Anger, Guilt, Fear etc.
One of the toughest things about loved ones getting old, ill or needing our support, is the difficult feelings it stirs up: anger at the impact on your life, guilt for feeling that way, perhaps fear or a sense of loss as you anticipate the challenges ahead. Feelings are like the warning lights on a car dashboard. They are telling us there is something we need to pay attention to; it’s when we ignore them that we run the risk of breaking down. That doesn’t mean you have to act on them: often relief comes simply from expressing what it is we’re feeling – if only to ourselves.
Feelings of Loss
For some of us, caring for a parent is like a series of bereavements without anyone dying: loss of time, privacy, freedom, income, social life – depending on how much they need from us. There may be emotional losses to deal with too: their frailty can be a reminder of our own mortality, plus the sense that a safety net – knowing our parents were around for us – has been whipped away.
Counsellors describe loss as a series of stages: from sadness, anger, guilt and sometimes despair through to recovery. Because your losses are continuing you may experience any of those feelings at any time. If you do, then treat yourself with the same understanding and compassion as you would someone who has actually been bereaved.
Feelings of Anger
Few of us are saints and somewhere along the line you may feel overwhelming anger: for the person you’re supporting, on their behalf if they are suffering physically, or perhaps at the rest of the family for not pulling their weight. Anger is a physical emotion and needs to be safely discharged. Trying to keep a lid on it is asking for it to explode out of you at some point where it will damage you or others:
- Make a punchbag from old clothes stuffed into a bin bag, or beat the heck out of a pillow
- Buy a load of old china from a car boot sale so each time you reach boiling point you can take yourself into the garden and hurl a few plates against a wall
- Go for a power walk, allowing yourself to experience the anger flowing through and out of your pounding feet and swinging arms
- Write it out, fast and furiously and without censorship, onto a piece of paper you can then burn.
Feelings of Resentment
Unlike anger, feelings of resentment can bury themselves deep inside you, poisoning relationships, and your own experience of the day to day. Left unchecked, resentment may turn into depression. It will certainly turn your world grey. Whatever the cause, once again, the remedy is to recognise the feeling, and express it using the same techniques as you would for anger. Only then will you be able to talk assertively, rather than bitterly, to whoever it is who has caused those feelings.
But if things don’t change, or there are resentments you can do nothing about, do your best to let them go. Holding onto those feelings is hurting you more than anyone else.
Feelings of Guilt
Ah, guilt. Now that’s one we all know. The guilt of not doing enough or not enough of the right thing; that everyone else in our lives is not getting enough attention; that we’re not able to give our full focus to work. Guilt that we don’t always behave as we’d choose to around the parent we’re caring for. Let’s be honest, most of us can find plenty to feel guilty about, but the effect at a time when we’re already under pressure, is just to make us feel even worse.
Remind yourself every day that you are doing your best – and of that liberating word ‘enough’. Your best is always good enough.
To feel or to act
Once you get into the habit of checking in with and allowing your feelings you are free to decide whether to act on them – rather than them acting on you. Instead of resisting the difficult stuff accept that’s how it is, and then forgive yourself for feeling that way. You’ll find that doing so releases a whole lot of energy. And, its not just about you either – families can be complicated – read more about family relationships here.
This website is a great place to give voice to emotions we’ve grown up believing are not acceptable. You never know, in doing so you may be helping someone in a similar situation: is there anything more affirming than realising ‘other people feel that way too?’ If you’d like to join the conversation go to Age Space Forum.