As much as we’d all like our caregiving to be stress-free and unburdened by negative emotions, the truth of it is that we all find ourselves dealing with issues such as depression, guilt, fear, and resentment. Throughout this fall, I’ll be posting articles here that focus on attitude. My goal is to help you see the reality of your emotional state, how that affects your well-being and therefore ability to give care, and how you can take steps to avoid or get out of these emotional pitfalls.
A great deal of this material comes from http://www.caring.com, a site that I highly recommend.
Today we’re going to look at a few of the dark-side emotions—guilt, resentment, and anger– and how you can side-step or at least honestly deal with them.
Guilt: This emotion shows up when you think you’re not doing your caregiving in the “right” way, whether or not your perceptions are accurate. Caregivers often burden themselves with a long list of self-imposed “oughts,” “shoulds,” and “musts” and failure to live up to this self-imposed list produces guilt. A few examples: I must not put Mom in a nursing home. I ought to visit every day. I shouldn’t lose my temper with someone who has dementia. These thoughts are really based on faults that you’ve imagined. Dealing with guilt-induced faults is counter-productive any time, and especially in caregiving.
What you can do: Lower your standards from ideal to real; aim for a B+ in the many aspects of your life rather than an across-the-board A+. When guilt nags, ask yourself what’s triggering it: A rigid “ought”? An unrealistic belief about your abilities? Above all, recognize that guilt is virtually unavoidable. Because your intentions are good but your time, resources, and skills are limited, you’re just plain going to feel guilty sometimes — so try to get comfortable with that gap between perfection and reality instead of beating yourself up over it.
Resentment: This emotion is still so taboo that many caregivers are loathe to admit to it. Even worse, when we experience it, it leads to guilt or anger. Caregivers often feel put-upon and upset because of imagined slights by others and lack of support including from siblings and adult children who don’t do enough to help. Caregiver resentment is especially felt toward the person being cared for, when the caregiver’s life feels hijacked by responsibility and out of his or her own control.
What you can do: Simply naming this tricky emotion to a trusted confidante can bring some release. Try venting to a journal, web-based caregiver chat room, or anonymous blog. Know that resentment is a very natural and a common response to long-term caregiving, especially if your work life, marriage, health, or outside activities are compromised as a result. Know, too, that you can feel this complicated emotion yet still be a good person and a good caregiver.
Anger: We all carry the ability to be angry. Caregiving is a mine field of anger-inducing possibilities: an un-cooperative or ungrateful loved one, unfair criticism, one too many mishaps in a day, lack of sleep, frustration over lack of control, pent-up disappointment, and the normal pattern of emotions that occurs in caregiving (see Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and her explanation of the Five Stages of Grief for more details). In my experience, caregiver anger is often a means of covering a more difficult emotion—fear of abandonment. The problem is that chronic anger and hostility have been linked to high blood pressure, heart attack and heart disease, digestive-tract disorders, and headaches. Anger that builds up unexpressed can lead to depression or anxiety, while anger that explodes outward can jeopardize relationships and even harm others.
What you can do: The first step is to ask yourself if the issue is fear. If so, what is it and how can you approach it without falling back into an angry response? Other management steps include learning to express your anger in healthy ways. Simple deep-breathing exercises can channel mounting anger into a calmer state, for example. Talk yourself down with soothing chants: It’s okay. Let it go. Ask yourself if there’s a constructive solution to situations that make you angry: Is a compromise possible? Would being more assertive (which is different from anger) help you feel a sense of control? Laughing at absurdities and idiotic behavior can provide a healthier biological release than snapping.
Next week we’ll look at worry, loneliness, grief and defensiveness.
One of the greatest costs of Alzheimer’s disease is the physical and emotional toll on family, caregivers and friends.
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