Managing Your Emotions Before They Manage You

A carer managing emotions while providing support and care for an elderly person

Soul food. It’s not what you’re eating, it’s what’s eating you.

If you’re a carer who struggles with feelings of frustration, anger, bitterness or guilt, then just know that you’re not alone. In fact, research shows that these negative emotions are more prevalent in today’s family carers than in most other people groups.

Why do Carers suffer from this?

Caring for your elderly loved one usually starts between the ages of 40 to 50. At this age, most lives are well-established. Some have families of their own, some have thriving careers, a social life, and a regular health regime. It is also generally around that time that they notice their parents developing some health concerns.

There ahead is the road that’s about to be well-travelled; looking in on their loved one once or twice a week, picking up some groceries on a regular basis, setting up doctor’s appointments, attending those appointments, and before they know it, they’ve arrived! They are now their loved one’s pillar upon which they lean.

Now, even the saints among us, who love providing care, often underestimate the incredible disruption caring can cause to a normal way of life. Maintaining healthy and well-balanced relationships with partners, children, employers, friends and so forth can be very demanding. This is where they enter the clash of two worlds, both of which are vying for their time and attention. So, don’t be surprised if a little sense of resentment creeps in. That’s NORMAL!!

Let’s look at lovely Heidi. Married to Mark and mother of four. She works full-time as a primary school teacher and has the usual handful of friends, hobbies, and social activities. Her father is no longer with them, and her mother lives close by. Mum lives on her own and is relatively independent. One day, Mum takes a fall. She rings Heidi to come and help her, which of course, Heidi does. It turns out that her mother had been diagnosed with the onset of Multiple Sclerosis. The loss of balance and possible tripping is a side-effect. Consequently, Heidi begins dropping in on her mother more frequently. The frequency escalates when Heidi sees that her Mum’s movements diminish. What began with enjoyable pop-in visits every few days, an hour here and there, soon progressed into a substantial caring role with major responsibility for Heidi.

Research shows that negative emotions are more prevalent in today’s family carers than in most other people groups.

Now, Heidi loves her Mum, but Mark also loves Heidi, as do her kids. She values her job but is having to take a great deal of time off. Often, Heidi isn’t home for dinner because her Mum is becoming more demanding of her daughter’s time. She begins to miss her family, her children, her routine, and her time-out. Her work has been supportive, but their grace is starting to wear thin. Before she knows it, she has developed negative emotions about which she feels terribly guilty. Now, does that make Heidi a bad person? Absolutely not!!! But what it does indicate is that she is “overloaded”!! Ring a bell?

The Danger of Suppressed Emotions

Having negative emotions isn’t the problem, it’s what we choose to do with them that matters. Some people are quick to forgive, some turn the other cheek whilst others, well, it’s just ‘water off a duck’s back’. Great! But what if you’re not wired like that? What if the emotions you carry are too difficult to confront because, like Heidi, you love your Mum? Sadly, many carers choose to suppress them because they feel terrible for having these feelings toward their loved ones. But here is where the danger lies. Burying them in The Ostrich Syndrome, especially over a period of time, will create toxicity in your soul and will have serious consequences for your health and well-being. Whatever we suppress inwardly will eventually be expressed outwardly and often with, albeit unintentional, adverse effects.

Mind, Will and Emotions

How often do you stop to think about your next meal? Do you consider that what we’re eating is good for our bodies? Will it be good for our families? We look at the packaging to find the ingredients and chemicals because, intrinsically, we want to be healthy. Our body also cooperates with this goal by retaining what’s good and eliminating what’s not.

Yet, when do we apply the same level of consideration to the health of our soul, ‘mind, will and emotions’? I’d be confident to go out on a limb and say, ‘not too often’, especially if you’re a busy person who is also a giving person. We tend to allow these negative emotions to sneak in and, worse, remain buried in our souls and become toxic, often having negative consequences on our well-being.

So why do we do this? Maybe it’s simply because we don’t know what to do, or more commonly, we fear the consequences of what will happen to those we love if we suddenly let out our suppressed emotions that have been festering for months, even years. Consequently, these toxic emotions just stick around until, eventually, one day, unexpectedly, they rise up and come to life. You know it’s true. Whatever we suppress will eventually be expressed.

Still With Me?

Then, I want to share with you a 4-step process that helped me to develop a healthier relationship with my feelings and emotions which empowered me to make positive changes. I became less reactive and regained control of the way I responded. One thing I learned through this process was that change is possible if you keep an open mind, are willing to be introspective and alter your internal narrative.

THE FOUR STEPS

  1. Stepping out, become the observer: Separate yourself from your emotion.
  2. Name the toxic emotion: Name the emotion(s) you are struggling with.
  3. Choose your higher value: Look at your values and find the one that dissolves your negative emotion.
  4. Walking your why: Values guide above emotions that react. Let your values guide you, and walk your higher set of virtues.
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