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Taking Care of an Elderly Parent—and Not Loving It?

How to turn resentment into patience and joy.

Source: Matthias Zomer/Pexels
Source: Matthias Zomer/Pexels

"I can't believe you did it AGAIN! How many times do I have to tell you: Stop turning your heating pad back on! You always forget to turn it off, and you're going to burn yourself one of these nights. I'm trying to help you, but you're being so STUPID!"

Mean, harsh words.

From an adult child who loves his elderly mother very much.

An adult child who never learned how to manage his emotions and release pent-up stress in a safe, appropriate way.

An adult child who has unintentionally become verbally abusive, subjecting his mom to the very thing he always swore he'd protect her from: poor care in her final years on this Earth — instead of the love, respect, and dignity that she deserves.

It's a tragic situation — and tragically common.

But it can also be prevented.

If you're one of the many people who have taken on a caregiver role — either by choice or by necessity — know that stress doesn't have to consume you, and feelings of bitterness and resentment don't need to be bottled up inside.

It is possible for caregivers to learn how to restore inner peace and take pride in what they're doing — and even to avoid stress to begin with.

This invariably involves managing their emotions with extra special care.

Here are three possible ways to begin:

1. Release your feelings.

It's not uncommon for caregivers to feel under a lot of emotional pressure. These emotions are not "good" or "bad" — they can be likened to "bottled-up" energy. Keep the cap on the bottle, and all that energy is at risk for becoming too intense to hold inside. This can lead to negative behavior — like verbally lashing out at someone you love, or numbing yourself with food or alcohol.

It's important to take the cap off that bottle, so to speak. (Safely and appropriately.) This can mean: pounding a pillow, punching a punching bag, yelling into the duvet covers. It means releasing those emotions, safely — but not just by "journaling" or "talking." It means going for a deep "letting go" — the kind that results in a shift that you can feel. Don't be surprised if you feel lighter and freer pretty quickly. And then you're likely to feel better equipped to provide care and serve.

2. Find someone who "gets" it.

There are many people, around the world, who are taking care of an aging parent, sick partner, or a child with special needs. You're not alone. There's help out there.

If it feels right, consider finding a support group or even just one friend who "gets" it. Feeling cared for and "understood" when you're giving so much of yourself as you care for someone else can be deeply nurturing and restorative.

Reaching out for supportive resources can be especially helpful for those in the midst of grief. (And yes — you can be "grieving," even if the person you're grieving about is still very much alive. Any form of "loss" or stressful life event can trigger the cycle of grief.)

Need personalized help? Don't hesitate to seek counseling. Additionally — if it's within your means — consider getting some help with your caregiving duties (be it house cleaning, organization, running errands, car repairs and/or anything in between) to give you more time for rest and self-care.

Remember: You don't have to do this alone.

3. Let go. But never give up.

In my extensive studies in the field of emotional health, I learned a technique known as "positive submission."

Positive submission isn't the same as "surrendering" or "giving up."

It's about recognizing that there are certain things you can control and certain things you cannot.

It means saying to yourself:

I will strive to make things better... when it is possible to do so.

I will vent my feelings safely and accept life's limitations... when it is not.

That's "positive submission." As a caregiver, and human being, sometimes that is all you can do. And that needs to be enough.

Caring for another human being is a privilege.

And even if you're not feeling "terrific" about your role as a caregiver right this moment, it is possible to learn to manage the emotions that have been building up inside you.

Do that, and soon, you may very well find more satisfaction and joy in your work.

And the person under your care can then receive something priceless: unconditional love.

Given freely. From the best possible version of you.

. . .

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Contact your qualified provider before implementing or modifying any personal growth or wellness program or technique and with questions about your well-being.

Copyright ©2020 Dr. Suzanne Gelb, PhD, JD. All rights reserved.

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