Dear Family Advisor

I'm so angry at how Mom fawns over my brother, the superhero who swoops in, while I do the grunt work of caregiving.

Last updated: May 11, 2009

My brother is the executor of my mother's estate, and I vehemently disagree with how he's handling my mother's money. He's using it for his own gain and allowing my mother to squander what little she has left, fixing up her house so he can profit from the eventual sale and so gambling thousands away each month. I've tried to speak with them repeatedly but am told to butt out.

I'm so angry that I'm the one taking her to the doctors, caring for her when she's hospitalized from heart and lung disease, and doing the grunt work while he swoops in every couple of months. And she fawns all over "her boy." How do I deal with this anger and the fact that he'll continue to be in my life as long as I care for our mother?

In small doses, and when it's used properly, anger is like jet fuel. It can alert you to something being "off" and give you the courage to speak out. But also like jet fuel, anger is volatile and likely to burn you. You're right to focus on dealing with your own anger, because --- let's face it --- we can't make our family do what they don't want to do.

Trying to figure out how not to be angry is nearly impossible. It's easy to let our thoughts brew and spend precious hours dwelling on a situation that isn't going to get any better. That's not good for your immune system or your state of mind.

You have to crowd the rage out by filling your head and time with other thoughts and actions. Reason with your "higher self" about why this much anger isn't good for you "“ and how it's not achieving the results you desire.

Write a letter to your mom, brother, or both, and say all the nasty, hurtful things you feel but wouldn't gain anything by actually saying. Then rip it up. You'd be surprised how helpful it can feel simply to articulate your feelings on paper.

Another idea: Get an iPod or CD player and literally drown out those angry thoughts with music, a book, or language lessons. Dance, sing, practice your Spanish -- anything to keep your mind off all the infuriating things you can't change.

Physically, let it go -- one weight at a time. At one point, my heart and head were so heavy with anger, hurt, and resentment that I needed to do something active with all that animosity. My two methods were smashing cheap dishes against my brick house and creating a stone prayer garden. It felt so good to pick up a stone, say a prayer for myself and for those I was in turmoil with, and then place that stone on a makeshift "altar." (As for dishes, I'd sometimes buy them for next-to-nothing at Goodwill, just to smash!) These two actions helped me work through some of the hardest times.

And despite how busy you are with caregiving, look at your own life and see where there's a gap. Exercise? A spiritual support group? Friendships? A job (even part-time)? All of us could benefit by working to create a more balanced lifestyle.

If you haven't talked to a therapist or spiritual counselor, please do so. State your intention to let go of anger and become accountable to someone. It's helpful for an impartial, supportive "outsider" to check into our lives and let us know when we're falling back into old patterns.

It won't be easy, letting go when you feel such injustices are occurring. And you'll have good and not so good days. But choosing to let go of your anger benefits you the most. You'll enjoy a longer, healthier, more fulfilling life through the daily practice of letting go.

Since you're your mom's primary caregiver, she's not likely to be physically abused or neglected. Bear in mind, though, that if you feel that she's truly being abused financially, you can report it to your local adult protective services. That's a very serious step, though, so make sure it's really abuse before you do that.