Caregivers and Resentment

Resentment seems to be a regular companion for caregivers.  Often stemming from a deep-seated belief of obligation, caregivers drive themselves mercilessly with such internal commands such as, “I have to, I must, I’m supposed to, and I need to …”  In addition, all too many caregivers allow others to reinforce these beliefs and feel like emotional punching bags  It can often seem that everyone in a caregiver’s circle feels a need to critique a caregiver’s job performance—and, sadly, the most vocal critics rarely help at all.

Is it any wonder that so many caring for the sickest among us feel beaten down and discouraged? These negative feelings cannot be suppressed or contained, and will come out—usually in the form of resentment.  In flash points, when caregivers feel presumed upon, undervalued, and unappreciated, that resentment forces its way to the surface.  Once there, it creates an emotional mess that usually cripples the caregiver far more than it negatively affects others.

Struggling through my own caregiving journey, a teachable moment about resentment presented itself in an unusual place.  A pianist for nearly fifty years, I often find myself at the keyboard working out the kinks in my soul. Sitting at the piano, I discovered, however, that the music won’t come if my fists remain clenched with resentment.  Something beautiful flowing from my hands and heart requires opening both, along with a willingness to let go of resentment.

Nothing on earth consumes a man more completely than the passion of resentment, —Friedrich Nietzsche

Each time my hands open to play something expressive and beautiful on the piano, it signals to my heart that it’s okay to release grudges, slights, or bitterness. While maintaining healthy boundaries between my heart and those who either inadvertently or intentionally trample it, I can let go of the resentments. It’s not easy, but the music flowing from that decision is soothing and healing to my soul—as well as to listeners.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean it’s unimportant.  It simply means we’re willing to take our hands off someone else’s throat.  Sometimes, the person we harbor the most resentment towards is our self.  Sadly, we cruelly demean our own hearts for allowing us to either get into the circumstances we find ourselves. We may also resent ourselves for staying in the situation.  Regardless of the targets of our resentment, it only serves to eat at our own peace of mind and well-being.  We serve ourselves, and others, better when we live in a calmer and healthier manner.

We all possess the ability to make and enjoy beautiful music and art in our own ways.  As caregivers, that beauty is not limited by the harsh circumstances we face and carry, but rather limited only by our unwillingness to let go of resentment.

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. Matthew 6:12

A goal I’ve set for myself as a caregiver is to one day stand at a grave. While I can’t guarantee outliving my wife and ensuring she and our sons aren’t left to deal with her massive medical challenges without me, I can, however, guarantee a better chance of doing so if I live a healthier life. Part of living a healthier life is avoiding carrying resentment. I don’t want to stand at that grave with clenched fists while feeling resentful at her, others who didn’t help the way I wanted, myself, or at God.

Letting go often starts with the simple act of opening one’s hand.  The heart will follow.


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