A Controlling Nature Can Take a Toll on a Caregiver

Overattentive caregivers can undermine patient recovery.

Overbearing caregivers can have an adverse effect on their patients—but their controlling nature can also compromise their own health, experts warn.

"There is a very high level of self-imposed stress that comes with the need to control a situation,” notes Iris Cohen Fineberg, president of the Association of Oncology Social Work. Controlling caregivers “need to know every piece of information and be involved in every decision— and that level of stress for an ongoing period is wearing. It can lead to more rapid caregiver burnout, including depression and anxiety, because the caregiver is pushing so hard all the time.”

Indeed, such efforts can easily compromise a caregiver’s physical and mental well-being, adds Rachel Cannady, a behavioral scientist with the American Cancer Society. “There is a direct link between being overly controlling and health issues among caregivers,” she observes. “We have seen in our studies where caregivers report lower quality-of-life scores than the patients they are caring for, and that’s often because of the multiple demands they are juggling.” In some cases, Cannady says, the caregiving dynamic may become so toxic that it ruins familial relationships and dissolves marriages.

Another problem associated with an overbearing personality is a complicated bereavement if the patient dies, says Timothy J. Moynihan, an oncologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. When the caregiver loses the primary focus of his or her life, Moynihan explains, bereavement goes on much longer than normal because the caregiver lacks the coping skills to deal effectively with the patient’s death.