Self Caring

Opposite of Love: When Caregivers Feel Something More Like Hate

Last updated:

February 14, 2011
Broken heart

"Don't hate the person, hate the disease" is common dementia-care advice. It applies equally well to caring for other chronic conditions that alter behavior, personality, and lifestyles.

Sometimes, though, the two get tangled. It can be hard to separate hatred of a disease from hatred toward the person who has it. For some, the caregiving relationship fundamentally changes your heart toward the person in your care. (Oops, I started to write "your loved one," but that's exactly what they're not feeling.)

And those intense feelings, in turn, add to the caregiving burden, by becoming a new source of guilt, mental conflict, disappointment, and pain.

"I hate my [fill in the blank]" stories abound among Caring.com members: The mother so quarrelsome, meddling, and critical that she drove her daughter to depression and heart disease. The husband made violent by dementia and alcoholism. The mother-in-law who never expresses a syllable of gratitude despite endless medical crises that have turned a household upside down. The father who abandoned his kids decades ago but has come back because he needs care.

Last year, Caring.com's Family Advisor Carol Dr. O'Dell started a forum conversation called "I Hate My Mother" that's still hopping. "Hate," it made me realize, is a very complicated word when connected to caregiving.

So before you judge those who claim to hate (or before you hate yourself for feeling this way), consider these thoughts on the emotion:

5 Love notes about hate:

1. It's okay to feel hateful. Really. No emotion is inherently "bad," especially for those deep in the stress of caregiving. If that's what you're feeling, that's what you're feeling. Whether you think hate is terrible or acceptable, it's always okay to *feel * hate.

2. It's what you do with the hate that counts. If you hate but you're still going through the caregiving motions, hats off. By definition, you're not a hateful person! If you're physically hurting or neglecting the person, on the other hand, that's wrong. (But you know that.)

3. Realize that the tipping point for every caregiver is unique. Some of us have checkered pasts with the person in our care. Not all parents or spouses are nice people meriting bottomless love just because they're our parents or spouse. It can be hard enough to love someone who neglected you as a child, for example, or who fights you at every turn.

4. Hating the disease, the person, the circumstances, the life you now lead are interwoven. It can all be so overwhelming that it's hard to separate the sources of the intense feelings. It's most convenient, sometimes, to target the face in front of you. In other words, yep, it's complicated.

5. Hate isn't necessarily the opposite of love. Sometimes it's possible to feel both at the same time. As one Caring.com member said, "You can love your mother but not like her very much."

What about you? Anything you'd love to add about your experiences with hate?