Dealing with anger as a carer of someone with a serious health issue can be really tough. You may also be dealing with rejection from them, feel crap about the situation generally but also genuinely wondering what you can to help and how to manage the situation.
We can be overloaded sometimes with the anger, rejection and unpleasant feelings that we react badly and end up in the dark side of helping. You don’t want to act in this way, but with all the stress you are under, it is understandable that it happens.
You want to find ways to not get so angry at your loved one’s anger over their health situation. This third post in the series on the dark side of helping deals with that. It focuses on you the supporter, your needs and some things to keep in mind as you are on this journey to support effectively rather than operate from the dark side of helping.
It’s important because you may not always get much recognition, if any, for what you do and what you are going through. But your experience is just as valid and it’s important you receive support too.
I am picking up where we left off at the second post where I wrote about the process a person with a serious health issue goes through when realising what they are no longer capable of doing, and the reasons they may not want to accept your help. As I said in first post, helping others is a good thing and recognised as being good for our mental health (Mental Health Foundation, 2018; Psychology Today, 2018; NPR, 2018). Yet there are times when providing the help doesn’t fulfil the helper’s original intentions to help, nor help the person it is meant to. This blog series is exploring that situation. The primary audience are those of us in a caring role – the carer, spouse, another family member, friend, colleague. I am using the term supporter to reflect that role.
If you are coming across this series for the first time, my aim is to share my learning from having operated from the dark side of helping, not to judge. Also, to raise awareness so you can make mindful choices of when to offer your help and when not to.Dealing with the anger of the person who has a #serioushealthissue and you are helping is not easy. Read 4 things you can do to lessen the anger’s impact on you. #carer #caring tell a friend
Dealing with anger as a carer
During this time, you may feel your help could make their life easier, but they just won’t accept it even though it’s based on good intentions. So, you feel rejected. It can feel like you are constantly being pushed away and after a time there is only so much rejection you can take. This is tough. You are doing the best you can in a tough situation neither of you wanted to be in.
What can be happening is the person you are supporting could be holding a lot of anger over what has happened to them. And frustration, and grief. It can be so much to hold, they try to get rid of some of it by giving it to others through their reactions and lashing out.When someone is #angry with the impact of their #serioushealthissue their #anger can sometimes be covering the #grief they feel for what they have lost. #carer #caring tell a friend
You don’t have to hold their anger or grief for them. That won’t help you in dealing with anger as a carer or to support someone effectively. If you hold someone’s anger, grief, frustration, whatever, you can end up draining your inner resources to deal with the situation. You can end up in a vicious cycle of you both throwing your anger back and forth at one another. Which in turn can lead to the type of resentment mentioned above.
Instead, you can do the following to support the person.
Demonstrate empathy rather than sympathy for the person. They are two different abilities and people can confuse them. It’s important not to do that in this case.
Empathy is the ‘ability to identify with or understand the perspective, experiences, or motivations of another individual and to comprehend and share another individual’s emotional state.’
Sympathy is a ‘feeling of pity or sorrow for the distress of another; commiseration’.
Some people say you cannot experience true empathy if you haven’t had the same experience as the other person. Given that you don’t often have the same experience as another, what you can do is remember a time or situation in your life when you experienced similar enough feelings.
You don’t need to mention the situation you experienced or say very much. Empathy doesn’t have to be verbal. Sometimes you only have to get in touch with the feelings you felt at that time which are similar to the what the person you are supporting is feeling now. Often times this is more than good enough.
‘Hold the space’ for them
This expression is what people who support others – like coaches, therapists, listeners – often use. It means to be in the present moment, being your authentic self, witnessing and allowing what is happening for the other person you are with without judgement.
It’s about using yourself to create a safe space for another to just be and express what they want and need to. Again, holding the space does not have to be verbal.
Here’s a good article that expands on what ‘holding the space’ means.
Acknowledge their feelings
This entails verbally acknowledging how the other person is feeling. This is really important because it validates their experience, it lets them know that you see and recognise it. You could say:
‘I can see that XYZ is really troubling you.’
‘I can see that you are worried about…’
‘It seems as if you feel that…’
‘Are you feeling…?’
Don’t be surprised if the other person corrects you, that they are not feeling what you said but something else. If they corrected you, that’s actually a good thing because you now have a clearer idea of how they actually are feeling.
Also, we aren’t mind readers and don’t live in other people’s bodies, so we can never truly know how another person is feeling. We may get to a close approximation of it and that’s good enough.We aren’t mind readers and don’t live in other people’s bodies, so we can never truly know how another person is feeling. Important to remind ourselves of this when we are in the #caring role. #carer #serioushealthissue tell a friend
Sometimes acknowledgement is non-verbal. It is simply listening to the other person express themselves and whatever they are feeling even if what they are feeling is very unpleasant or really happy.
Acknowledgement of this kind is not about telling a story when you experienced similar feelings or someone else you know has. Unless of course the person has expressly asked you for such information. Acknowledgement is active witnessing of the person’s experience.
Acknowledge the impact on you and the both of you
At times it is appropriate to highlight the impact the situation and their anger is having on you and that you are doing your best. This may not be appropriate every time. You have to learn to judge when it is. You may make a mistake from time to time as you are figuring that out and that can help you learn what works and what doesn’t.
From my experience as a carer, I learned it is when the other person may be upset but it is not at the level where they are not receptive to what you have to say. I have also found there may be a pause and they look you in the eye. When they do that, they are seeking connection. At this point it’s a judgement call as to what you say.
If you feel it is appropriate to say something about the impact on you, with all the empathy and love you have, you can look back at them and gently say, ‘It’s not easy for you, I can see that. I haven’t found it easy. I’m doing my best.’ Or use words that are comfortable for you and appropriate to your situation. You will notice I include acknowledgement of the other person so it doesn’t come across as a ‘me but not you’ but a ‘me and you’.
Sometimes you may not need to mention the impact on you as it is evident to both of you.
Hopefully these four ways of dealing with anger as a carer helps to lessen the negative impact anger can have. Again, it’s important as the supporter you’ve got sources of support where you speak to a trusted person who can acknowledge what you are going through, that your experience is valid, and help you develop strategies to get through it and keep relatively sane.
Come back in two weeks when I will continue sharing the strategies you can use to manage tough situations, help effectively and to support yourself.
What’s it like for you?
What has your experience been like of dealing with anger as a carer? Are these strategies new to you? What other strategies have worked for you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
If you are living with a serious health issue, which may be a serious illness or injury or chronic illness, or are supporting someone who is, and would like to return to a sense of wellness, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.
Help with research on acceptance
If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more. And in exchange, I offer you a free 1 hour coaching session.
Pass it forward
Although this blog is written in the context of living with a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think someone you know would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to spread the ideas, click on the icons to share.
© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2018