Communication in Giving and Receiving Care

by Carol Trasatto, Herbalist

When we’re going through a difficult period and our health is severely compromised, we may need our family and friends more than ever before. We may feel nakedly vulnerable and need or desire their understanding and emotional and physical support in new, and perhaps unexpected ways.

In turn, those who love us may dearly want to be there for us, but may be unsure of how to best offer their support. They may be afraid to bring up challenging issues, not wanting to upset us or “make things worse.” They may be waiting for us to ask, and we may be waiting for them to offer. If left unspoken, these needs and questions about how to proceed, about how to best be with each other, can color the relationship in ways that are not in alignment with what is actually true for those concerned.

At a basic level, it’s simply about clear communication. But when stakes are highest and emotions are flowing for all, meeting each other in a clear heart space can take deliberate attention and effort. The following is from my book Conscious Caregiving:

Establishing and maintaining honest and effective communication between caregivers and the one receiving care can be most challenging — particularly when there is a long history of relationship dynamics. Entering this new chapter with awareness is crucial.

Suddenly, both parties may feel thrust into a deeply unsettling circumstance that tests the resiliency of the relationship — whether an intimate partnership, a familial connection, or a loving friendship. The quality of communication that existed before the crisis obviously influences what is brought to the moment of illness and caregiving, especially when previous roles dramatically shift.

One or both parties may feel that any “safety” they felt in the relationship has been suddenly washed away. There may be fear, resentment or anxiety as a great flood of personal issues arise to be seen and dealt with. Alternately, material that once seemed to create stress or separation in the relationship may now be seen to be of no real substance — the essential core of the relationship, the love and appreciation, may flower.

To set the tone, one of those involved might initiate a heartfelt conversation where some foundational issues may be discussed — and for both people to commit to speak from their most undefended, vulnerable selves.

It can start with a simple question or a statement of what one is feeling. What am I most afraid of, given what I/you/we are facing here? How would I like to be treated, given what I am feeling in this moment? In what areas would I like to have some semblance of control? What may need to change in our relationship dynamic for this to work? How can each of us best communicate our needs and boundaries as we go forward?

These are just a few key questions to get started. In a mutually supportive arrangement, perhaps, everyone involved would commit to speaking their truth in all situations in a gentle, compassionate manner — to doing the personal work of recognizing what true need is arising in any given moment and articulating it clearly and kindly.

It will likely take many conversations to explore and communicate such needs and preferences day to day. Initiating open exchange early on helps set the stage for the quality of communication and interaction that will lead to stronger relationships.

Carol Trasatto has 35 years of holistic herbal experience and maintains a private health education practice. She also teaches and has been a community herbalist and retail herb/supplement buyer for decades. Carol is the author of Conscious Caregiving: Plant Medicine, Nutrition, Mindful Practices to Give Ease, available at Marlene’s. For more information visit