and find the best solution for all involved. That means we have to have a heart-to-heart talk with them and confront them with the reality of the present situation and plan for the future. Sounds scary doesnt it? The thought of confronting your parents brings the fearfulness and timidity we experienced as young children, and yet it needs to be done.



Honoring our parents as elderly individuals means they are not to be ignored, shunned, left to their own devices, or neglected. Elderly parents are to be loved and assisted. The challenge is knowing how to fulfill our obligation to them within their physical and mental limitations, to do our best within our own framework of responsibilities, and to experience the least amount of guilt.

Guilt can come from an unrealistic concept of caregiving. Guilt can come from trying to answer their demands and make them happy. Guilt can come when we are tired and feel selfish and unloving. Guilt can come from wishing they were not ill, frail or dependent.

If you care for them you may also feel angry, frustrated, exhausted. These feelings are normal. The danger is in not acknowledging them or not having an outlet for them. It is very helpful to have someone to talk to, to share with. At support group meetings, you can discuss your feelings, your frustrations, shed your tears, as well as find practical ideas and solutions to specific problems. With the support of other caregivers, you will find ways to cope. And best of all you will realize that you are not alone with your feelings.



Another cause of guilt and frustration is that many times we try to solve the situation in small ways rather than look at the overall picture and plan for the best and worst case scenario that may confront us in the very near future. Caregiving an elderly adult whose health and safety status is in constant flux needs a plan. So sit down on a good day and plan. Be prepared to discuss the situation realistically with them so they can be involved in the decision making process. Do your homework about resources available in your community. Involve other family members and reassure your parents that you will not abandon them and that their health, security and well-being are of great concern to you. Your parents may be angry and manipulative, but in the long run they will cooperate. They do not want to lose their relationship with you. We honor our parents by being honest with them about our lives and our responsibilities.

Elana Peters, M.A., is Executive Director, Care Options, a California non-profit educational organization.




This material is copyrighted by Carol Abaya Associates and cannot be reproduced in any manner, print, or electronically.