Caregiver Anger and Resentment: How to Identify It and Put It to an End

Chad Birt

Written by Chad Birt on Wed Jul 07 2021.

Image of a woman looking past the camera.

Do you find yourself struggling with caregiver anger and resentment? These emotions are uncomfortable to deal with, but you aren’t the only one experiencing them. A 2020 Carewell survey found that 64% of caregivers feel depressed, 70% experience changes to relationships with loved ones and friends, and 85% give up hobbies, activities, and other interests as a result of becoming a caregiver.

When you provide round-the-clock care it’s normal to feel a wide range of emotions, but if depression, anger, or resentment enter the mix, it’s important to take note. Even though these feelings are perfectly normal, they can influence your actions and interactions, affecting the quality of care. 

In order to make positive changes, it’s important to understand the difference between anger and resentment, their underlying causes, and steps you can take to better manage them. 

This article covers the following topics:

  • What’s the difference between anger and resentment?

  • Why are anger and resentment so difficult to talk about?

  • Are feelings of anger and resentment normal? If so, why do they feel so bad?

  • How can I prevent negative emotions from affecting my caregiving responsibilities?

  • What can I do to minimize feelings of anger and resentment?

What’s the difference between anger and resentment?

Feelings of anger and resentment often occur together, and though similar, they’re actually two different things.

Anger. The Oxford English Dictionary defines anger as “a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility.” Often, it’s a split-second reaction that occurs due to an irritating or frustrating event or situation. 

Resentment. Resentment is more complex in that it occurs over time and incorporates several emotions like sadness, anger, and fear. Instead of being a reaction to a single event or situation, it’s a culmination of painful or disappointing feelings from the past, that make it difficult to remain present.  

As a caregiver, it’s easy to fluctuate between these two emotions. For example, you might feel angry if a loved one has an accident after you spent time and energy helping them to the bathroom. At the same time, you might feel resentful because every waking moment revolves around their care.   

Why are anger and resentment so difficult to talk about?

Everyone struggles to express their feelings, but it can be even more challenging as a caregiver. The process requires honesty, vulnerability, and a willingness to expose your greatest worries and fears.

If you’re angry or resentful toward someone who needs your help, you might think you’re failing or providing sub-par care, but that’s not necessarily the case.

“People often have difficulties holding two emotions at once,” said Alexandra Emery, Ph.D. a licensed psychologist at Grit City Psychology PLLC near Seattle, Washington. “You can be both happy to make sacrifices for the people who you care for, while also experiencing feelings of anger, resentment, or even sadness.” 

She added, “If you find yourself often engaging in harsh self-criticism because of your feelings of anger or resentment, you may be unintentionally exacerbating them. Instead, try to gently remind yourself that your feelings are valid, and a good sign that you may need an additional resource or support at that moment.”

Are feelings of anger and resentment normal? If so, why do they feel so bad?

Anger and resentment are common emotions, but when they infiltrate your personal relationships it can feel like the world is crumbling. 

“We as a greater society have unreasonable expectations that in order to be a “good” person, you wouldn’t experience negative emotions, but that’s just not true,” said Emery. “Negative emotions are a part of the human experience, and I would argue that by trying to pretend you don’t have them, you may be doing more harm to yourself (and the people you care for).”

Instead of ignoring these emotions, acknowledge them and try to determine their underlying cause. Perhaps most importantly, remember there’s nothing wrong with you. Emotions change all the time and they don’t define you as a person. 

How can I prevent negative emotions from affecting my caregiving responsibilities?

To prevent negative emotions from affecting your caregiving responsibilities, it’s important to determine their source. Here’s a simple at-home exercise to help you get started:

Set a timer for 15 minutes and sit down with a notebook and writing utensil. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and really explore the emotions you’re experiencing. 

Do you feel overworked and exhausted? Underappreciated? Are you angry that you’ve lost time or independence? There are no right or wrong answers. Jot down anything that crosses your mind, no matter how silly or insignificant it seems. Once time’s up, review everything you’ve written. 

“Getting to the bottom of why you feel angry and/or resentful can help you not only cope with those feelings in the present but also begin to make changes moving forward,” Emery said.

What can I do to minimize feelings of anger or resentment?

There are no quick fixes for difficult caregiving emotions. The job is filled with highs and lows and changing your mindset takes practice. Even so, there are several things you can do to make things easier. We’ve separated them into two categories: self-compassion and behavioral changes.

Self-compassion. Self-compassion is the practice of extending love and forgiveness to yourself when you feel inadequate or are suffering. Specifically, it encourages “mindfulness in the present moment (versus over-identifying with negative feelings) and common humanity, or reaching out to others who can support you (versus self-isolating),” said Emery.

“Start small with one of these aspects of self-compassion. Even if it feels like there is no time, carve out 5 minutes to take care of yourself. There are also many therapists who specialize in helping caretakers. Having that dedicated space and time to focus on helping you process all of the many emotions that come with caretaking can be an extremely helpful part of your self-care.”

To access free self-compassion-related resources, click here

Behavioral changes. You may also be able to minimize feelings of anger and resentment by changing the way you approach your responsibilities. Timothy Kelly, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker at Propagate Hope Counseling LLC in New York City, recommends three strategies:

Wear a different hat or outfit. “Completing a ritual that indicates the start and end of physical caregiving can help separate your many different roles. I usually recommend that caregivers wear different clothing like scrubs or a different hat,” said Kelly.

Call your loved one by their name. This might sound a little strange, but it works! “When acting as a caregiver, changing how you refer to your family member brings you into a different headspace. Calling them by their name neurologically differentiates your role, expectations, and attachment to your family member,” Kelly added. 

Find a space to express negative feelings. It’s important to regularly release feelings of anger or resentment. “This could be with supportive friends, family outside of the caregiving circle, or even a mental health professional,” said Kelly. “Caregiving is a role that requires you to share your time and energy. Imagine yourself as a cup of tea or coffee. Does your cup overflow? If not, you won’t be able to give to others.”

Anger and resentment are two common emotions that caregivers face. But if you know how to identify them and make an effort to take action, it’s possible to minimize their impact on your caregiving responsibilities and life.

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.