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How to Handle the Conflicting Emotions of Caregiving

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Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD - Blogs
By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhDPsychologistJanuary 22, 2020

Caring for a loved one can be emotionally draining. Whether you’re caring for an aging parent, ill spouse, or a special needs child, you are likely to feel a mix of emotions –  love, sadness, frustration, guilt, and maybe even anger. Gaining clarity about these feelings can help you ease your inner conflict and find greater peace.

Consider the following common emotions and related situations that occur when people are caregivers.

Helplessness or hopelessness: There may be very real limits to how much you can do. This can leave you feeling helpless, or even hopeless, in your efforts to care for your loved one. As a result, you might rail against the situation, getting angry with yourself or your loved one. By talking with a trusted person about this, you might allow for your feelings of powerlessness, rather than diverting them into anger. As a result, you might gain some perspective, which can be grounding. You might also find that these feelings relate to struggles with guilt.

Guilt: In your efforts to ease the suffering of a loved one, you may feel like you can never do enough. It’s common for people to feel guilty for what they perceive as their inadequacy, or even feel selfish for also wanting to do something for themselves.

If you struggle with this, consider how you would react to a friend going through a similar situation. You would likely recognize that there are limits to what your friend could do. Just as they would not be able to fully eliminate their loved one’s pain, neither can you. And just as they would need a break at times to care for themselves, you also have this need. Not being able to “do enough” is a statement that reveals more about the situation than it does any inadequacy on your part. By accepting this insight, you may be able to free yourself from the guilt you carry, do more to take care of yourself, and accept help from others.

Frustration or anger toward others: It can be incredibly frustrating, or even angering, when family members don’t step up to help. Maybe they help out when you ask – which is good, though you’d prefer they take more initiative. Or, maybe they make fail to act even when you ask directly, which can be outright angering.

If you can relate to this situation, pause to assess your specific circumstance. If you have only hinted at the need for help, taking a more direct approach might produce the help you want. But if whatever you try doesn’t work, then it’s essential to your mental health to “accept” (though not be happy with) the reality. As you resolve to move forward, you might consider engaging the help of different people in your social circle, or reaching out for professional help, such as aides or other support services.

Resentment toward the person you are caring for: Sometimes all your emotions can be overwhelming, leaving you to feel bitter toward your loved one – even though you don’t really believe they are doing anything wrong. On the other hand, you might find yourself resentfully caring for someone who has hurt, or was even abusive, to you. If you decide that caring for the person is the right thing to do, then you may find it helpful to focus on your choice to live according to your values, and to find others who will support you in your efforts.

If you face any of these situations, keep in mind that many people in your situation would feel similarly. But with the above advice, you can approach yourself and your loved one with compassion, enabling you to ease the emotional complications that so often come with caring for a loved one.

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About the Author
Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Dr. Becker-Phelps is a licensed psychologist in NJ and NY, and is on staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset. She is dedicated to helping people understand themselves and what they need to do to become emotionally and psychologically healthy. She accomplishes this through her work as a psychotherapist, speaker and writer. She is the author of Bouncing Back from Rejection and Insecure in Love.

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