Today I would like to shine a light on the dance between love and anger that can occur on a daily basis when caring for a family member.
In one moment your wheelchair-bound mom shows such appreciation that your heart overflows, and then suddenly she is accusing you of stealing her tea canisters. Keeping cool when the pressures of caregiving heat things up can be quite a challenge. Once a caregiver is burnt out, responding with disproportionate anger is likely. In this case, everyone feels burned.
Family caregivers often intend to do right by their loved one, yet eventually begin to feel resentful for the expectations that weigh heavily upon them. Without being properly channelled, this resentment turns to anger and can lead to cracks in integrity. I believe that this is where abusive situations arise, as it’s not always troubled members of our society who commit financial or emotional elder abuse.
Many times it is this family member lashing out with one small act of cruelty like taking $20 that doesn’t belong to them, or grabbing dad’s wrist a bit too tight to make a point. This small instance may give the person some sort of emotional release, with the justification that “I deserve this,” or “This is my payback for all of my hard work.” Eventually they are unlawfully padding their wallet or physically dominating the individual on a regular basis.
Gary Chapman, author of the “5 Love Languages” books, says that “mishandled anger is at the root of most of society’s problems.” Difficult situations are bound to arise in the caregiving scenario, so it’s important to take the high road and separate yourself emotionally from bitterness. Whatever your loved one’s challenges are, consider reaching out to support groups in your community and online that connect you with others who are going down a similar path. It helps shine a light on the unexpected roadblocks that could leave you overwhelmed, and give you tips for the tools that you’ll need.
Having many hands assisting in the caregiving dynamic helps to disperse the weight of these responsibilities, from the support groups mentioned above to professional care. It will ease the pressure coming at you from all sides by venting to those who are not in the vulnerable position of your loved one.
Being the primary person to provide care to a family member is honorable work. Yes, work. So prepare for your important role by training yourself to be ready to handle all the challenges this job may throw at you.
I recently read a great book called “Just One Thing” by Rick Hanson, PhD. He acknowledges that imperfections (like dog poop on the shoe) are all around us. Rather than taking issue with others and making it harder to take a skillful action, consider acceptance. Dr. Hanson recommends we “Let the broken cup be a broken cup without adding judgment, resistance, blaming or worry to it.” This can be accomplished by avoiding the perfection trap. Everyone is simply doing the best they can with what tools they have. That includes you.
It is never too late to adjust your attitude and heal relationships, as we are all beautifully imperfect beings. Find your breath and proceed.
Karyn Clay began caring for older adults 23 years ago and earned her B.A. in gerontology from SDSU in 1998. She founded Ho’oNani Day Center in 2002 and Ho’oNani Care Home in 2015, which are located on the same property in Kamuela. She invites you to join her Caregiver Conversations gatherings at Tutu’s House the 1st Wednesday of every month, as well as her YouTube Karyn’s Caregiving Support series.