For many of us, caring starts out as positive support for a loved one. However, caring often comes at a price, whether that means we have to give up paid work or have less time for ourselves. The additional responsibility can bring additional stress and can adversely affect our relationships with the people we care for. Sadly, this can lead to guilt and resentment, neither of which are going to make our lives as carers any easier.
It’s important to be mindful of the emotional impact of caring and the value of keeping our relationships with our loved ones positive.
What is the emotional impact of caring?
It’s easy to say that we’d do anything for our family, and indeed, most of us would. But that’s about action. What about how we feel? We might be able to sacrifice nights out to put our mother or father to bed, or never eat our favourite food because we care for a son or daughter with a special diet. But over time, these sacrifices may impact our emotional health. This is because, when we continually do things out of a sense of duty, we often feel guilty if we admit to not liking them. We don’t necessarily have to say it out loud – just thinking how restful it would be not to have the responsibility can make us feel like we are bad people, or like we are ungrateful for having those we care for in our lives.
These negative thoughts can easily grow and get out of control. When guilt takes over, it can turn into resentment. If we look back to when we first recognised we were carers, we probably didn’t feel resentful of our loved ones. We started off doing this out of genuine love and care for another. But if resentment is creeping in, it’s important to recognise it and address it before it gets out of control.
Resentment can be powerful. Once we start to wish that we never had the responsibility at all, it can affect our relationship with the person we care for, and our feelings about taking on other duties. Ultimately, this can restrict our lives.
Why is it important to recognise guilt and resentment?
Guilt and resentment are bad for us. They are not healthy emotions, and they can interfere with our relationships with the people we care for. We all started off caring because we love the people who need us, but it is important to keep our relationships with those we care for positive. When we have good reasons for caring for another, it gives us the strength to carry on.
We must not feel guilty for wanting a break
Carers who want a break are not bad people. We are simply people who have been under pressure for a long time. We are human beings: we cannot do everything. We all have different limits – we might meet other carers who have been cheerfully carrying on for longer than we have, but that doesn’t mean that our emotional needs are not valid. If caring is showing its darker side, and negativity is starting to affect you, it is important to address it.
How carers can access the right support
Life should be a balance of give and take. As carers we may give a lot, but we are allowed to be receivers of support too. The give and take of our lives might not be with the same people – we might give a lot to our loved ones, but we might receive support from our network of friends, colleagues and health care professionals.
Carers need to be proactive in order to get the right support. This isn’t always easy, but we can learn to prioritise our own wellbeing. Those of us not yet registered as carers can get started by contacting the GP. Once registered, it can be easier to access help and book respite care. Remember that asking for help is a strength, not a weakness, and with the right support in place, we can start to reduce any negative feelings we might have about caring.
Being a carer is a vital role and one that can be incredibly rewarding. Recognising our feelings and looking after our emotional health enable us to continue caring. In turn, our relationships with loved ones can develop in a positive way, and we can maintain our own identities while fulfilling our responsibilities to others.