Feeling angry, frustrated and resentful are normal reactions for carers. Anger and frustration often go together when things don’t go the way you would want them to or when people don’t behave the way you think they should. This article on dealing with anger is available in the "carers' resources" section, along with fact sheets on other issues.

Carers might feel angry at many things. These may include:

  • Having to be the carer and all the extra responsibilities they now have
  • Family members who don’t pull their weight
  • Friends who don’t make contact
  • The person they’re caring for (Why did he smoke? Why does she have to die now when we have kids to look after?)
  • The situation and how unfair it all seems
  • That the cancer has interrupted their plans for the future
  • Health professionals, for not listening or not being able to cure the cancer

Anger is often an expression of fear – for example, fear of how you will cope if the person you are caring for dies. You may also fear their sickness or fear that you may not be a good carer. Anger can also be a way of separating yourself emotionally from the person you are caring for to help you deal with grief.

There is evidence that suggests that chronic anger may cause increased health risks for our cardiovascular and immune systems, and make us more susceptible to other health problems like migraines, chronic pain, and depression. Anger should be expressed in a controlled way.

It’s important to acknowledge angry feelings; they are a normal response to difficult circumstances. In fact, they can sometimes serve a valuable purpose by energising us to change things that don’t work. Research has shown that suppressing anger can be just as dangerous to our health and relationships as letting anger explode and behaving aggressively.

Tips on managing anger

Consider times when you have been angry in the past and what the situation was. Recognising things that make you angry will help you avoid certain situations in the future, or to react differently when they happen.

Notice the warning signs in your body: tense jaw, heart beating faster, feeling hot, shaking and feeling out of control.

When you are feeling angry or resentful of your situation, talking with others not involved in the illness can be very helpful in getting out your own feelings. Examining your fears in a supportive atmosphere with another person will help the fears to seem less overwhelming.

If you feel you can’t talk to anyone, it may be helpful to write things down. Even with members of your family and close friends, it can be difficult to fully express how you are feeling.

Recognise what you can and can't change, and choose one that you can. Choose something small to begin with, and then work on the bigger issues later.

Challenging your beliefs

"I know she’s sick, but I asked her to just do this one thing and she should have done it by now! Doesn’t she know how hard I’m working to keep things going?"

"He should help me look after mum. Why does it always have to be me? He’s so selfish, always thinking about his career while mum’s sick and I have to be here all day."

We may often feel angry when we think that something should or shouldn’t have happened. When we have expectations that aren’t met, we may get resentful or irritated.

Since having rigid expectations of people can make you angry, it’s often useful to challenge your beliefs that someone should or shouldn’t act in a certain way.

Instead of saying "Julie should help more with dad. She shouldn’t always leave me to do it" – consider saying "I would like Julie to help more with dad, but there’s no reason she should do exactly what I want. She makes her decisions and although it makes me stressed to have so many extra responsibilities now, I can’t expect her to deal with the situation in the same way I do."

If you feel that family members are not contributing enough, you may want to think of specific things they can do, or particular times when you would like to take a break and they can take over.

Dealing with the patient’s anger

Patients can sometimes take their anger out on people closest to them. Try not to feel responsible for their emotional turmoil.

Some cancers can have a strong effect on a patient’s personality and can lead to them having sudden fits of anger. If you think the person you are caring for may be affected in this way, talk to the doctors or nurses.

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