When my mom finally came home after a week in intensive care, she took every opportunity to insist to my siblings and me: “I don’t want any of you to put your lives to the side for me. I want you to be able to live your lives without worrying or feeling like you need to give anything up because of what I’m going through.” Of course, we honestly replied (tearfully) that our own lives and happiness are directly, inherently linked with hers. But she was shining a light on a significant emotional challenge that many caregivers face.
We hadn’t even begun the journey of in-home recovery and, already, my mom was anticipating—fearing, even—the family’s inconvenience and resentment. Truthfully, there were a lot of feelings and realities that all of us were facing: fear, confusion, anger, being overwhelmed, and even relief that my mom made it through some very uncertain moments. And, truthfully, the nature of our feelings and experiences was uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean that any of those feelings are wrong or that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to feel them. As a caregiver, it’s very important that you embrace all of the feelings that arise—even resentment—rather than rejecting them. Here, we’ll explore how to deal with caregiver resentment compassionately and some ways to handle, express, and redirect that energy so you can move forward.
What Does Resentment Mean for a Caregiver?
Especially for caregivers of aging and disabled adults, feelings of resentment are common. It makes sense that you might resent:
- That your relationship with this person is not the same as it once was.
- That you feel bound to make changes in your life to step into the caregiver role.
- That a disease or aging has overcome your loved one and altered their life as well.
- That this person in your care didn’t show you the compassion and care you deserve in the past.
- That you can’t reconcile yourself to identify as a caregiver.
- That so much of your time is spent focusing on another.
- That it takes time away from yourself and the other parts of your life.
- That you feel these conflicting emotions at all.
Just like any other emotion, your experience of resentment represents a part of you speaking up. One of the most unproductive things you can do is to reject that part of yourself because then you’re introducing new feelings of shame and guilt that are secondary, unnecessary, and that won’t make the experience of stuck energy any easier. Instead, allow yourself the space to move through this experience of resentment that is born out of real challenges you’re going through. Begin by accepting your feelings, and remember that your feelings don’t define you.
How to Deal with Caregiver Resentment and Find the Silver Lining
Simply having negative feelings doesn’t make you wrong. The spontaneous journey of emotional experiences is not in your control. How you respond and what you do with those feelings are up to you, however, and bear weight on your future and that of your aging loved one. All of this really boils down to the importance of caring for yourself even as you care for another. And, as an extension of yourself, the very feeling of resentment is something you are called upon to offer compassion and care for.
If you’re not allowing your uncomfortable feelings the space they need and deserve, it’s more likely that you’ll end up projecting that negative energy in harmful ways on the aging adult in your care, on your family, or on yourself. So, how can you create that space for your feelings of resentment to live and breathe and then move forward, empowered by that courage and unconditional compassion?
- Journal: Some caregivers find that daily journaling is a reliable way to offer their thoughts and feelings that critical space they need. It is also a good way to separate the personal from the professional, which can easily merge and get confusing when you’re regularly interacting so closely with a loved one who depends on you. Writing down, “I feel angry,” or, “I resent ____ because ____,” becomes a tangible way to take that first step toward acceptance. Then, that open, welcoming piece of paper invites you to brainstorm your action steps to move forward thoughtfully.
- Explore talk therapy: Similarly, expressing yourself in the company of a trained therapist or counselor can help you to process caregiver resentment. Caregiver support groups also offer an incredible place for you to express yourself honestly and work through your feelings with others who can relate and offer practical ideas. You can also seek the counsel of trusted friends and family, but it’s important to avoid projecting your negative energy on others who are close to you, who also have a stake in the situation, and who might take it personally. Having an outsider who can offer fresh perspective can be invaluable for your ability to stay grounded and approach your situation with healthy and aware action rather than reaction.
- Embrace communication: Be proactive about communicating with your aging loved one and anyone else involved in the care journey. Accept that communication can be really difficult, especially with the myriad emotions that are wrapped up in the sensitive experience of caregiving. Avoiding uncomfortable conversations only serves to compound the discomfort, the confusion, and the resentments. Check out this insightful resource for effective communication; you can take a quiz to learn more about your communication style and an aging adult’s and then follow advice from the personalized guides.
- Get moving: When it comes to stuck emotional energy, thoughts, and behavior patterns, thinking and talking your way out of it may not be enough. Physical activity is another helpful way to get unstuck—and to take care of your health and vitality in the process. Exercise is a way to actually experience the power of your emotions in the moment. What does anger feel like in your body? Move with it. What does resentment feel like in your body? Move with that. You may find that high-energy kickboxing is helpful or you may find that a calming yoga practice is helpful. All of it is positive if it helps you to be more in touch with your experience.
If you don’t take care of yourself, not only will the resentment not go away, but it will also continue to build. Remember that taking care of you, committing, and carving out the time you need for yourself is your responsibility. You might feel resentment toward the situation or even toward your aging loved one, but you are simply facing a new set of obstacles in the way of your own self-care. It is your responsibility and your opportunity to get creative and to take action. And there is a lot of positive room for growth within this healthy challenge. For caregivers, self-care is not an option; it’s a necessity. And the neglect of your own needs is one common but unnecessary source of resentment that you can prevent for a brighter, more positive future for you and the loved one in your care.
Institute on Aging helps caregivers embrace the care journey and all of its dimensions honestly and productively. If you’re curious about our programs and other resources, give us a call to learn more.