Role Reversal

How to Handle Your Elderly Parent’s Anger About Needing A Caregiver

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You spend the day selflessly devoting yourself to those in your care. You give everything you have emotionally, physically, and mentally. You can see the light at the end of the long tunnel of your day only to find yourself at the mercy of unjustified anger from your live-in parent.

Physical ailments I can handle. The tasks that come along with caring for a parent are manageable. My MIL’s needs are similar to the needs of my kids. What’s frustrating is the anger, the bitterness, and the accusations all directed toward me, her caregiver.

What can you do? How do you handle your elderly parent’s anger?

elderly parent's anger

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The Stages of Caregiver Frustration

It is so difficult to respond when your elderly parent, out of nowhere, tosses out accusations and abusive words. After all, you are only trying to help them. You feel a torrent of emotion yourself as you struggle to come to terms with your parent’s own anger.

Confusion surfaces first.

Why is she mad at me? I’ve done nothing but give her my best all day. I’m giving up part of my life for her. She has everything she could possibly want, she’s in the best of all possible circumstances. What right does she have to be angry?

Related Post: Establishing Your Role As A Caregiver for Your Elderly Parent

Your own anger swiftly follows.

How dare she show anger toward me! How dare she question my motives! What right does she have to be so hateful? I’m doing everything for her! I’m showing my love to her everyday! Why would she question me?

Finally, a deep sadness sweeps over you.

What happened to the relationship we once had? Why do I only receive the worst of her? Where is the trust and dependence she’s supposed to have toward me? I’m supposed to be the person she relies on the most.

“This isn’t about you. You are not the cause of her anger.”

This is most the best and worst advice I’ve received. I’ve even used it myself. It’s encouraging and reminds you not to be offended by their anger and cruel words. You’re reassured that you’re doing the right thing.

It’s the worst advice because it provides no solutions. 

Hooray, it’s not about me. Now what? Even if I’m not the cause of these negative emotions, I’m still the undeserving recipient.

Related Post: How to Be Happy When You’re Taking Care of An Elderly Parent

Just another day.

We were meeting my husband for dinner in town. I started getting everyone ready well before we were to leave. My kids were easy, my MIL was my struggle.

Every part of her room and person smelled of urine. 

Not only do I have bedding to strip and wash but a shower is now a necessity. 

I tried to be authoritative and encourage her cooperation while being patient and thought I had been successful. We managed these “unexpecteds” and stayed on schedule.

A win!

Or so I thought…

We met my husband for dinner at our favorite restaurant and had a great meal. I had an appointment following dinner so my husband took my mother-in-law and kids home.

I arrived home a few hours later. My husband quickly greeted me with, “Mom may have made a mess in the bathroom.”

Oh no! It’s late, almost 10:00 pm. I still have a bed to make from earlier that afternoon, now I have a bathroom that needs cleaning?! 

I clean the bathroom and set out to make my MIL’s bed. My MIL is still in her day clothes so I hand her a nightgown and clean underwear and tell her to go to the bathroom and change while I make the bed.

As she was walking out, I call out to her, “Be careful in the bathroom, it might still be a little wet in places.”

I quickly made the bed. My MIL returned as I was finishing. I wished her a good night. She responded, “I wish I knew why you hated me.”

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    Handling Your Elderly Parent’s Anger

    Recognize the true cause.

    Over the years, I’ve learned that my MIL asks, “Why do you hate me?” when she’s particularly frustrated. This is usually after a day where she’s struggled with the simplest of tasks, had multiple bathroom accidents, or feels particularly confused. In a nutshell, the days I do the most for her are the days she feels the most anger.

    While frustration is the usual cause of my MIL’s anger, there are other things that may factor into it as well.

    • Hunger. This is a big one. My MIL gets extremely angry when she’s hungry. A popular diversionary tactic for me when she starts lashing out is to give her a little snack. This diffuses the situation enough for us to move on.
    • Exhaustion. When my MIL is particularly tired, her ability to control her emotions is low on her priority list. If I know she may just be tired, I’ll do all I can to promote a restful environment for her by helping her get comfortable and warm, dimming the lights, and playing some of her favorite music.
    • My own frustration. It always surprises me how my own mood influences those around me. When I’m frustrated or moody, my MIL and kids are quick to pick up on it. My kids act out in chaos and tantrums, my MIL in anger and argument. In these situations, it’s my job to work myself out and change my own attitude.

    Related Post: How to Cope with Caregiving Resistance

    Acknowledge their anger

    Believe me, I’ve tried every possible response. I try explaining to her that I wouldn’t do this if I hated her,  there are after all much easier (for me) options. I’ve tried to simply reassure her of my love and care. Reasoning and rationale only bring on more discussion or argument.

    It’s difficult for me after such an accusation to be compassionate. I want to defend myself and force her to recognize my motives are pure. Calmly stating, “You’re angry.” however helps her recognize that it is her emotions that are negative, not mine.

    Don’t allow yourself to dwell on the negative.

    Dwelling on the negative only brings about more negative. I’ve found three main ways to help keep my negative emotions from taking root.

    1. Write down your feelings. This might sound cliche, but writing down your feelings before they are able to take root keeps your brain from dwelling.

    2. Find someone who you can talk to about your emotions. Just the act of talking to someone who doesn’t judge you helps you see things a little more clearly. You don’t always need advice, sometimes you just need to say the words out loud.

    3. Take a break. Part of why my negative emotions took hold is because I desperately needed a break. Two days after this particular incident, my sister, daughter, and I spent most of the day running errands in town. Spending that one day away from the house allowed me to regroup and come home stronger.

    Always remember, while you may be the recipient of these negative emotions, you are not the cause. You receive because you are closest to them. 

    Your feelings are important too.

    Caregivers hear all the time how important the emotion of their loved one is and how we should always be sensitive to that emotion. I want you to know that it’s ok for you to feel emotion too, they are just as valid, just as important.

    Your advantage is coping. Your elderly parent might not know how to cope with their emotion any better than to lash out at the person closest to them, you. With a little effort and strategy, you will be able to turn your emotion into something that builds your character and makes you stronger.

    Never give your elderly parent the power to destroy you with their own anger and bitterness.

    Acknowledge it. Do what you can to reassure them they are loved, desired, and cared for and then walk away.

    Did you like this post? Do you ever find yourself at the receiving end of your elderly parent’s anger? Let me know in the comments below!

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