The 7 Deadly Emotions of Caregiving


Nobody would ever choose a smiley face as the perfect symbolic emoticon for a caregiver. Caregiving for an ailing loved one is just too stressful -- often triggering damaging emotions that can not only undermine your good work but harm your health, as well. Here's how to cope:

Caregiver Emotion Trap #1: Guilt

Guilt is virtually unavoidable as you try to "do it all."

What causes guilt: Guilt stems from doing or saying what you believe is the wrong thing, not doing what you perceive to be enough, or otherwise not behaving 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." A few examples: I must avoid putting Mom in a nursing home. I ought to visit every day. I shouldn't lose my temper with someone who has dementia.

Risks of guilt: Caregiver guilt is an especially corrosive emotion because you're beating yourself up over faults that are imagined, unavoidable -- or simply human. That's counterproductive at a time when you need to be your own best advocate.

SEE ALSO: Find In-Home Care Help Near You

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.

Caregiver Emotion Trap #2: Resentment

This emotion is still so taboo that many caregivers are loathe to admit it.

What causes resentment: Caregivers often feel put-upon and upset because of imagined slights by others, including 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.

Risks of resentment: Without enough support or noncaregiving outlets, feelings of being ignored, abandoned, or criticized can fester into anger and depression.

What you can do: Simply naming this tricky emotion to a trusted confidante can bring some release. Try venting to a journal or anonymous blog. Know that resentment is a very natural and 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.

SEE ALSO: Find In-Home Care Help Near You

Caregiver Emotion Trap #3: Anger

Some people outwardly show their anger more than others, but almost no one is never angry.

What causes anger: We get mad for reasons both direct (a balky loved one, an unfair criticism, one too many mishaps in a day) and indirect (lack of sleep, frustration over lack of control, pent-up disappointment).

Risks of anger: 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. Managing caregiver anger not only helps your well-being but makes you less likely to take out your fury on your loved one.

What you can do: Rather than trying to avoid anger, learn to express it 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.

Caregiver Emotion Trap #4: Worry

A little goes a long way, but sometimes we can't turn off the fretting.

SEE ALSO: Find In-Home Care Help Near You

What causes worry: Good intentions, love, and wanting the best for your loved ones are the wellsprings of worry. Focusing intensely on the what-ifs provides a perverse kind of comfort to the brain: If we're worrying, we're engaged. Of course, that ultimately triggers more worry and upset because it's engagement without accomplishing anything.

Risks of worry: Being concerned is harmless. Overworry and obsessing, however, can disrupt sleep, cause headaches and stomach aches, and lead to mindless eating or undereating.

What you can do: If you notice worrying thoughts interfering with getting through the day or sleeping at night, force a break to the cycle. Try setting a timer and resolving to focus on something else when the five minutes is up. Then flip negative thoughts to their productive side: How can you help? Who can you call? Are there possible solutions? And don't be shy about seeking out a trained counselor to help you express and redirect obsessive ruminations more constructively.

Caregiver Emotion Trap #5: Loneliness

Your world can shrink almost before you realize what's happened.

What causes loneliness: Friends may back away out of uncertainty or a belief they aren't wanted. Intense time demands lead you to drop out of outside activities. If you're dealing with dementia, the loss of your loved one's former level of companionship is another keenly felt social loss adding to isolation.

SEE ALSO: Find In-Home Care Help Near You

Risks of loneliness: Your very brain is altered: People with large, rich social networks have different brain structures, new research finds. Loneliness seems to curb willpower and the ability to persevere, and it can lead to overeating, smoking, and overuse of alcohol. Lonely people also have more cortisol, the stress hormone. And social isolation is a risk factor for dementia.

What you can do: Expand your social circles, real and virtual. Arrange respite help, so you can add at least one outside activity, such as one you've dropped. Take the initiative to reach out to old friends and invite them over if you can't get out easily. Consider joining a support group related to caregiving or your loved one's illness. In online support groups, you can find kinship with those who know just what you're going through.

Caregiver Emotion Trap #6: Grief

Don't think this one applies yet? Think again.

What causes grief: Although most people link grief with death, anticipatory grief is a similar emotion felt by caregivers who are coping with a loved one's long-term chronic illness, especially when there are clear losses of ability (as in dementia) or when the diagnosis is almost certainly terminal.

Risks of grief: "Long good-byes" can trigger guilt as well as sadness if one mistakenly believes that it's inappropriate to grieve someone still alive. Mourning the loss of a beloved companion is also a risk factor for depression.

What you can do: Know that your feelings are normal and as painful as "real" (postmortem) grief. Allow yourself to feel sadness and express it to your loved one as well as to supportive others; pasting on a happy face belies the truth and can be frustrating to the person who knows he or she is ill or dying. Make time for yourself so that you're living a life outside of caregiving that will support you both now and later.

Caregiver Emotion Trap #7: Defensiveness

Protecting yourself is good -- to a point.

What causes defensiveness: When you're doing so much, it's only natural to bristle at suggestions that there might be different or better approaches. Especially if you're feeling stressed, insecure, or unsure, hearing comments or criticisms by others, or reading information that's contrary to your views, can inspire a knee-jerk response of self-protection: "I'm right; that's wrong!"

Risks of defensiveness: While nobody knows your loved one and your situation as well as you do, being overly defensive can make you closed-minded. You risk losing out on real help. You may be so close to the situation that you can't see the forest for the trees, for example; a social worker or friend may have a perspective that points to what really might be a better way.

What you can do: Try not to take everything you hear personally. Instead of immediately getting cross or discarding others' input, vow to pause long enough to consider it. Remember the big picture. Is there merit in a new idea, or not? What you're hearing as a criticism of you might be a well-intentioned attempt to help your loved one. You may decide things are fine as is, and that's great. But if you start from a point of calm and confidence, the focus becomes (as it should be) your loved one, not you.

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10 days ago, said...

thanks for appreciating my comment. I just want people to know there are others that have been where they are now. And you can move forward one day at a time. I still struggle with alot but it is just the way our life is. Such is life is my favorite phrase. You do the best you can and you pick yourself up and keep moving. What else can you do? LIfe goes on.

10 days ago, said...

Such an encouraging comment from Rhonda W Thank you wonderful person.

11 days ago, said...

I'm new here but I am an old hand at the care giving game. My husband flipped a fork lift and landed on his head on concrete and a wooden skid. He has a brain injury. This happened in April 1977. We have been dealing with this for 40 yrs. There were years where he improved and then got worse. I know all about the feelings and the ups and downs of feeling all alone. I have gone through a lot of what ifs,. I wish I could trade places with him and give him back his normal life. but I can't do that. I have to deal with him in all of his problems. I chose not to leave him when he was injured. I was encouraged to walk away but I didn't get married to leave at the first bad thing that happened. We will celebrate 42 yrs next Jan. I have been through some pretty tough years. but we have learned to take it one day or one moment at a time and we get through it all. I truly know how tough it is for you to deal with your situations. My husband has a head injury that mimics stroke symptoms and alzheimers symptoms and he has paranoia and PTSD from Viet Nam. I get really low and think how can I do this for another 40 yrs? I have worked hard to give him back as much dignity as I can. He can't read he can't work he can't concentrate on much for very long. We fought his depression and mine for years. we are both in a better place now. Please if you get nothing else from what I post is that there is hope!! You can get through the bad moments. You aren't alone. I am so very sorry for the pain you are going through. I firmly believe that how we deal with what our life brings us helps others around us. We may not know how we have affected others but they are watching and they know you and your loved ones are doing the best you can.

22 days ago, said...

Hi Cha-Cha.It must have been tough, going through a passing-away anniversary of a loved one. I wouldn't know to what intensity you have felt any of the '7-deadly care-giving emotions'. But since you wrote, you must have felt somewhat like most of us here. I'm getting help realizing that I'm not alone with such feelings of love, helplessness and to some extent anger, that I feel towards my 82-year-old mom. I'm exploring how best to handle the situation. Two things are helping me -- Zen, a school of Buddhism that teaches how to live in the moment and, strangely, history. Thousands of wars have been fought for independence.... so, in my own way, when I can't have the freedom/independence to do what I what I want, and when and how, and when I don't have a choice, I despair. ...and history tells one can't win all wars, ........ On another note, it's two and a half years since I climbed on to a plane and it's a lot for someone who's used to international travel twice or thrice a year ............... Care-giving, it's so complex because of conflicting emotions. I see many guys who leave their parents or challenged kids in a 'home' of some sort and go on with their lives. Am I being too sensitive ... perhaps. But no one has put a rule on how much 'sensitive' one must or must not be..... So Laurie, if you're going through overwhelming feelings as you said, I hope you will try and accept them, however hard it may seem. Then again, sometimes you may accept, sometimes you may fight -- but you do only one thing at a time. I think there may be a solution in Zen: "When you walk, you walk. When you eat, you eat." You don't do anything else. Period.

24 days ago, said...

I stumbled across this site by merely by accident when trying to seek answers to overwhelming thoughts and feelings I've been experiencing. Much to my surprise I found the 7-deadly care-giving emotions were almost written with me in mind and this is why I am interested in joining this support group. Yesterday, November 15 2016, was the one month anniversary of my beloved mother's passing. All of the emotions I've been experiencing have intensified so I know in my heart of hearts a support group is just what I need. Whether or not an online support group is better than an in-person group is best for me is unknown, but I figure this is as good a place as any to at least start the process. I appreciate your consideration. Laurie

27 days ago, said...

Lost in space...I ache for you and all other people who wrote here. I sometimes think that this life is truly hellish but I have my faith in Jesus. I pray that he comes back soon (I know that may sound like idiocy to people who don't believe this). There is hope in this life but there is such suffering. I pray for your comfort.

27 days ago, said...

5 a.m. Sitting here one year to the day of my son Alexs accident. I'm trying NOT to think of November 13th, 2015. He has another surgery next week. I hurt so bad when I see him struggle with simple tasks. Huh. Simple for us.. not so simple for him But he does his best and I'm Blessed to be able to sit here and listen to him breathe. I wish I could remember how. I either feel like I'm not doing as well as I could be. Or am just inadequate. Never in forever did I even fathom that all the first steps..the running, jumping, and playing would end ever. I'm trying to think of ways to help him more everyday....I'm trying to think of how to help myself...everyday. it's very difficult and stressful ... if I could trade places with him.. I would in a heartbeat. All my prayers to everyone n to your loved.ones.

28 days ago, said...

Thank you for your response. I don't know what to say except I have suffered major losses in my life (loss of brother in a traumatic accident) and loss of dad and I am only 41. Becoming a "sole" parent and trying to look after, never mind love, my husband has become overwhelming to the point of .,.....I can't even say. Sometimes I truly wish my life would end soon but I am going to see a therapist and hopefully this will help. I am a follower of Jesus but I can't even pray. I can't even fathom how God has allowd this to happen to me....(but why not? ) I guess I figured I had suffered so much in the past five years that it bought me some immunity from suffering. Some blessings? The house is paid off, my amazingly beautiful and brilliant six year old daughter, an amazing mum, and at least there is always some kind of hope...isn't there?

28 days ago, said...

I'm not sure what you mean by "I have all of these in abundance right now",stressedade. I take it that you may have a lot on your plate, maybe more than you can handle ("in abundance")? I have felt like that so many times, that it's just so enough, that I couldn't possibly take any more. That maybe it's the rock bottom. But it never is -- you keep discovering new bottoms. A few weeks back my mom slipped into dementia, and it's impossible to make conversation with her now. Someone might wonder why I wouldn't put her in some sort of care home. But I either can't or won't -- I know how they treat inmates there. My mom loves an early morning cup of coffee just like me, and I know she won't get it there. I will die a different death knowing she may have to wait till 8am for coffee. I understand I may be overly sensitive, which also makes me angry for she's doing to my life. Then again, she's helpless like a little baby, and you don't leave one in the middle of the road, do you. I also try to let her know every evening that she's not alone.... not sure how much she understands. Coming back to the rock bottoms, you never know when it's the real bottom. I think that given any situation, whether you're on the top of the world or sunk beneath the oceans, the chances that your condition will improve or worsen are EQUAL. You might have $8 million in the bank and yet win a new BMW. Or you could be in $80,000 in debt and still find a parking ticket on your windshield....or vice versa. Two months ago my mom was much better off, she now can't even speak. Two years ago I was a big-ticket journalist, covering commercial events in Europe, now I'm under house-arrest. So there's no real top or bottom -- today is what it is. Today is the absolute for today -- tomorrow there will be a new absolute. Having said that, if I must find a new standard or rule to continue to live at all, I need to change what's inside, rather than what's outside. I am exploring the Zen philosophy of life, scratching the surface of "Essential Rules to Live More Like a Zen Monk" .... It's tough what's happening, and my heart goes out to all who're experiencing it. Millions won't understand it. But let me tell you, "you're not alone".

29 days ago, said...

I have all of these in abundance right now.

2 months ago, said...

I know just how hard it can be being the only caregiver, I totally understand the conflicting emotions. I know that some of you can not afford outside help,but I just have to preach this over and over to all the wonderful caregivers out there. PLEASE!!! Call ever agency out there that might be able to help,I was finally able to get Aging and Disability to help us. It was to late to save are relationship as a couple, but it saved are friendship. So please don't be afraid to reach out to your local churches,highschool's (yes high schools,they have kids wanting to learn nursing and such,plus some have volunteer senior projects to do.) help is out there ,but you have to be willing to take what you can get at the time and way it is offered. And please don't stop doing things you like,heck the things we like are the only thing that keeps us going. Those that say they don't travel any more,well my brother in a wheelchair and has ALS and he not quitting his traveling,he not done with life he says and by golly he going to keep trying to do what he loves ,so keep doing what you like to do,thou it may involve a lot of extra prepping and planning it will be worth it.

2 months ago, said...

Lately I'm trying to take it lying down. I'm like a boxer that's been knocked down, and taking punches while floored -- because I know I'm in a no-win situation. I've been told to "accept it", and that "this too shall pass". I think I understand what all that means, but that again means I'm fighting back. I don't want to fight it. I know I'm beaten. It also means I'm going to have to close out the only universe I know. These are extremely intricate circumstances which words cannot describe. Going from one wall to another. @Jaslynk I might understand what it means when you say you haven't been able to travel overseas. I used to travel to Europe all the time, but not for last 2 years. Someone asked me, what will you achieve by traveling? I'd ask them back, what will I achieve by NOT traveling.