The structure of every family changes dramatically over a period of time.
Years spent focusing on our own lives as individuals, eventually, turn into decades, and before you know it, the family members that provided you with support and guidance throughout the journey of your life, are now in a position where they need somebody to care for them.
Some families rally together at this point, and in ideal circumstances, the responsibility of care is shared between family members, but this is not always the case. Often, the majority of the responsibility falls to one individual family member, and despite great intentions, this can quickly become a very lonely existence.
People may be living longer in 2019, but research shows that we are living with more complications and ailments than ever before, and for family carers who shoulder the burden of caring for a loved one, this can equate to a very stressful 24-hour job that is unpaid, unvalued and results in a very drastic and unwanted change in lifestyle.
Being thrust into the position of having to dedicate your life to the needs of another person affects each individual differently, and despite all the good will and intentions a person may have in their role as family carer, it is not uncommon for people in these positions to harbor feelings of resentment towards the very person that they are caring for.
Unsurprisingly, this resentment is often compounded by feelings of guilt, as carers can feel as though sharing their problems may be viewed as selfish when compared to the issues that the person that they care for is facing.
The unwillingness of family carers to voice these opinions publicly have made this issue somewhat taboo, but despite the silence, when talking to an expert, you get a sense that this may be more of a common problem than anyone is willing to admit.
Ben Ilsley is a Carer Counsellor currently working at carers Victoria, and he was kind enough to share his thoughts on the topic of family-carer-resentment with HelloCare.
“I would say that carers feeling resentment is very common, and in our experience of providing counseling for carers – it actually comes up a lot,” said Ben.
“There is a social context though, and in some ways that these feelings are a product of the environment that a carer may be placed in. Carers often feel isolated by the demand of what they do and feeling isolation can certainly be a backdrop for resentment.
“Our culture is quite individualistic, it’s less collective than it used to be, so often caring falls to one person, whereas in other cultures it might be shared amongst several people, and we certainly believe that outcomes for caring are better for both the carer and the person being cared-for, when the responsibilities are shared.
“People often talk about how society doesn’t understand their role as a carer and this leaves them feeling alienated and undervalued. There can also be a sense of personal loss and grief, and that loss may be as simple as the notion that ‘this isn’t the retirement that we planned together – we were supposed to be enjoying this time.’
“There are significant costs for a family carer in terms of their health, wellbeing, lifestyle, and opportunities, and many feel as though they don’t have any choice about it. And these are very good conditions for feeling resentful,” said Ben.
Feeling bound by personal-obligation to a duty that can take such a personal toll on mental and physical well-being can leave family carers feeling hopeless and without choice.
Having the ability to make decisions is the cornerstone of independence, and according to Ben, helping family carers discover options that will allow them to retake some control of their own lives is a way of bringing the prospect of hope back.
“We go through the idea of ‘choice’ quite often and really help someone explore to what extent they feel as though they have choices or not. Sometimes they may not have a choice of whether to care or not – but we help people find some aspect of choice regardless,” he said
“You might have a choice about how much you do, how much support you receive, or to what extent you manage to find time and energy to do things that are actually meaningful for you. All of these things can really have a positive impact on your outlook.”
“Sometimes we help carers to find meaning in their caring role when they may not have been aware that there was any. People can endure great hardship if it’s meaningful, even if it’s difficult and unenjoyable.
“Caring can often be mundane. Taking people to appointments, doing chores and providing general care – people often fluctuate in how they feel about these things, but there can actually be dignity in that role.
Dealing with the responsibility of caring for a loved one is a task that many people deal with differently, as people’s personalities are just as unique as the issues they may be dealing with.
Some people flourish in a caring role and relish the feeling of being needed, but there are others who don’t adapt as naturally and experience significant inner turmoil. Experiencing negative emotions does not make you a bad person though, it may simply mean that you are in need of support.
“Some people come to us and talk about caring as something that is not enjoyable but they feel grateful and a sense of gratitude that they had the opportunity to spend that time providing care, and they feel a sense of generosity and even confidence.
“Not everyone will feel these things naturally but counselling and talking to people can help people find these things when they were not expecting to.”
“Not feeling isolated, having support, and feeling valued makes a massive difference. Anyone can experience that kind of conditions that create resentment and certainly, we believe that anybody can be helped in those circumstances. In our work, we look to provide a sense of hope that things can change and people can feel differently about providing care.”