Alzheimer's blog

Forgive yourself as a caregiver, and relieve anger

By Angela Lunde September 7, 2011

In a book I highly recommend, "Ten Thousand Joys & Ten Thousand Sorrows", by Olivia Ames Hoblitzelle, she writes, "The strain of helping Hob (my husband) with his disease kept stretching me to the breaking point. My frustration and anger concealed the grief that lay at deeper levels ... The ravages of this illness spark powerful feelings in everyone ... We need to experience our humanness, including all the so-called dark emotions like anger and fear, because they are natural given the situation. It's natural to think you're losing it at times."

As stated in my last posting, anger is a real, normal and expected emotion in caregivers. In reading your comments, there's a prevailing theme — anger is triggered in caregivers when there is lack of validation and support from family members. As a result, anger is further exasperated by not having time for you.

Mark and so many of you wrote that you must get away and have some breaks — the right advice for sure, but easier said than done. Gisele said it helps to simply "put a voice to the frustration."

To find some relief, it's essential to first distinguish between what is, and what isn't, within your power to change. Often anger bubbles when we try to change an uncontrollable circumstance. The easiest way to find some calm may be to stop trying so hard to make things different.

When we resist, blame, or reject, we stay trapped in our anger. I don't mean that you can't actively work to make things better by asking for the help of family members. I simply mean that you make peace with the way things are today. Choosing to operate from a place of acceptance is a way to keep your anger in check and is a form of self-care.

A second consideration in relieving anger is to believe that there's something you can control. You can control your thoughts and ultimately how you respond. Each of us can learn to modify our thoughts. How we think about a situation greatly influences how we react and how much excess stress and anger we carry. As caregivers, our thoughts are often not unhelpful.

For example, have you found yourself taking responsibility or blaming yourself for a negative occurrence that's beyond your control?  Or perhaps you're stewing about a situation that hasn't happened, but your mind is already anticipating the outcome. Too often it's our thinking (not the actual situation) that causes anger and prevents us from looking at things objectively. This ultimately limits our ability to find a better way to deal with it.

Kathryn wrote that she's able to ask for help from a family member to care for her brother with Alzheimer's so she can get a break. However, she wrote, "Then I get ANGRY at myself because I just sit on my couch and enjoy having my house to myself — I am not being productive."

This is a great example of how our thoughts about what we think we "should" do are in conflict with what we want to do. You end up feeling angry, guilty, or depressed. Yet, we can modify our thoughts (with practice) by thinking instead, "I need time to do nothing. It's OK for me to take a break from caregiving and just sit. The laundry and chores will wait. I am being productive right now in my own self-care."

The booklet titled "Pressure Points — Alzheimer's and Anger" from the Duke Family Support Program offers some questions to ask yourself that can assist in modifying your thoughts, relieving your stress and ultimately seeing possible solutions more clearly. Ask yourself these questions when you start to feel overwhelmed or angry:

  • What am I really angry at?
  • Do I really need to be concerned with, think about, or worry about this?
  • What are the consequences if I ignore this?
  • Is this something that must be done now?
  • Why am I doing this? Is this someone else's expectation?
  • Can I settle for a "good-enough-for-now solution"?

Remember, you're entitled to feel angry. Forgive yourself when things go wrong, and believe what you are doing is good enough for now.

"You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger" — Buddha

(Pressure Points — Alzheimer's and Anger. Ballard, E., Gwyther, L., Toal, T.P. Durham, NC: Duke Family Support Program. 2000. 70 p. is available from the Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center, P.O. Box 8250, Silver Spring, MD 20907-8250. (800) 438-4380. E-mail: adear@nia.nih.gov. Website: www.nia.nih.gov/Alzheimers/Publications/pressurepoints.htm. Price: $12.50 for print copy.)

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Sep. 07, 2011