Psychological Stress Linked to Love – Hate Relationships of Caregivers

Caregiver burden guilt

By Pamela D. Wilson,   CSA, MS, BS/BA, CG

A feeling of mixed emotions often exists with those providing care to others. Caregivers look back at their lives and wonder how they arrived at the current situation.  Caregiving is not what we hoped for and certainly is not an ideal situation.  Sometimes caregivers wish they could just run away. Research indicates that caregivers with mixed emotions about caregiving experience a higher degree of psychological stress and that the foundation for these feelings is the quality of the relationship with the person receiving the care. 1

What if we look to back years to childhood and the relationship with our parents?  Memories are positive, negative or mixed.  We loved or hated our parents. I remember times when I was an angry child telling my mother I hated her when she withheld something I wanted.  God bless mothers for putting up with children as temperamental as we were. Fortunately this early love hate relationship, at least for me, did not have a negative affect on the care I provided for my mother in later years. I have many positive, loving memories.

Relationships of CaregiversHowever for caregivers finding themselves in adulthood, memories of parental relationships return and there are either feelings of a close relationship and bond or mixed feelings.  One day the relationship is positive and the next day the relationship is negative.  Or the reality is that we have no relationship at all with our parents because we’ve been out of the home for so long and have not really kept in touch on a regular basis.

Or perhaps a feeling of guilt exists.  There were times in the past when we wanted to be accepted and loved by parents.  There were times when our parents did exactly the opposite and we have been unable to forget these hurts over the years.  While we may feel guilty that we do not have a better relationship with our parents, the reality is that we may feel a sense of duty but not a sense of love.

While we may be doing all we can to support a parent we feel that our efforts are not appreciated, that the receiver of care is ungrateful.  Research indicates that these mixed emotions are associated with depressive symptoms and poorer mental well-being for caregivers.

I see difficult child caregiver and parent relationships; children who feel like they are banging their heads up against a wall trying to help parents who resist all efforts of support. The current relationship often relates back to the relationship in childhood. The degree of emotional support early on in the parent child relationship often results in the ease or difficulty of caregiving relationships in later life.  Parents with long term close relationships to their children often feel more supported and will accept recommendations more easily.

Wouldn’t it be great if we all had the foresight to see years down the road the issues that will arise when we age?  I wonder if this would impact the quality of our relationships years earlier.  We’ve all seen the t-shirts that say “be nice to your children – they’ll pick out your nursing home”.  This may seem humorous but in many situations it is the truth.

The same can be said of marital relationships. Mixed feelings result in the same degree of emotional distress especially when one spouse becomes ill and the other becomes the caregiver. Realize that if you are caregiver with mixed feelings it’s time to ask for help in a manner appropriate for you.  This may be help from a psychiatrist or psychologist.  It may be help and support from an advocate who can see the forest through the trees and make recommendations to support your caregiving relationship. The important point is to recognize the need for help and to act.


(1) Fingerman, K.L. et. al. Ambivalent Relationship Qualities Between Adults and Their Parents: Implications for the Well-Being of Both Parties. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences 2008, Vol. 63B, No. 6, 362-371.

© 2012, 2013 Pamela D. Wilson, All Rights Reserved

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