Many people in the role of carer feel confusion, sometimes even shame, when they experience unwanted feelings like anger. But the truth is these feelings are more common than you may think - and there are many healthy ways to process them.
Here, carers share their experiences of anger and Violet's Guide Practice Manger, Wendy Stocks, offers advice on self-regulation and self-compassion.
Anger that your life as you’ve known it is changing
“I was still working and in a relationship, and all of that quickly started to go. And I was very angry about that. I felt very resentful, and I questioned God and I questioned a lot of things in my life, and it did – it just sucked a life out of me as well, to be honest.” - Alia is caring for her mother who has late stage emphysema.
Caring for someone in the last stage of life can intrude on all aspects of your life, including activities, relationships, work and time, explains Violet’s Guide Practice Manager Wendy Stocks. “Who wouldn’t feel angry and emotional?
“Feeling anger is very normal, and you need to forgive yourself for this. Taking time out from the immediate situation can help you calm yourself. Seeking help to find non-harmful ways of releasing feelings can lead you towards gaining acceptance of your situation and regulating emotions.”
Feelings of anger at what lies ahead
“When someone is slowly dying or in terrible pain and your whole life and relationship is affected in every single way, you're just living everyday with feelings of dread about what the future will hold. You feel the full gamut of emotions: shame, guilt, resentment, anger.” - Rose cared for her partner, Steve, who died three years after being diagnosed with bowel cancer.
"Caregivers can experience emotional turmoil and fears for the future that may feel unbearable and take a massive toll on their own health," Wendy says.
Gaining an understanding of what to expect leading up to – and at the point of – death, can be a huge relief for you and your loved one, and increase your acceptance of what lies ahead. It can allow you to focus on making the most of the time you have and what matters most, which will likely reduce the intense feelings of anger you’re experiencing.”
Handling your loved-one’s anger
“You do cop the darker side, where they do become a little bit more verbal. They will yell at you, ‘I hate you!’ It’s like they’re angry at you because you’re living and they’re dying, and you have to roll with that. Because I know it’s just your fear, it’s all those terrible things that people don’t like to talk about. That’s what’s coming through.”- Dale is caring for his wife who is terminally ill with a rare gastrointestinal cancer.
Wendy points out that it’s incredibly difficult to endure anger directed at you when you’re giving everything to provide the comfort and support your loved one needs. She recommends you both take time out to allow emotions to cool.
“You may wish to consider the range of emotions they must be going through, the grief and despair of knowing their life is being cut short. Understand and remind yourself that this is what their anger is really about.”
Anger about how care is delivered
"The nurse said to me in front of David and our friends, ‘how long has he got to live?’ I took her outside and said, ‘don't you dare say that in front of my husband again’. A lot of little things built up and I just exploded in the end.” Julie cared for her husband David, who died a few months after being diagnosed with a rare brain cancer.
“It can be infuriating to see your loved one is not getting the exceptional care you expect,” Wendy says.
She notes that errors do sometimes occur, as staff are human and often working in under-resourced units. Try taking a breath before reacting and consider how to respond appropriately.
“Addressing the issue in a calm manner, explaining the impact of their actions, along with your expectations of how you would like them to deal with the situation, may have a better outcome for your loved one, and preserve the important relationship you have with your husband’s health providers,” Wendy adds.