Communicating Your Needs as a Diabetic to Family, Friends and Co-workers

We tend to assume that if others love or like us, and are paying attention, they will see what our needs are and meet them.

Though it feels good when people spontaneously notice and meet our needs, it is generally not the norm. There are some exceptionally perceptive individuals around who seem to read other people’s needs, but most of the time if we want our needs met, we have to ask.

We Have to Ask

Even when we have a chronic illness such as diabetes and think our needs are glaringly obvious, those that have never experienced diabetes may remain oblivious to those needs. It is natural for people to understand the ins and outs of their own experiences, pleasant or difficult, but still be blind to yours.

Fortunately, almost every human being understands fear, anxiety, frustration, sadness, and happiness. Our emotional reaction to our experience is something others will relate to, so sharing emotion can help us communicate the importance of getting a need met.

Six Tips for Communicating Need

People will likely be happy to meet our need if we tell them clearly what the need is, why it is important, and allow them to choose whether to meet the need.

  1. When communicating a need, less is usually more. Lengthy explanations are unnecessary and annoying. Decide ahead of time exactly what the need is and how to convey it clearly and directly. Briefly say why it is important the need be accommodated - you might include an expression of emotion here - and then let it go.
  2. Give others an opportunity to choose supporting you. No one likes feeling forced to do something they would willingly choose to do. If someone fails to accommodate you, consider first asking them their understanding of your need and correct any misperceptions before resorting to a more demanding communication style.
  3. Make meeting your needs as convenient as possible for others. So, if you have asked for and gotten the okay for your own space in the office refrigerator, clear a space for yourself, mark it clearly, and then let those involved know you have taken care of it.
  4. If meeting your need inconveniences others, let them know that you realize they are being inconvenienced, and express appreciation for their support. Most people like helping out, but being held to expectations without appreciation can grow old, and resentments can build.
  5. The fact that we must ask for our needs to be met does not mean others do not care. When we tell people what we need, we are loving them by not holding unrealistic expectations over their head, and we give them an opportunity to love us by choosing to accommodate our needs.
  6. We cannot control what another chooses to do, or not do. If someone refuses to support us, putting our health at risk, we might choose to not associate with that person. If the uncooperative person is a close family member, consult with your diabetes care team, or consider seeking counseling for yourself and/or the family.

Communication Examples

It is difficult to provide communication examples since needs and circumstances are so varied. So, take these examples with a grain of salt and apply your own wisdom and common sense.

If soft-hearted Aunt Izzy is constantly tempting you with sweet treats not on your diet plan you might say something like, “Aunt Izzy, you know I love your cookies and bars, but I have some nerve damage from having diabetes; it makes walking difficult sometimes. I worry everyday that it will get worse if I let my blood sugar get too high, and I want to stay active for the kids (or grandkids). So, I’m asking you to please not tempt me with your wonderful baked goods. It's too hard to say no.”

Or, let’s say you are a young adult sharing an apartment with two others. You buy some low sugar snacks for yourself, including plenty of fresh vegetables, but one of the roommates keeps depleting your snack supply.

You might say, “Erin (or Erik), I normally don’t mind sharing food if asked, but I have diabetes and need to be careful what I snack on so I don’t get sick. I can’t eat a lot of what you and Sarah buy for snacks and its frustrating when I want to munch on something, and my snacks are gone. So, I ‘m asking you to not eat the cut-up veggies I keep in the fridge, or the snacks found on this cupboard shelf.”

Sometimes people may feel hurt or be offended when asked to stop doing what they normally do. That is their issue to deal with. If given time and space to think the matter through and make their own choice, they will choose to be supportive much of the time.

Photo credit: Madelena Pestana / flickr creative commons

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