Every year, millions of individuals provide unpaid care to an aging parent or elder loved one.
Undoubtedly, caring for a spouse or parent can be a rewarding experience. However, for some, caring for a loved one comes with great responsibility and occasionally conflicting emotions. In fact, it is not uncommon for family caregivers to experience a sense of fulfillment while experiencing exhaustion, anger, guilt, or grief.
Resentment is a particularly dominant emotion among family caregivers performing complex tasks like providing personal assistance with medications, dressing, bathing, and grooming.
In addition, resentment is especially prominent for caregivers whose relationship with the loved one they’re caring for may already be complicated. An example of this would be a family caregiver caring for a spouse when their relationship is already strained. Another example of this is when an adult daughter is caring for a previously absent parent.
Feelings of resentment, anger, and stress are more common among reluctant caregivers who feel obligated to take care of a loved one out of a sense of duty.
So, how do you avoid feeling resentment as a caregiver? The following are eleven self-care strategies to combat becoming a resentful caregiver:
The first step in learning to avoid caregiver resentment is to recognize and acknowledge any negative feelings that arise as valid.
You might think that such feelings can mean there is something wrong with you, but this is simply not true. Therefore, it is important that you do not blame yourself when you are not at your best.
When you feel angry, tired, scared, or frustrated, say so. It is best that you do not suppress your feelings as doing so will only increase your resentment.
Acknowledge whatever feelings you are experiencing at the moment and be present with your emotions. Learn not to act on those feelings at the moment because while it may difficult to control your feelings, you can assure yourself that you are trying your very best.
When you feel triggered with resentment, write it down. Consider creating a trigger box using an old shoe box. When you feel triggered write down what you are feeling and place it into the box.
Collect the notes for a week or more and then review them to identify patterns. This strategy will help you figure out what triggers your negative feelings
You can also use a small tablet or notebook to document any triggers as they occur. Be sure to keep it handy.
If you have a social worker, case worker, counselor, or therapist, he or she can help you identify solutions to work through your caregiver resentment.
The moment you start feeling resentful, take ten seconds to decompress. You might do something like count to ten slowly but steadily.
Another option is to go to a mirror in a room where you can close the door and practice positive self-talk. The goal is to engage your mind somewhere else so you can decompress.
Taking deep breaths or watching something funny on YouTube may also help you let go of feelings of frustration that could turn into resentment if those emotions are not immediately addressed.
If you don’t think short-term breaks will help, think about taking a longer break. Decompressing when you are resentful as a caregiver can be helpful for your well-being long-term.
When you become a family caregiver, it is important to keep in mind that the caregiving responsibilities and tasks are likely to increase over time.
Many caregivers don't realize what they are signing up for and end up burnt out, overwhelmed, and suffering physically. To avoid this and maintain your sanity, take a step back every now and then and reassess your caregiving situation.
Recognize the changes that you have experienced with the passage of time. Reassessing the situation will help you understand the root of the problem that may be causing you burnout.
For example, when you analyze your caregiver role, you may realize that your role has expanded over time. Perhaps your loved one’s condition has changed slightly, yet it is only upon reflection that you can acknowledge that your current approach is no longer effective.
Alternatively, it may also help you consider receiving professional help from a home care agency or from private providers with tasks, such as housekeeping, maintenance, or meal preparation.
Caregiving alone can be extremely difficult. Keep in mind that you are unlikely to receive assistance if you don't ask for help immediately.
In fact, many primary caregivers find if they do not involve adult children or siblings early in the care cycle it is difficult to get them involved later down the road.
You might consider asking adult children or siblings for caregiving assistance to take charge of a specific task.
For example, yardwork, respite care, meal preparation, and specific errands can be assigned to a family member for the duration of the caregiving experience. Adult children or family members paying for someone to perform these tasks counts, as it takes tasks off your plate.
Check if there are any caregiver support groups for caregivers in your area where you can share your thoughts and feelings with others that are going through a similar experience.
You can also look for support online as there may be numerous people willing to help you out.
Talking about your feelings and sharing your thoughts with people who are willing to listen can help reduce feelings of anger or sadness.
When you feel angry or upset and start wondering how to avoid caregiver resentment, identifying, or noticing the cause behind such ill feelings may help you address those feelings better.
For instance, you may find yourself so caught up in taking care of all of your loved one’s needs that you forget to take care of yourself. When you start forgetting or having no downtime for eating properly or drinking water, you will likely feel resentful, extra stressed, or negative.
Similarly, when you start feeling exhausted, negative feelings may start circling around in your mind.
So, it's extremely important to prioritize your own basic needs while taking care of loved ones. Don't forget to eat healthily, drink plenty of water, sleep on time and take some time out for your physical health.
Support is extremely important when you are a caregiver who is working to avoid caregiver resentment. Therefore, it is vital to access social support that has nothing to do with caregiving.
Sometimes, all you need is someone to talk to and get a little motivation from them. Having your feelings validated and listening to encouraging words from someone you care about, and trust may be helpful in avoiding negative feelings.
We all need encouragement and validation, so talking to your supportive friends or other sources of support like journaling may be crucial for you. It is also important that you spend time talking about things outside of your caregiving responsibilities.
Having a trustworthy friend who supports you during your darkest times is a blessing; however, if you spend most of your time talking about your frustrations with them, you are not really taking a break from caregiving. If you have a supportive friend, talk to them often, give them small updates about how things are going on your end and move on to other topics.
If you don't have a close or trustworthy relationship with your friends or prefer keeping things to yourself, consider writing your caregiver experience down in a journal.
Write down whatever you are feeling at the moment and don't judge yourself. Keeping your feelings private will help you progress to eventually expressing your feelings of resentment in a judge-free zone.
As a caregiver, you are at a higher risk of developing emotional distress. Hence why discussing your caregiving situation with a professional can be useful when working through resentment.
Mental health professionals are specially trained to help you work through complex emotions.
When you experience dark and negative emotions, finding happiness and joy may seem like an impossible task.
One thing that you should always remember is you deserve to experience happiness. Therefore, try engaging in activities that make you happy. It could be anything from painting, singing, dancing, listening to music, writing, or cooking.
It is hopeful that you learned ideas about how to avoid becoming resentful. Although all suggestions may not work for you, you might consider implementing at least one strategy at a time to avoid resentment.
Please do not forget that caregivers are human, and as such, you will experience a wide range of emotions.
Therefore, it is important that you do not compromise your quality of life by dismissing your feelings either. You can only help others when you are feeling healthy.
Dr. Eboni Green is a registered Nurse and family caregiver expert. She holds a Ph.D. in human services, with a specialization in health care administration. She has extensive experience focusing on caregivers' health and wellness, with an emphasis on caregiver stress, burnout, and related family conflicts. She has contributed to several publications and given presentations that focus on training, assessing, and supporting caregivers throughout their caregiving journeys. Green is also a published author and has written three books focusing on family caregiving: At the Heart of the Matter, Caregiving in the New Millennium, and Reflections from the Soul.
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