Letting Go of Resentment and Anger As a Caregiver

male caregiver walks with elderly manThe work of caregivers is difficult, at best. This is particularly true for those who provide care before they start the workday and after they come home in the evening. I am often amazed by the stories I hear from caregivers.

I recently learned something from a group member that I want to pass along to other caregivers. It is so simple that it may seem unlikely to make a difference. But don’t let the simplicity of it fool you—the people in our group totally got it when she talked about it. Had I tried to teach it to them in the language of a therapist, I doubt the result would have been a collective “wow.”

Managing Resentment and Anger as a Caregiver

The question of how to manage resentment is frequently a theme in our support group. Caregivers grapple with guilt about experiencing resentment—both regarding the unfairness of being thrust into the role of caring for their partner or spouse, and about spending more time as a caregiver and less as a partner/spouse.

Most are clear that the resentment and anger they feel is directed toward the ailment or disability, but we all know how easy it is for our anger and resentment to spill over into other areas or be misdirected. The last thing most caregivers want to do is allow their resentment or anger to taint their relationships with those they care for.

Someone in our group raised this issue again recently: How do we deal with the seething resentment that we feel? How do we prevent this rage from spilling over into our relationships?

It was clear that everyone in the room knew what he was talking about. Everyone responded with the perfunctory nods of agreement and reminders to breathe, be grateful, and hang in there. These are veteran caregivers who already do most of the things recommended for self-care: exercising, setting boundaries, eating well, getting as much rest as possible, etc. The urgency of their desire to address this issue was apparent.

How Do We Change Our Feelings?

Luckily, one of the women who had asked the same question in the past spoke up. She shared that she had intuitively discovered something that helped. She talked about how she had automatically shifted her feelings one day while helping with an unpleasant task. This generous soul has granted me permission to share this with you.

What my friend found was that by focusing on the process of what she was doing—by mindfully paying attention to each tiny step in the task at hand—she was able to change her feelings. She inadvertently alleviated the resentment and dread!

She changed her thoughts from, “I hate this; this is horrible. I can’t believe I have to do this every day and night for the rest of my life” to, “Okay, now I need to do this… put this here, then take it over there. Next I do that… yes, like that. Oh, that was much better than last time.”

As she explained it, my friend was able to “relax her brain, much like releasing a tightened fist.” By relaxing her brain, she was able to release the resentment and dread. She described it as letting go—releasing the breath that she had been holding. And in doing so, she discovered how to give up her resentment and anger.

Attention Is Key

Remember that when you truly focus your attention to the task, the switch to thinking mindfully about your action results in a change in your feelings and behavior. By forcing her attention to the minute processes of her admittedly unpleasant task, my friend also gained control over her emotions. She stopped the negative thoughts. Your mind can only hold one thought at a time. What you choose to think about creates your emotions.

It is your choice. Choose to focus on the process—the actions. That is mindfulness. By changing your focus to each step of the process (whether washing dishes, filing, changing a catheter, or meditating) you are also altering your feelings.

It takes practice. Begin with something easy, like learning to laser focus on your breathing. Feel the air going into your nostrils, your stomach rising, the air moving through your head and into your lungs, and then moving back up and out of your nose.

Next, try mindfully taking a bath or shower. Feel the water on your skin, smell the soap… feel the cloth in your hands and your hands moving over your body. Don’t allow your mind to wander to other things. Keep it contained in the actions and senses.

Finally, try this when doing a difficult task. Make your thoughts about what you are doing step by step. There is no room for thoughts that create dread and resentment.

Try it, and let us know how it works for you!

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by LuAnn Pierce, LCSW, therapist in Denver, Colorado

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Harry

    August 22nd, 2013 at 11:16 AM

    I guess that I have felt this anger because I am the only one whom I feel is doing my share. I have other brothers and sisters but it’s like I am the oldest so they assume it is my responsibility so they in essence they offer to do nothing. Even when I ask for help they act like they are offended that I would even ask them to give of their time. What do they think? That I don’t have another job? That I don’t have a family and other responsibilities too? I have had to neglect so many other things in my life to take care of my parents. I am fine with doing my part because I know that is part of what you do as an adult child, but it would be nice for them to give some back in return too, and I think that a lot of my own anger and stress would disappear if I felt like I had some help and they were pulling their weight.

  • Kasi

    July 2nd, 2016 at 4:51 AM

    I sympathize with you. My 92 year old grandmother has been living with us for a year now. She is bed ridden and blind. I have a brother, a sister, my uncle, and my dad and no one even visits her much less helps with her care. I work full time and it’s left to my husband and children ands myself to care for her our family is so stressed. Mainly because there seems to be no respite, no chance for a weekend away just stuck. It’s been increasingly difficult to remember what it was like to be a granddaughter and not just the one who bathes, feeds, and cares for her. How I miss our talks about life now it seems everyday is just about the task at hand. I didn’t even know they had support groups for caregivers. Good to know.

  • rubin

    August 22nd, 2013 at 8:50 PM

    sounds extremely simple.but I’m not sure how easy it actually is to do this.nit a caregiver but who doesnt have resentment about things!will give this a try and I hope I helps me.thank you for this and to the person who first suggested this technique.

  • Claudia T

    August 23rd, 2013 at 4:01 AM

    Harry- it could be time to get a mediator. It could be that you are letting your built up anger cloud your judgment and you are hearing what may or may not be true. I wish you luck because I know from experience this is a time when family needs one another.

  • Kasi

    July 2nd, 2016 at 4:57 AM

    I know it is hard to believe that a family could be so cold and uninterested, but the struggle is real. As hard as it is to believe there are actually people who will completely turn their backs on their parent and leave the only one willing to give up everything for there care. I think that I wouldn’t mind caring for my grandmother if there were a group effort and I felt supported. I envy those with help and a supportive family. Wow, how wonderful that would be.

  • Mary

    August 24th, 2013 at 4:37 AM

    As a caregiver it is important to remember that you need some support too. That is why it is important to note that there are numerous support groups available to those who are caring for loved ones that can help you address these kinds of issues.

    Providing care for a loved one, even when it is your parents, is never something that most of us are going to look to as being easy. It is hard and it is time consuming and most of the time we are never going to get the help and support from other familiy members that we really need to make it a fair fight.

    That’s why there are these groups that were created to help us. We all need a little help from time to time, even just to have a safe place to vent and others to talk to. I urge you that if you find yourself in a situation like this to look around in your community for a support group like this. Just having someone to talk to can make you feel so much better about your situation.

  • Robbie M

    November 9th, 2013 at 7:37 PM

    I feel a great deal of resentment as I care for my elderly mother. She never helped me after my children were born or after I had to have numerous surgeries w/ young children to care for and long recoveries. Never even visited my father when I brought him to live in our home during his last yrs. i am an only child. She has Alzheimer’s. I try to forgive her selfishness and be loving and caring, but it is so difficult. She is nasty and very dramatic much of the time. Caregiving is crushing and exhaustingand lonely and thankless most of the time. It is an act of supreme love.

  • Terry

    November 13th, 2013 at 7:19 AM

    Rubin- There are books written just about Mindfulness. One place to look is Amazon.com It can be helpful in many ways. Best to you!

  • Molly

    October 8th, 2014 at 2:31 PM

    For nearly 4 years I have been a full time caregiver for my mother who end of stage renal disease (esrd) and my grandmother who suffered a t.i.a stroke and has lost hearing in one ear and started having memory problem. These past years I can count on one hand the many times I have had me time. Lately my mother has become a burden with her jealous tendency toward me because everyone counts on me now for help and not her. Even because her friends have become more close to me and won’t talk much with her. I have even broken my friendship with her friends and ignore the people who ask me for assistance. It’s gotten to the point that I hate being in the same room with her. Sadly we argue a lot I try to control my temper with her but her and I have never had a close relationship like I do with my grandmother. I love taking care of my grandmother very now and then we butt heads but not me and my mother.

    I don’t know what else to do but I know my mom can say hurtful things and I am the same way. Everyone says we both are alike and that’s why we are butting heads. I’m under tremendous stress barely being able to leave to have time for myself and basically pulling all the weight for other family members who won’t even stay an hour due to my moms attitude.

  • Wendy

    December 7th, 2014 at 8:48 AM

    My sister is so angry. I can’t even talk to her about it. I know that I cannot understand what she is going through since I do not live with them. She explodes every time I try to talk to her. I think she resents all the siblings too.

    It’s so sad. She and my mother are miserable too. Both like control. What can we do? When I try to help she is angry if she can’t do it all herself. I think she hates herself for feeling this way too. Any advice for other family members? I love them both.

  • Karen

    October 14th, 2016 at 4:52 PM

    I write this in hope that you will read and understand my heartbreak and that it will save some one out there the same heartbreak. I am 70 and have been married almost 50 years. I have a lifelong history of depression, anxiety and five known sleep disorders! Never the less, I was forced to take on the role of caretaker for my 76 year old husband after his quintupple bypass, aortic valve and aorta replacement. He had no prior symptoms and the whole discovery and operation happened at a hectic pace. Given my physical disabilities and mental problems, I assumed he would be sent to a rehabilitation hospital after the operation. Instead, the hospital staff raised the bed enough so he could get out (he couldn’t have lifted himeslf), got him to take a few steps with his walker, help to dress himself and sent him home saying that those abilities disqualified him from our insurance coverage and medicare coverage in a rehabilitiation hospital. Despite my disclosures of my own problems and the fact that I had absolutely NO living family, and no friends who are healthy enough to help, the doctor sent my husband home. The panic, anxiety attacks, and insomnia he’d had in the hospital every day and all nights continued at home. He slept about 20 minutes at a time, around the clock, with one 2 hour nap for over a week. I have five sleep disorders and could barely nap. His anxiety was so great I had to be in his room 24/7 with only bathroom breaks and one trip to the supermarket (during which he had an anxiety attact . . . it was a disaster when I came home). I have no living family. His family would not help at all, despite repeated requests. I could not afford an aid and believe me, no aid could have coped with his panic attacks, paranoia, and manic moods. I became so physically and emotionally exhausted that I fell asleep one day while on hold to talk to the doctor’s office! I kept telling the doctor I couldn’t handle it and he delayed most of a week before finally discussing and prescribing an anti-anxiety drug for my husband. When my husband refused to take the medication, I blew it. I screamed at him hysterically in frustration and exhaustion and he called the police, social services, and the paramedics. I never threatened him, but he was so paranoid he said I did (didn’t say what kind of threat). When he reached the hospital he withdrew his power of attorney from me and I could no longer get any information about his whereabouts or condition for 4 days. Miraculously, the doctor then must have gotten the insurance and medicare to admit him to a rehab facility. By that time I had exhaustion and almost collapsed. Then I tried to visit him there and was told he wasn’t there (a lie according to the insurance company), so I couldn’t see him. This was followed two days later by a civil restraining order preventing me from contacting him in any way. He withdrew his social security and pension from our joint account and checks are bouncing. I do not have enough Social Security to pay the morgage let alone to provide food and necessities. Our jointly owned house will go into foreclosure. I have very little savings and no liquid assets. I am without funds for a lawyer and so depressed I couldn’t drive to one if I did. I have lost my husband of 50 years whom I loved, my house, the world’s perception of my character (through lies and distortions caused by his illness), and all my savings.
    I urge any and all of you who think you can handle a family member’s rehabilitation at home by yourselves to think long and hard about it before taking on that role. My life is distroyed, my future is to be homeless and alone. Don’t do it.

  • Karen

    October 14th, 2016 at 4:53 PM

    Please, please, do not try to care for your loved one alone at your home.

  • Anne

    November 5th, 2016 at 6:12 PM

    Karen, I never expected to read such a harrowing account of how a caregiver’s experience can become such a nightmare. I am so sorry for the unfortunate circumstances in which you find yourself. The only practical suggestion I can think to offer you is that you consider seeking government-assisted housing in your area. I’ve already taken tentative first steps toward the same, after going through a rough patch of my own. However, I see now that my problems pale when compared to yours and to those of other caregivers. My thoughts will continue to be with you. I hope you find shelter, security, and peace of mind.

  • Karen

    November 6th, 2016 at 3:17 PM

    Dear Anne,
    Thank you for writing. It was very kind of you. Right now I am living in our jointly owned house, but my husband, (who is still hospitalized for cardiac rehab) and apparently is still manic and paranoid has filed for divorce. The lawyers have combined the hearing for my protesting the restraining order with the divorce case, not yet scheduled to come to court. For whatever reason, probably that he is still hospitalized, my husband has not chosen to make me move out at this time. I don’t know whether he plans to do so if and when he is released from the rehab hospital. Unfortunately, the mortgage payment is higher than my Social Security payment and he is still not contributing financially. By selling my clothing and jewelry, I am still able to keep the electricity on and the heat (except at night, which is OK), and paid the mortgage through November. Obviously, I won’t be able to continue to do this more than a month or two more. Before his illness, I stocked the pantry to the max, knowing that getting time to go to the supermarket would be difficult. So, right now food isn’t a problem. I don’t (and never have) drink, do drugs, gamble, etc. , but the house is so expensive to maintain that I’m unable to keep this up. I’m so depressed that being at home all the time is a relief, not a burden. It is AMAZING the number of “friends” I thought I had who no longer call me. They all know I didn’t “threaten” my husband, per his verbatim and hopelessly vague allegation in the restraining order , but they want to avoid having to talk with me because I’m so depressed and in a mess. Loneliness is a huge problem. The house is somewhat isolated and I’m no social lion. Frankly, who would want to know make friends with somebody who is in such a mess? I can’t hide it. I look like I’m in agony.

    I’m going to take your suggestion and see if I can contact low cost public housing. It is just so hard for me to face up to doing so. I’ve heard there are huge waiting lists, so I know I need to get started. I doubt if there will be anything I can afford, even on a reduced fee scale, but I have to make the effort to find out.
    Many people don’t even live to be my age, 70, so I guess that I should be grateful I’ve had this life, but instead I just feel tired of it all. My husband will probably never recover his mind. The surgery was too extensive and the apparent damage too great.
    Anne, nobody’s ice is colder than anybody else’s ice. Your problems are probably just as hurtful to you as mine are to me. It is just that I’m older (I hope!) than you and, therefor, fewer solutions are available. I do hope you’ll overcome your present difficulties. Please try to make others aware of the unsuitability of some people, in some situations, particularly among older people, to do 24/7 home care, despite their good intentions. If I can warn off just one such person, my experience will not have been completely in vain. Thanks again for your kindness.

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