Why me? Why us? Families and Illness

A client who I will call Maya talked to me about her reactions to her mother’s diagnosis:

"I am so mad, that’s all I can feel. I am mad that my mother is going to have to face all of this treatment. What has she done to deserve this? I am mad that she and my father have made so many plans and now they might not be able to enjoy the future they had planned. And to be honest, I am mad that this is going to mean that I am going to have to get involved in caregiving, and I am already working full-time and raising two kids. This isn’t fair."

Family members feel anger for a variety of reasons. Anger is an emotional reaction to the sense of unfairness, and helplessness, that arise from having to watch a loved one suffering in some way and not being able to stop it. Anger also arises from disappointment and fear that life is changing in ways that are unexpected and unwanted, and that future plans may not unfold as expected.

Maya was afraid of expressing her anger around her mother or her own faimly, yet she was occassionally losing her temper at her husband, and she blew up at one of the technicians at the lab where she accompanied her mother for a test. She felt guilty about her anger, and told herself that she was being selfish and uncaring. She also feared that she would lose control of her anger and frustration and vent it toward her mother.

Having a safe place to talk about her feelings helped May to release her anger and gain perspective. By connecting her anger to feelings of disappointment, fear, and helplessness, she was able to understand and accept these feelings and focus on creating a strategy for supporting her mother during her treatment while also taking care of herself and managing her other responsibilities.


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