“The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny.”—Albert Ellis
Cathy, a full-time caregiver to her husband of 44 years, felt like a victim.
Cathy’s husband, a sixty-seven-year-old brittle diabetic, had suffered a mild stroke but had recovered and doing well.
Lately, however, Cathy experienced stubborn resistance from her husband to everything she tried to do in managing his health regiment, the household chores, and money.
Cathy felt frustrated and resentful and said:
“I am waiting for things to get worse, and it’s so depressing. I feel unprepared and angry that this is happening. I also resent quitting my full-time job to manage all the bills and appointments.
“Why can’t my husband see that I’m falling apart and offer to take on some of the responsibility for his care that he is perfectly capable of doing?
“Could he not at least stop demanding my attention day in and day out!
“I feel like a big whiner because at least I have not reached the point wherein I have to change his diapers yet.
“But, I’m at my breaking point today and just wanted to know what else I can do and what, if anything, I should demand my husband help ease my workload.
“My husband is not helpless!!
“I just can’t get it together today. How can I keep faking a smile?”
Cathy felt like a loser; her emotions were all over the place.
After all, Cathy had a life to live, and her husband’s 24/7 care stood in the way of that; she felt exasperated!
But were Cathy’s feelings and expectations of her husband irrational?
Were Cathy’s feelings not based on logical reasons or clear thinking?
Perhaps Cathy’s emotions were off the charts!
And What Does the Golden Mean Have to Do with It?
Almost 2500 years ago, the philosopher Aristotle addressed issues that are just as important today as they were in classical Greece.
Aristotle examines the question of “moral virtue”: What constitutes good behavior, and what ways of acting enable us to function effectively and in the world?
A critical part of Aristotle’s examination addresses the management of the expression of emotion, which he defines as “passions and actions.”
According to Aristotle, an essential dimension of virtuous behavior is moderation, which he defines as “an intermediate between excess and deficit. Equidistant from extremes. Neither too much nor too little—or the “Golden Mean.”
In other words, according to Aristotle, “Emotions should be suited to the occasion, at the right time, towards the right people, with the right motive, and in the right way.”
So how would the Golden Mean apply to Cathy and her situation?
As we all know, stuff happens.
But Cathy is in a situation not of her own making.
Cathy’s husband is not in the best of health, but he is not bedridden, and Cathy complains that her husband stays home watching TV all day and expects constant attention.
And Cathy’s emotions are all over the place—from one extreme to another.
On some days, Cathy feels sorry for her husband and is exceptionally compassionate for what he was going through.
But on other days, Cathy wants to scream, yell, and throw things because she feels so miserable and resentful.
Cathy isn’t getting the support she believes she deserves from her husband—that she needs from her husband, making her crazy!!
Yes, Cathy’s emotions drive her; she is ready to give up and feels life isn’t fair—leaving her husband to fend for himself.
Are Cathy’s feelings and expectations irrational?
The Golden Mean requires that Yolanda find the middle between two extremes: compassion and indifference.
There are times, however, when you think about a situation or behavior as irrational leads to illogical conclusions.
We call these “fallacies.”
Three Fallacies to Avoid
The Fallacy of Perfection.
People who accept this fallacy believe they should be able to handle every situation with complete confidence and skill—you think that it’s desirable and possible to be a perfect family caregiver, for instance.
Admitting your mistakes, saying, “I don’t know,” and sharing feelings of uncertainty seems like a social defect, so you try to appear perfect at all costs.
Well, perfection is overrated and a myth.
And the real downside of trying to be perfect can keep others from liking you.
And is it possible you won’t like yourself because you don’t measure up to how you ought to be?
What would this do to your self-esteem?
How liberated you become when you can comfortably accept that you are not perfect!
The Fallacy of Should.
The fallacy of should is the inability to distinguish between what should be.
We’ve all done it: “I should be smarter.” “I should have stood up for myself.” “I should work harder.” “I should understand what my loved one needs at any given time during his illness.”
People suffering from this fallacy must learn to stay in the “now.”
I read this funny quote from the movie Stuart Saves His Family where Stuart says, “Look at me, I’m shoulding all over myself!”
The fallacy of Should leads to unhappiness and discontent—and even depression.
Concentrate on “what is” not what “should be.”
Why not say, “I’m accepting of the situation no matter what it is.”
The Fallacy of Helplessness.
This fallacy speaks to what many who feel trapped in an unfulfilling role in life.
They feel helpless—life is spiraling beyond their control.
They’re not in the “right” family situation.
This fallacy leaves a feeling that “life is happening to them.”
They are victims of their circumstances.
Life isn’t fair!
And they feel powerless to change their situation.
Some will argue that these thoughts can be “self-fulfilling negative prophecies.”
While no one of us can judge a person who has this story, they do own their story and can change it if they so choose.
This ability is called “personal responsibility.”
A person feeling this way could say, “My actions create constant prosperity.”
These three fallacies or irrational thoughts and feelings can lead to illogical conclusions and difficult emotions:
- The fallacy of perfection.
- The fallacy of should.
- The fallacy of helplessness.
How to Manage Difficult Emotions
To manage or control your difficult emotions, you must first recognize them.
Let’s look at five common feelings many people have in their daily interactions with others (Anger, Guilt, Worry, Loneliness, and Grief)
and what you can do to soothe the emotion.
Anger: “A strong feeling of extreme displeasure.”—Oxford English Dictionary
(Antonym of “calm” and “contentment”)
What causes anger?
“Anger is caused by the belief that someone has taken something away from you.”—Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., author of Fulfillment at Any Age.
Some short- and long-term health problems resulting from uncontrolled anger:
- Skin diseases
- Immune system (abdominal pain or digestion issues)
- Blood pressure increases
- Increased anxiety or fear
- Heart attack
Tips to control anger:
- Think before you speak.
- Assertively express your anger, but nonconfrontational way.
- Take a timeout, calm down, and walk away.
- Get some exercise (running, walking, playing a sport).
- Identify possible solutions.
- Stick with the “I” statement and avoid blaming others but yourself.
- Don’t hold a grudge.
- Smile! (Use humor to release tension).
- Practice relaxation skills. Meditate; breathe deeply from your diaphragm.
Guilt: “A feeling of having done something wrong.”—Oxford English Dictionary
(Antonym of “innocence” and “happiness”)
What causes guilt?
Feelings of guilt could result from violating your ethical or moral code or when you act in a way that doesn’t align with your values.
For example, suppose you are a caregiver to your mother.
You feel love and compassion for your ill mother, but also resent missing out on building friendships, seeking pleasure, and living a good life because you are stuck caring for a loved one.
After all, these are some of the best years of your life!
You’re sacrificing your life for your mother’s.
Despite knowing that caring for an ill loved one is a noble cause, you may feel nothing but annoyance because of having this heavy responsibility.
But be aware there are several side effects of guilt.
In addition, PubMed lists several health-related conditions that point to guilt:
- Back pain
- Cardiovascular disease
- Depression or anxiety
Tips to Relieve Feelings of Guilt:
- Talk it over with someone.
- Talk it out with yourself.
- Own your failures.
- Lower your expectations.
- Reflect on lessons learned.
- Cry to relieve tension
- Forgive yourself
“Given to anxiety or unease; allow one’s mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles.”—Merriam-Webster dictionary
Based on this dictionary’s definition, would you say you are what’s known as a Worry Bird”?
What causes worry?
There are many reasons people may worry or feel anxious.
According to a recent poll, the following are the top seven reasons why people worry, taking into consideration ethnic groups, geography, age, education, and job status:
- Job security
- Aging (depending on the age of the demographic)
- National Safety
Some symptoms of anxiety:
- Feeling nervous, restless, or tense
- Sense of impending danger, panic, or doom
- Breathing rapidly
- Increased heart rate
- Feeling weak or tired
- Trouble concentrating
As stated on WebMD, the consequences of over-worrying include:
- Suppression of the immune system
- Digestive disorders
- Muscle tension
- Short-term memory loss
- Premature coronary artery disease
- Heart attack
Ways to initiate a sense of calm:
- Breathe deeply
- Be present
- Reach out to family and friends
- Laugh out loud
- Listen to soft music
- Be grateful and count your blessings
Loneliness: “Sad because one has no friends or company.”—Oxford English Dictionary
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 37 million adults age 18 and over (15%) lived alone in early 2021.
These individuals do not necessarily feel lonely or isolated.
Many people feel as I do: they enjoy solitude.
Nevertheless, others may not. Some may crave companionship; they may want deep friendships.
Loneliness can speed aging and cause a decline in mental abilities, resulting in insufficient attention to detail and decision-making.
Some studies show a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease in individuals who have prolonged feelings of loneliness.
More damages to your health:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Weaken immune system
(Source: National Institute on Aging)
What you can do about loneliness:
- Deepen relationships. Don’t be quick to push people away. Be open and trust others.
- Make social connections. Create opportunities to connect with people. For instance, join a book club or a support group online or in person.
- Take a class. Do you have an interest in learning something new?
- Join at least three groups. According to experts, by doing so, you avoid the risk of relapsing into loneliness by 63%.
- Accept Invitations. Do not isolate yourself.
- Invite someone for a meal or to the movies. Take the initiative and put yourself out there.
- Interact. Smile, laugh, and make eye contact. Greet people you see on the street.
- Adopt an animal.
(Source: A Family Caregiver’s Guide: 7 Secrets to Convert Negative Triggers to Positive Emotions)
Grief: “Grief means deep sorrow caused by a person’s death.”—Merriam-Webster Dictionary
No one can determine whether or not one should feel grief or how to express sorrow.
Everyone grieves differently.
Thus, how irrational you may seem in your grief is not a question for anyone else to determine.
However, “grief” is a complex emotion you will want to manage as best you can so as not to feel overwhelmed or swallowed up by sadness.
Health Effects of Grief:
- Sleep problems
- Immune system (compromised)
- Cortisol (too much)
- Aches & pains
- Heart rate (elevated)
- Broken heart syndrome
- Heart attack (higher risk)
Eight Ideas to Help with Grief:
- Feel your emotions (do not dismiss them).
- Create a ritual.
- Practice self-care.
- Know your limits (do not become overly exhausted).
- Join a support or bereavement group.
- Accept comfort from friends.
- Write in your journal daily.
You Are in Control
You can choose how to feel.
To quote Aristotle once again:
“Emotions should be suited to the occasion, at the right time, towards the right people, with the right motive, and in the right way.”
However, unlike stressed out and under-appreciated Cathy, whom I introduced at the beginning of this article, you now understand the value of using the Golden Mean as you interact with others.
You appreciate why you should avoid fallacies (irrational thought patterns):
- The Fallacy of Perfection
- The Fallacy of Should
- The Fallacy of Helplessness
And you also recognize the benefits to your physical, mental, and emotional health if you embrace and practice the recommendations provided in this article to help you manage Anger, Guilt, Worry, Loneliness, and Grief.
But getting command of your feelings takes practice.
Use these skills to help you manage your emotions to improve your long-term physical, emotional, and mental health.
Why not begin today?
Begin right now!
Chillis, R. (2019) A Family Caregiver’s Guide: 7 Secrets to Convert Negative Triggers to Positive Emotions. Golden Pen LLC