Managing Caregiver Envy: How to Overcome the Green-Eyed Monster

Managing Caregiver Envy: How to Overcome the Green-Eyed Monster

Being a caregiver is difficult no matter the situation. Some days are better than others, but the overarching view tends to be a positive one. In fact, the American Psychological Association says an impressive 83% of family caregivers saw taking care of their loved one as a positive experience. There is a sense of giving back, the satisfaction of knowing the person they loved is cared for very well, and there is almost always a feeling of personal growth and finding more meaning in life.1

But that doesn’t mean there are no hardships along the family caregiving journey!

One set-back that might take you by surprise is that green-eyed monster: jealousy. When jealousy shows up, it can wreak havoc on how you feel about caregiving in general – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Where Does Jealousy Come From?

You might feel jealous for a wide variety of reasons. To understand why it’s happening, let’s first take a look at the definition of jealousy from the Britannica Dictionary. Jealousy has a few definitions, but the top definition is the one that matters to caregivers:

Jealousy is an unhappy or angry feeling of wanting to have what someone else has.2

When you start to look at the burdens of caregiving, you can see many areas where jealousy might show up. For instance:

·        Maybe you’re a caregiver who used to work in an office. You had to give up your job to devote more time to your elderly parent or spouse. Efforts to free up time like gifting them with a medical alert necklace or a few hours of an in-home aide once a week weren’t quite enough. But while you were okay with giving up your job to stay with them, you are now envious of those who are still in the working world. You miss your colleagues. You miss the hustle and bustle. When you think about those who are still working in their chosen careers, you feel envy.

·        Perhaps you are caring for a spouse who can no longer get around as much as they used to. You might see other couples – especially those who are your age – walking hand-in-hand along the street, talking and laughing without a care in the world. You know that you and your spouse won’t have that sort of carefree life again, and it can make you very jealous of that pleasant, simple walk those strangers are taking.

·        If you have siblings who are involved in your parents’ care, you might get jealous of the time they spend with them. You might wonder if they are doing a “better job” than you are. Old rivalries can rise up and lead to serious jealousy, no matter how hard you try to be mature about it.

·        You might be jealous of a sibling who doesn’t spend as much time with your parent. You can see them as having a carefree life while you have more responsibility than ever. Even if you have a good measure of freedom – perhaps you are a family caregiver who doesn’t live with your parent, or even a long-distance caregiver who provides help from afar with the assistance of senior alert systems and the like – you can feel the emotional and mental weight of having to figure things out. You might feel as though your sibling doesn’t have such burdens.

·        You might even find that the stage of caregiving can spark feelings of envy. Let’s say your parent or spouse has dementia, and a fellow caregiver also has a loved one with dementia. You can commiserate on the condition and how difficult it is to handle. But as the dementia your loved one suffers progresses faster than that of your friend’s loved one, you might become quite jealous.

There are many other reasons why jealousy might pop up. But no matter how awful it feels, there are ways to cope that can help give you peace of mind and maybe even better your relationship with your loved ones. Here’s how.

Accept the Emotion

It can be tough to admit to jealousy, even to yourself. It’s an emotion that we’re taught to avoid – or if we do feel it, never admit it. But the first step toward getting through anything is acknowledging that it’s happening. It’s okay to admit that you’re feeling jealous of what someone else has. And as you do that, you can give yourself more grace. Handling any caregiving situation can be difficult, and sometimes that can make you wish that you weren’t in that position – or that at least you had it a bit easier.

Remember, you can feel jealous or envious and still feel grateful for what you have. Emotions aren’t linear or exclusive.

Comparisons are Human Nature

There’s something called social comparison theory, which states that whether we realize it or not, we are judging ourselves all the time. We’re comparing ourselves to our peers – those at work, in the neighborhood, and even in our own families. Doing what we perceive as “better” than our peers makes us feel good, while doing “worse” makes us feel… well, worse.3

Family caregivers do this too. They look at the situation they are in and compare it to similar situations. Or perhaps they compare where they are in life to where their peers are – and that sparks envy toward those who are on a path very different from that of caregiving.

By accepting that these emotions will happen, you can stop feeling guilty about it. You can recognize comparisons as part of human nature and assess them for what they are – your mind and heart trying to figure out more about your own place in the world.

There’s More to It Than Envy

What might seem to be jealousy, or even the anger that sometimes accompanies it, might not be that at all. It might actually be grief.

If the definition of jealousy is the feeling of wanting what others have, it’s safe to say that you’re missing what you once had. Feeling sad can be difficult, because it makes us vulnerable; being jealous or angry is easier to handle in the short term. Once you recognize this, you can recognize grief for what it is.

You might be grieving what you have lost. You might also be dealing with anticipatory grief – grieving what you know you will lose soon. This is especially true if your loved one is in the end stages of dementia, Alzheimer’s, or any chronic medical condition. Acknowledging the grief and seeking out professional help to deal with it can ease all the negative emotions you are feeling, including that green-eyed monster.

Give Yourself Some Praise

When you begin to feel the negative emotions that can surround family caregiving, it’s time to give yourself a little break. This can be a literal break, where you take time away from your caregiving duties to recharge and refocus. Sometimes this is enough to allow you to take a deep breath and clear your head. The less stress you feel, the easier it becomes to have clarity and deal with the emotions.

So now is the time for taking a family member, friend, or neighbor up on their offer to help with your loved one; to reach out for respite care to get out of the house on your own for a while; or to simply take a few hours to do whatever it is that relaxes and engages you.

While you’re at it, think about all the good things you are doing. Though you will have days when you struggle, and maybe plenty of days when you feel that green-eyed monster coming to life again, remember that you are in a truly honored position – you are entrusted with the care of someone you love, and the help you provide makes their life much easier and better. And though you might feel as though you fall short sometimes, it’s a sure bet that the person who relies on you sees you in a much more positive light.

Reach Out for Professional Help

While jealousy is a natural emotion that pops up more often than we might like to admit, there could come a time when jealousy starts to feel overwhelming. If your well-being is suffering over the emotional strife, it’s time to reach out for help.

A social worker for the elderly could be a good place to start. Your doctor (or the doctor for your loved one) can give you leads to good professional counselors who have dealt with this sort of thing before. And if you can’t go that route right now, find a support group – either online or in person – where you can open up about how you’re feeling. A simple online search can surface options for you to choose from.

While you’re taking care of your emotional needs, consider gifting your loved one with a 24/7 emergency button alarm to keep them safe when you can’t be there. It gives you the peace of mind you need to carry out your duties with one less worry. Take a look at what Alert1 has to offer to keep your loved one safe and secure, just as you both deserve.