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.

about 1 month ago, said...

Mom is going to be 95 this year. There have been a great many changes over the past 6 months. The stress of being her only caregiver is stating to take its' toll. The anxiety...anger at my sister who refuses to help with anything...and putting the stress on my husband who I just married in July is unbelievable. I went through this 5 years ago with my Dad...I just don't know how to do it again. The stress is bringing on my Lupus. Has anyone gone through this? Any ideas of coping would be so appreciated!

about 1 month ago, said...

This is a great article. I am going to review it for my blog. I hope this is OK with you, it will come up in about 3 weeks, so let me know if you have a problem with that or if you would like me to credit you in a different way other than authors name and link.

about 1 month ago, said...

My husband's parents are both deceased. Which leaves his 90 year old aunt behind. She always lived with her sister, my husband's Mom. "Dee" is mentally challenged, born a premie, and only went as far as the 6th grade. Born in 1926, she seems to have a very sharp mind, also, especially for a 90 yr old woman, she has such beautiful soft, almost wrinkle-free skin! She never smoked or drank a day in her life! . She is 4'8", weighs 80 lbs., and has SEVERE Osteoporosis. My husband has 2 other brothers, yet "Dee" has "latched" on to my husband since he was born. He says she is his second Mom. She taught him all of his bad habits, ie, she always wanted him to pretend to be sick and stay home from school since elementary schl. Which he ended being kicked out of for bad attendance. She never ever worked, never had a boyfriend, a husband, or kids. She always wanted my husband near her. Plus, my husband is handsome now, but was drop-dead gorgeous when he was a young man! . She is wickedly jealous of me and whines to my husband. I swear she has a sick, sick twisted love for him. Out of guilt, my husband won't even get an hha for her.. She lived with my husband for yrs and after he moved into a small cottage, she now resides with one of his brothers, wife and toddler. She has absolutely no regard for the sanctity of marriage or privacy. It took me a good three years to get her to put her guard down to me. She's with us for 8 days now BC brother is on vacation. When she is around, I help my husband out. But he has to take care of the SEVERE incontinence. The problem is, he totally shuts down and gets irritated and agitated when she is around. She's so oblivious and acts so entitled, it's disgusting. I know I should give her a break BC she's 90, but under all that cute sweet little old lady business, is a wickedly scorned woman! Psychology 101. I cannot wait til she goes back home bc my husband will miraculously come alive then!

3 months ago, said...

Hello everyone....and gentle {{{hugs}}} for you all. Hey! How do I keep this short? I CAN'T! There was/is too much going on! So here goes. Sorry, but I am so distraught with EVERYTHING going on, that I'm ready to pull out what's left of my husband's hair! I have been a caregiver for a lot of years, but now, the shoe is on the other foot, First of all, please let me say, that we are care GIVERS, not care TAKERS. We GIVE care to our loved ones; not TAKE it. Just to get that out of the way, but no offense given. I had a dream. More like a nightmare, if you ask me. I woke up screaming that my mother was dead and her house had been robbed of everything! I called her at 3am, just to see if she was OK. {She had to wake up at 6 to go to work. She said she'd call me later and because of being so petrified by this nightmare, my girlfriend had taken me to bingo with her. She did call and when she found out I wasn't home, she told my son to tell me to stay home the next day; she'll call again. She did..... I was a 27 year old woman who took care of my then 47 year old mother, who passed in October of 1988, just 2 weeks shy of her 48th birthday, from lung cancer. She was going in the hospital to have her foot operated on and we ALWAYS have x-rays that need to be taken as a precautionary. Her doc said "NOPE" to foot surgery and ordered 15 radiation treatments that did nothing but make her very ill. It did nothing to shrink the cancer, either. Next came the 1st surgery in February of 1988. Went back for follow-up and was told that some cancer was still there and more surgery needed. That came 2 months later. Cancer spread to the other lung as well. Sent home to die. I had moved from Philly to Pittsburgh area , in 1980 and rest of our "family" was there in Philly along with Mom. With my grandmother being the sole care giver of my mother and her own sister, who lived in Ohio, dying from cancer, she had a lot on her "plate". At the time, there was 2 sisters and 2 brothers and myself, with me being the oldest. My grandmother called my house which was unusual to begin with and told my then husband that I had wanted to visit with my mom and the time was now. In Early August, I'd had surgery for a tubal reversal and 2 weeks later, was in Philly with my mom. Seeing her like she was, I didn't even make it up the 6 stairs to her livingroom, before I sat on the steps and cried my eyes out at the sight of seeing her hair very gray with a canula sticking out of her nose. {Oxygen} THAT was NOT my mother!!! Where IS she??? She's lost forever. I've heard through the years, that lung cancer, when it spreads, goes to the liver and the brain. It hadn't affected her liver. At the time, she didn't know who I was and it upset me. I didn't really "know" what the outcome of cancer could do to someone who has it, until I saw her. I took my suitcase downstairs, where my grandmother had slept and went back upstairs to talk to my mom's g/f. She told me that my grandmother is staying with her sister for awhile, as all of the long distance driving was taking it's toll on her. O a good day, my mom told me that neither of my sisters can't be with her, because the 1 a year younger than me, had a jealous boyfriend. The sister a year younger than her, mom just didn't want to have her there, period; she's nuts. She didn't want either of my brothers, well...because of them being her sons and she'd be embarrassed to have either of them wash her. That's where the dignity kicked in and so, there I was; my 2 sons at home, with my very brittle diabetic husband. I'd gone home 3 times total and one then would spend a couple of hours with my sister when my grandmother came back to be with mom, then one week before she died, my husband called to tell me that I BETTER be home by Thanksgiving, or I BETTER not come home at all!! WHAT?!?!? 1st, I get into an argument with my mother, because after sleeping on her floor in the bedroom for a month straight, I fell asleep on the recliner in the livingroom. I didn't hear her call me, blow her whistle to wake me up. She called the nurse, my grandmother, even my husband, 300 miles away. She SWORE that I wasn't in the house when she needed me to help her use the bedside commode. I love to draw cartoons and I drew Pepe Le Pew on a poster board and hung it to where she'd see it when she opened her eyes. She kept insisting and INSISTING that I left her alone! I SWEAR, as God is my witness, I did NOT leave her alone! I DIDN'T!!! Now I have my husband making demands of me, so I told him, that if it takes TEN YEARS for her to die, I will be here with her til the end! She passed on October 14, 1988. Be back later to finish.

4 months ago, said...

I think my problem is unique but I am sure it is not. My wife spent 65 days in the hospital, 39 in a comma, had heart surgery, kidneys failed and was 100% on life support for 43 of those days. During that time we discovered she had Hodgkins Lymphoma Cancer and started treatment. Up until a few weeks ago I had to do 100% of everything for her, from helping her to the bathroom, to bathing her, to cooking cleaning and all the other things that come with being a caregiver. 2 weeks ago we were told she has Pulmonary Fibrosis and the average length of life for this is 2.5 to 3 years but because she is weak it could be less. Needless to say it has been stressful since last July when this all started. Our kids are grown and gone and I have been dealing with it all by myself. she recently starting doig more for herself and insists on taking the calls from the Doctors and making all her own decisions. These are good things for her mentally but I am feeling shut out. Anyone experience this and if so how do you deal with it?

4 months ago, said...

I am a non certified but I have watched the once a week nurse and the doctors have showed me how to do pretty much everything! I live with an old friend that has no family around except his 21 year old grandson whom has robbed his pawpaw. my husband and I have moved in with this man after coming and going weeks at a time we just gave up and realized he needed us 24/7. my husband works long hours and his house is built like a mother inlaw home an apartment on the side so we have our own little spot and privacy. I have been here now for a year and a half we have been through many surgerys he no longer can drive and barley can even walk has no upper or lower strength in his body but he stills walks very slow and carefully with his walker I do everything! wake him up get him dressed change his super pubic catheder when its needed I bathe him cook clean give medication twice a day walk his little dog a few times a day do his grocery shopping balance his check book put him to bed at night I was packing a wound he got on his behind but that one is getting better I change the drain sponges daily around the tubing of the cath. he has no balance so he is 6'2 and he has lost close to 65 lbs but still weighs 206 and dead weight I'm only 5 foot tall 160 llbs and that is a lot of weight to be catching and pulling and maneuvering ive got a bad back

4 months ago, said...

I went from taking care of both parents for three years prior to my dad's death to now caring for just my mom. She is staying with me, for a month now, because the doctor's felt it was the safest place for her due to the lack of care my sister was giving her, the lack of cleaning, old/moldy/outdated food in the fridge (disgusting), floors hadn't been mopped for months, mold of all kinds in the bathroom among other unmentionable substances around the water handles. Within two weeks of my dad's death, my sister made sure to have my mother close my parents joint checking accounts, have my mother open a joint account with her (which she calls only hers - not hers and my mothers), and make give her financial power of attorney. She keeps my mothers bank statements from her, she doesn't keep my mothers bills paid (some overdue by as long as 10 months), changed her locks on her home and never gave her a key, and keeps both her PO box keys. I don't trust her and have filed a complaint with Adult Protective Services, whom have spoken with my mother. My mother defends my sisters actions. She can't see what she is doing and NOT doing. It feels like no matter what I say, that it just doesn't matter. I feel like all I do everyday to make sure she has all she needs; all my daughter and fiancé do, that it's all for nothing. I don't get time for myself. I feel very hurt. I feel like I need a weekend away, yet feel too guilty to even suggest the idea.

4 months ago, said...

I would highly recommend a new book "A journey to an end" written by Anita Denner Dahlby that chronicles the last 3 years of her father's life. Her personal diary and approach to dealing with long ago feelings about him and how coming to terms with being his caregiver is informative and honest. It shows the many facets that come to light with dementia and the aging process.

4 months ago, said...

Your loved one doesn't have to have dementia, my husband has Parkinson's and these comments also apply in this situation.

4 months ago, said...

I really appreciated that article, as I found most items apply to me at this time. Thank you, I will try and follow through with the ideas.

4 months ago, said...

Anjuka: your husband ignored your warnings, and you shouldn't have to pay the price for his bad judgment with the rest of your active life. If your daughter objects, tell her to give up 3 weekdays & one weekend day to care for him. Those are all 24 hour stays, by the way. She has no right to comment nor make decisions - he is your husband & that overrides children's rights. Besides, didn't she basically imply that it's your problem because he's your husband, too bad, deal with it? Unless she's willing to do the above suggestions or move him in with her, she has no say. You could hire a nurse (I say nurse brcause a CNA isn't perhaps capable of all he needs). As far as I see it, he took a chance, made his bed & now must lie in it. If Medicare or insurance will cover 3 days & a weekend day so you can go out and socialize again, great. But life is too short for you to give up yours to a man who was only thinking of himself when he went down those stairs. Since he could go on like this until you're too old to enjoy your own retirement, I would investigate & place him in an assisted living facility. If he requires more help than living there allows, I'm sorry, but you can't let him take your life down with his. Because what you'll be in ten years is bitter, angry, resentful and physically worn down after doing the work of two people, and even freedom then may not be viable for YOU physically. Remember: we regret the things in life that we DIDN'T do, not the things we did. You can visit him, so can your daughter. It will be difficult to do and you will face much opposition. But at the end of the day & the end of our lives, we only have ourselves, and no one is going to give up their comfort to make sure you're happy. You said he feels bad about the situation he put you two in? Fine, work off of that. Say this last accident, which he was warned about, was the last straw and has given you more than you can handle; something to that effect. Don't apologize and don't let anyone (daughter included) guilt you out about it. And before you start the search process, ask your daughter or find an agency that can provide 24 hour care for him so that you can go spend a week with your mom. An assisted living place or nursing home will free you to reignite old friendships and make new ones! And have a weight lifted off you that will make you stand up straight again, put some spring back in your step. If anyone you know gets nosy about your husband's new arrangement, just look them straight in the eye and say "I made some changes that worked out best for every one." End of story. One other thing: do NOT get sucked into permanent 1/2 you, 1/2 nurse supervision, because if you are there when a nurse is...sleeping, dinner, chilling out, the nurse will be overridden & you will be interrupted or awakened because "you do it better". FYI I hope I've helped you. Feel free to contact me again because I'm in a similar situation only without children. Good Luck! Take Care.

4 months ago, said...

I notice their is no way to give a word of support / reply to others here! I wish their was, Natural caregiver, talking here ... :) seriously, amazing to see so many responses here, and so much pain and isolation. I have felt all these feelings at different times. For empaths the mental health issues that arise from caring for others with mental health issues, is profound, I feel the experiences of isolation and lack of support can really hurt. and it takes some creative imagination and community to rebuild oneself and discipline to go toward positive resources, al - anon, yoga, meditation etc, to lighten oneself. Addiction to quick and easy feel goods cigs or glass of wine became a problem for me. Meetings are free and comraderie and a is spiritual practice is helping. Online Skype or Chat room for Adult Children of Alc/Dysfunction /Al -Anon available.

5 months ago, said...

My husband fell and broke his neck 2 months ago, going down a flight of stairs he had been asked not to go down as he is partially paralyzed already and taking a big risk. I had been expecting a disaster at some point because he often takes chances, believing he is always going to bounce back. He is 73 and the past 6 years have been all about his health...leg paralysis and weakness since he was 27, prostate cancer, major back surgery and now this devastating fall. I have always picked up the slack for him because he needed help with things and I was his wife, my job was to be a partner. I am 13 years younger and we have been married since I was 18, a long and mostly good marriage. But now I am finding myself overwhelmed and all the above emotions run thru me daily. I feel so alone as I watch my friends and neighbors go on trips, go to dinner, make plans to LIVE and enjoy their lives. I am trapped in a house with a man who needs help with every single thing a person does in a day. He is trying to walk and overcome the effects of this fall, but it is not going well and the hope he will ever get around without a wheelchair and help with transfers and dressing, etc. are starting to fade. He feels bad for the situation he has put us both in, but here we are. He is otherwise very healthy, so I know this life could go on for 10 or more years, all the while I grow older and more isolated and bitter as I watch the life I waited for (kids grown, financially sound, retired and "free") walk right out the door....hi-jacked was the perfect word. My daughter lives close and she helps a lot, but she also stresses how this is "too bad, just deal with it, I will not put my dad in a nursing home". I am not asking to do that, I just want some compassion and some real help, some freedom....I am also 2500 miles from my 89 year old mother and I fear I may never get free to see her again, my heart is breaking over this.