Taking care of aging parents is – at its core – demanding and isolating. Adult children who are caregivers give up a good part of their lives to ensure Mom and Dad can live out their golden years at home, yet it’s often a thankless job that often comes with little or no support.
Even with all that’s involved, many people are overwhelmed by the breadth of emotions that they experience. Resentment in particular can catch family caregivers by surprise and lead to even bigger feelings of guilt and inadequacy, but resentment is an inevitable, if unexpected, part of the changing seasons along the caregiver journey.
“At the beginning of my caregiver journey, I was in survival mode,” self-care advocate and caregiver coach Nicole Dauz told Seasons. “And when you’re in survival mode, you’re not living; you’re just getting through the day so a lot of things fall to the side. Resentment starts to build when we start neglecting other areas of our own lives.”
Are your feelings normal?
When you’ve been grappling with feelings of resentment and anger toward either your situation or your loved one, it can be easy to fall into a cycle of guilt as well. While it’s easy to feel isolated in those feelings, Dauz said, you’re not alone.
“Based on my experience, it is very normal,” she said, explaining that there are many different reasons why resentment happens. Ultimately though, “It’s not about blaming anybody.”
Resentment does not reflect on you as a person or a caregiver, she added, nor does it reflect on Mom or Dad.
Resentment does not reflect on you as a person or a caregiver … nor does it reflect on Mom or Dad.
“It’s normal. You’re not a bad person for feeling anger, for grieving.”
What causes caregiver resentment?
Resentment can have any number of causes, from feeling overwhelmed or invisible to being exhausted and unfulfilled. It can come from sacrifices, such as giving up a job or putting other relationships and your own well-being on the backburner. It can sprout from one too many things going wrong, challenging family dynamics, the difficulty of a loved one’s care or even that same loved one’s combative nature.
Dauz explained that caregivers of older adults often feel as though they shouldn’t be having certain emotions – such as anger, grief or shame – which can be a trigger for resentment. Or they don’t know how to process their frustrations—another trigger.
“Struggling with coming to terms with the relationship being different can cause resentment,” she explained, especially with parents who are struggling with dementia or Alzheimer’s. These changing roles can lead to the perception of a loss of control. As another caregiver related to her, “My dad is no longer my dad.”
“Specifically with aging parents, I find a lot of resentment comes from the dynamic among siblings,” Dauz said.
She pointed out that caregivers may be able to avoid that type of resentment by learning to express their needs and asking family members for specific support.
“When we’re caring for a loved one, there seems to be this protected mode where we say, ‘I’m good. I got this.’ People believed me and stopped offering. That builds a lot of resentment.”
Caregivers may also find that they hesitate to talk about their feelings in order to protect Mom or Dad’s privacy.
“There’s resentment or just sadness; I know that is also common when someone doesn’t want people to know and that makes caregivers feel more isolated,” she said. “Caring for another person can feel like a burden when we’re unable to access resources.”
Resentment in action
So, what does it look like when you’re feeling resentful as a caregiver? Dauz summed it up with one word: rage.
“I was trying to suppress it and deny myself feeling the emotions,” she said, “but then they erupt like a volcano and caused shame, guilt and embarrassment.”
Resentment might start out small and grow bigger. Some people are prone to passive-aggressive expressions, while others might project their resentment onto others. Because resentment can escalate into abuse without the caregiver meaning to cause harm, it’s important to recognize those feelings as they creep in and take swift action. If you think you might hurt yourself or your loved one, seek immediate help.
How to cope with resentment
Recognizing resentment is the first – and, for many, the hardest – step to coping with it. Consider the following strategies:
- Take a break of at least a few days, but up to a couple of weeks, to recharge.
- Schedule time to yourself on a regular and ongoing basis.
- Ask for specific help from family members.
- Hire in-home care help.
- Utilize respite programs or adult daycare.
- Talk to someone. Therapy, support groups and fellow caregivers are all good options.
- Get outside and enjoy nature.
- Express yourself creatively.
- Make sure your own care needs are met.
- Remember your mental health and happiness matter, too.
“Find one person you feel safe sharing with,” Dauz advised, which is often easier and less intimidating for some people than finding a caregiver support group.
Resentment is a very normal part of the caregiving experience. It stems from trying to meet innumerable demands while simultaneously losing parts of yourself in order to be available for older parents as they age and lose their abilities. It’s easy to fall into the trap of always putting their needs first and never asking for help, but that will only make the problem worse.
Coping with resentment and negative feelings boils down to feeling heard, getting support, and being able to make time for yourself and your own care needs. Remember, you’re not the only one who will suffer if resentment goes unchecked; you can’t be any good to Mom or Dad either if you’re constantly on edge.