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Emotions of Caregiving

A ScooterLink Publication
A column for today's seniors by Cyn LoPinto, M.A., Gerontologist

The role of a caregiver is one filled with many different emotions. These feelings are complex and often vary from person to person. There is no "right" way to feel. The important thing is to get in touch with your emotions, figure out why you feel the way you do and come up with ideas on ways to cope.

Lets take a look at some of the emotions caregivers report experiencing, keeping in mind that many of these feelings are mixed. Love and anger, for example, often go hand in hand on any given day. Being afraid of strong emotions is a normal response for a lot of people too. Perhaps by realizing that others in similar caregiving situations are going through the same sensations, this fear will turn into acceptance.

Anger and frustration are common emotions felt by caregivers. This anger may be directed at the older person himself, healthcare staff, family members and sometimes even at God for having placed them in such a stressful situation. You may feel trapped in your predicament and that you have ALL the responsibility. Some get stuck in the thought that "It wasn't supposed to be like this, we had planned on retiring together." "I am sacrificing my needs and it just isn't fair."

If you feel a lot of anger towards the impaired person, you may want to see if your anger is due to that person's behavior or at the person himself. He may not be responsible. In many situations, expressing anger at the patient often makes the behavior and situation worse. This could be catastrophic if your loved one is in a confused state already. Here it is important to find outlets for this anger so that you feel better without adding more stress to your life.

Helplessness can occur in those who are caring for someone. Overwhelming feelings surface resulting in the caregiver feeling weak and demoralized. Becoming informed of your loved one's disease or condition may help to empower you. Ignorance often makes it worse. Talk with other families for insight and support. The old expression of "taking it a day at a time" is crucial in the caregiving scenario.

Guilt is an emotion almost always reported by caregivers. If the relationship between patient and caregiver has never been good, guilt can surface because of the way you've treated this person in the past. Caregivers also feel bad for losing their temper. Resentment from being cheated out of a life of your own and embarrassment by undesirable behavior, can cause guilt-related emotions. Some even feel guilty for laughing, doing things alone and for being healthy. The concept of, "it should have been me" is often expressed by those suffering from extreme feelings of guilt.

The first step is to admit that you are experiencing this emotion, and be careful that these feelings are not affecting your decision-making capabilities. Make sure you are getting plenty of rest and talk to others who are in similar situations. Sometimes just a "shoulder to cry on" will give you a clearer picture and enable you to let yourself off the hook. Seek professional help from a counselor or clergyman if it gets out of hand. You need to say, "What is done, is done," and go on with your life.

Feelings of embarrassment can be a problem for those caring for an impaired person. These emotions are often experienced when out in public. You may want to briefly explain the situation to people you know or care about. With strangers, there is no real need to offer an explanation. It isn't necessary, you don't owe them anything. Learning to ignore their reactions does get easier over time.

Depression is common among caregivers. They feel apathetic, discouraged and often listless. It may appear that the energy is drained right out of them. Sometimes their depression is disguised by expressions of anger, grief or worry. It is the underlying depression actually causing these expressions. Pay attention to feelings of isolation too. If it seems as if you are facing everything alone, and have trouble relating to others, you may choose to block out the rest of the world. Don't let feelings of worry take over your thoughts either. Ask yourself, "What is the worst thing that can happen?" The answer to this question is most likely not as bad as what you are imagining. A support system of family, friends and others in the same type of situation can be a great help. If it gets bad, however, you should be sure to seek professional help.

Grief is mainly associated with death, but grief can appear in other situations as well. Grief is really a response to loss. This loss can be due to a loss of companionship with the person you are caring for. The patient is not the way he/she used to be. There could be a grieving for the loss of roles in a relationship as well. Your loved one used to handle paying the bills and doing home repairs and now these tasks are left for you to handle. The roles from the past no longer apply. Anticipatory grief may also begin for those suffering from a terminal or chronic illness.

There are feelings of happiness, love and joy reported by caregivers as well. Luckily, love doesn't depend on intellectual or physical abilities. An intimate bonding often takes place between patient and caregiver that results in a true closeness. The caregiver knows that what he/she is doing is important, and even though appreciation may not be actually communicated, it is definitely there.

To many, happiness seems an unlikely emotion coming out of a caregiving situation. However, feelings of happiness do come up throughout the day, and at times, unexpectedly. It's these small and insignificant moments in life that bring about the most joy.

Laughter helps us all cope with the stresses and problems of life. It is a great release. Caregivers need not feel badly for laughing at things that go on during their day. Keeping a sense of humor is the key to handling stress. Mistakes and things done by a person you are caring for can be comical. The patient may be able to laugh at his mistakes as well, thus turning an otherwise stressful moment into an enjoyable one.

Some online resources for caregivers:


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