Patients, Caregivers, and Anger

A while back, I wrote a post about the fact that acknowledging our sadness is an important part of self-care. And that post seemed to resonate. Last night, during a #BCSM (Breast Cancer and Social Media) tweet chat about caregiving and breast cancer, the topic of anger came up several times.

One question that I saw in the conversation was how to handle when a patient or a caregiver gets angry. And I think this is critical. Because angry happens. And angry is an emotion that can have an important purpose when we’re emotionally healthy. Anger was intended to help us realize when something feels wrong, and have the energy to respond to it.

And certainly dealing with any serious illness means that something is wrong. Even if your treatment is going great, even if your chronic condition is well managed, you still have a level of awareness, restrictions and daily requirements that wouldn’t be present if your body was fully healthy. You’ve moved out of the realm of healthy privilege. Managing a serious illness is expensive, time-consuming, and often can make daily life feel like a huge challenge.

But sometimes, angry means that we are also feeling sad, frustrated, stuck, isolated, lonely, scared, or annoyed. Because anger is an active emotion, it can feel more comfortable than feelings that seem to be forced upon you.

That makes it incredibly important that you spend some quality time and sort out how you are really feeling, especially in a situation where you are a patient or a caregiver. Generally, no one signs up for a caregiver role unless you already have a deep and caring relationship with your patient, so I’m going to assume that these are relationships that matter to you. If you are feeling anger, it is great to take a few moments to yourself and determine the true cause of the anger. Do you really care that much about where the dirty dishes sit? Or is today a day that you are overwhelmed by your role? Because, to tell you the truth, neither the patient or the caregiver has it easy.

It can help to use a journal, or a therapist, or a safe friend to process your feelings. Once you feel like you understand the root of your upset, then you can sit with your patient or caregiver and talk it through. These are never easy conversations, but they matter a great deal. Reminding one another that you both care, and giving each other the compassionate benefit of the doubt during a tough conversation can go a long way. Being willing to talk through anger can help build a stronger foundation for the ongoing relationship.

Need some more ideas on healthy coping with anger? Well, it turns out that I wrote a post about that last year, which you can find right here.

And, of course, you can always share your suggestions for coping in the comments, or reach out to me directly for more support.


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