The 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!
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