The 7 Deadly Emotions of Caregiving

The 7 Deadly Emotions of Caregiving
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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.

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.

How Anger and Resentment Can Overwhelm Caregivers

Caregiver Emotion Trap #2: Resentment

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

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.

How Worry and Loneliness Can Overwhelm Caregivers

Caregiver Emotion Trap #4: Worry

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

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.

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.

How Grief and Defensiveness Can Overwhelm Caregivers

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.


21 days 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... Show more 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? Hide


23 days 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... Show more 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 Hide


26 days 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... Show more 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. Hide


26 days 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. 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. Hide


27 days ago, said...

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


27 days 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. 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. Hide


27 days 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?... Show more 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. Hide


27 days 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... Show more 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.
 Hide


about 1 month 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... Show more 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. Hide


about 1 month ago, said...

My husband has alzheimers...to be a caretaker is beyond hard. Each day is a challenge...I pray for patience...it is hard to come by. My children help as much as they can..thank heavens. I am very lonely but to go with friends makes me feel so guilty. I am still working and hope I can continue. My husband has alzheimers...to be a caretaker is beyond hard. Each day is a challenge...I pray for patience...it is hard to come by. My children help as much as they can..thank heavens. I am very lonely but to go with friends makes me feel so guilty. I am still working and hope I can continue. Hide


about 1 month ago, said...

MY HUSBANDS HEALTH IS GOING DOWNHILL MORE AND MORE . ADD TO THAT THAT HE IS A LAZY AND SELFISH PERSON MAKES ALL MY EMOTIONS ON EDGE . HE HAS GOOD QUALITIES . IN THE BEGINNING OF OUR MARRIAGE I CATERED TO HIM EXTREMELY TILL OUR KIDS GOT IN THE PICTURE. EVEN THEN HE WAS CATERED TO A GREAT DEAL. NOW THAT HIS HEALTH IS NOT THE BEST HE IS USEING IT ALSO ON ANYONE TO GET WHAT HE WANTS. MOST PEOPLE SEE HIM AS A HUMOROUS KIND EASY GOING PERSON. I KNOW THE OTHER PERSON . LAZY AND... Show more MY HUSBANDS HEALTH IS GOING DOWNHILL MORE AND MORE . ADD TO THAT THAT HE IS A LAZY AND SELFISH PERSON MAKES ALL MY EMOTIONS ON EDGE . HE HAS GOOD QUALITIES . IN THE BEGINNING OF OUR MARRIAGE I CATERED TO HIM EXTREMELY TILL OUR KIDS GOT IN THE PICTURE. EVEN THEN HE WAS CATERED TO A GREAT DEAL. NOW THAT HIS HEALTH IS NOT THE BEST HE IS USEING IT ALSO ON ANYONE TO GET WHAT HE WANTS. MOST PEOPLE SEE HIM AS A HUMOROUS KIND EASY GOING PERSON. I KNOW THE OTHER PERSON . LAZY AND SELFISH. ALL THOUGH IN HIS LATER YEARS HE HAS REALIZED SOME OF MY WORTH. AND IS MORE THOUGHTFUL . HE WANTS TO PLEASE ME MORE . I THINK WAY BACK IN HIS HEAD THAT IF HE ISN'T MORE CONSIDERATE I MIGHT LEAVE. SO NOW HE ASK WHAT DO YOU WANT. I FEEL LIKE I DONT WANT TO HURT HIM OR PUT HIM IN A BAD POSTION AT HIS AGE 76 YEARS I'M 68 YEARS. BUT I DON'T HAVE THE ENERGY , EMOYIONAL ENERGY , PHYICAL ENERGY. AND AFTER AL THERE YEARS I WANT SOME TIME FOR ME AND HAVE SOME THINGS FOR MY SELF . I DO'T KNOW HOW LONG I'LL BE IN THIS POSTION. BUT I DON'T THINK I'LL LAST MUCH LONGER. Hide


about 1 month ago, said...

I've been a caretaker since I was six years old; I'm 64 now and the emotions talked about in this article are with me in spades daily--moment-to-moment. I am tired and lonely/isolated--never married--never even dated--a young child can't understand what's happened/happening if their life has been hijacked and her parents' lives are so much more important than the ghost of hers...All those that I'd grown up with are gone, except a brother who has a life of his own 1000 miles away, and my... Show more I've been a caretaker since I was six years old; I'm 64 now and the emotions talked about in this article are with me in spades daily--moment-to-moment. I am tired and lonely/isolated--never married--never even dated--a young child can't understand what's happened/happening if their life has been hijacked and her parents' lives are so much more important than the ghost of hers...All those that I'd grown up with are gone, except a brother who has a life of his own 1000 miles away, and my 95-year old mom who doesn't even understand what she's done to me--and never did. My now-deceased sister's and my brother's children don't acknowledge our existence. I desperately want a service dog to help me cope day to day and for the future--if I have any--but no money or resources. I AM hanging on, but it's very very hard. I lived with family values and caring being of the utmost importance--I wouldn't change that, just how much they help or hurt the people involved. There has got to be a better way than all or none. I have a serious operation due in January--maybe I'll die before my mom--and never have lived. What will my life's struggles be worth then' what life lessomn's will I have learned? I am very afraid! Hide


2 months ago, said...

I took on seeing my friend through radiation followed by chemo. The illness she has is incurable. The chemo and radiation will alleviate the symptoms and possibly slow down the disease process. There are siblings of whom I have not seen a one, but I am wearing down. I can feel it. I need to take better care of myself and my emotions, but I do not know how. I took on seeing my friend through radiation followed by chemo. The illness she has is incurable. The chemo and radiation will alleviate the symptoms and possibly slow down the disease process. There are siblings of whom I have not seen a one, but I am wearing down. I can feel it. I need to take better care of myself and my emotions, but I do not know how. Hide


3 months ago, said...

I took care of my termanilly ill mother at the age of 24. Then became an oncology nurse...it's a love/hate relationship. Chronic caretaker...lol. Things were and can be so draining. The best advise that I got, that I give my patient's family members who take on these roles, is self preservation is a necessity. it is ok to so no, I can't do this. Sometimes, saying no allows you to be a wife still, a daughter still ...being someone full time caretaker is hard. Get any help that you can... Show more I took care of my termanilly ill mother at the age of 24. Then became an oncology nurse...it's a love/hate relationship. Chronic caretaker...lol. Things were and can be so draining. The best advise that I got, that I give my patient's family members who take on these roles, is self preservation is a necessity. it is ok to so no, I can't do this. Sometimes, saying no allows you to be a wife still, a daughter still ...being someone full time caretaker is hard. Get any help that you can to make it earier for yourself. Do not feel guilty getting help to perform ADLS, cook or clean...Inlist anyone who will help even if it is helping your household while you do what you feel like you have to do with your loved one. You are a good person...you are only one person and you need to give yourself a break and a hug sometimes.... Hide