Feeling Unappreciated as a Caregiver? Here Are 11 Ways to Cope
A caregiver’s sacrifice often goes unappreciated. Feeling unappreciated when you do so much to care for your older adult is a common issue in caregiving. Not feeling valued increases resentment and stress, eventually leading to burnout.
These feelings are a natural part of caregiving and won’t go away. What’s important is to learn to manage the negative feelings to keep yourself as healthy as possible.
We’ve got 11 effective ways to help you cope with feeling unappreciated while caring for your older adult.
Stopping to think about why your older adult doesn’t show appreciation gives perspective on the situation and makes it easier to cope.
For example, seniors who are living with serious chronic illness or pain and declining physical or cognitive abilities might be focused on their own suffering. They’re less likely to be aware of your feelings and needs.
Older adults with dementia are often struggling to get through the day. They may not be able to think about more than the basic tasks of living. Or, they could feel appreciation, but not be able to express it properly. If they’re in a more advanced stage, they might not be able to process complex concepts like appreciation.
In other cases, your older adult might have gotten used to the daily routine and no longer realizes how much you’re actually doing and how much time and energy it takes.
It’s also possible that your older adult resents needing help. Regardless of their true care needs, they may feel like you’re forcing unnecessary assistance on them. This makes them unlikely to feel gratitude for what you’re doing.
Choose to Do It for Yourself
It’s important to remember that you have a choice and that you’ve made the decision to be a caregiver.
It may not always feel like you’re in control of that decision, but you are. There are alternatives for your older adult if you choose not to be their caregiver. They may not be the best options, but choices do exist.
When you choose to be a caregiver, it’s important to do it for your own reasons and not for appreciation or recognition from anyone else. Remind yourself that you’ve chosen to do it even if nobody appreciates or notices your sacrifice.
Make Self-Care a Priority
When you’re exhausted and stressed, it’s easy for resentment and anger to creep in and occupy your mind. That’s why self-care is essential for caregivers. It’s not a treat.
Taking time for yourself is what keeps you mentally and physically healthy. It helps manage the stress and negative feelings so you can continue caregiving for the long haul.
Appreciate Yourself and Celebrate Accomplishments
Celebrating your caregiving accomplishments might seem like something that others do for you, but it’s essential that you also appreciate yourself. That’s because the way you feel about yourself and how you talk to yourself has a bigger impact than what anyone else says.
If family members can’t or won’t express appreciation for your hard work, you may have to accept their limitations and focus on self-appreciation instead. Think of the good reasons you’ve chosen to take on this job and how much you’ve helped someone in need.
Caregiving is by nature a thankless job. Rewarding yourself is another way to keep feeling positive about all the good you’re doing.
A reward could be anything – big or small. Maybe it’s getting your favorite Starbucks drink once a week or buying supplies for a hobby you love. Or it could be giving yourself permission to get respite care or caregiving help so you can go on a weekend getaway.
Use Lighthearted Humor to Ask for Appreciation
Sometimes you need to let people know that you’d like some recognition and thanks. One way is to take a lighthearted approach and occasionally make jokes in a positive tone of voice.
For example, if your parent praises something someone else did for them, you could say with a smile, “What am I, chopped liver?” Or, after completing a task like helping them move from the bed to the easy chair, you might tease, “No need for thanks. I’m just here for the free workouts.”
Don’t Measure Your Performance in Terms of Their Health
The reality is that aging can’t be cured. Serious chronic diseases will continue to get worse. Like the old saying goes, none of us gets out of here alive.
That’s why it’s not fair to judge yourself based on your older adult’s health or ability to recover from a health crisis. Even the most magical, fantastic, amazing caregiver wouldn’t be able to stop this decline.
Don’t wait for your older adult to show improvement before appreciating yourself for making their lives safer and more comfortable. You are making a difference.
Understand Why Others Don’t Show Appreciation
Family or friends who haven’t done any caregiving may not understand what you do or how hard it is. Some people have a hard time empathizing if they’ve never experienced something for themselves. That’s why they might not be appreciative of all that you do.
One way to cope is to share more information. For example, send family members a periodic email to update them on the many tasks you’ve been managing – like a recent medical appointment, physical therapy results, getting new medical equipment, etc.
When family members have a better understanding of everything you’ve been doing, they might be more likely to show appreciation or even offer to help.
Graciously Accept Thanks and Appreciation
When you’ve received far less appreciation than you deserve, it’s easy to snap at someone who thanks you for something. It might feel like their thanks is “too little, too late.”
But snapping at someone when they thank you discourages them from doing it again. Even if you feel like their appreciation isn’t enough, accept it graciously. That encourages them to show even more appreciation in the future.
Model the Behavior You’d Like to See
Sometimes the best way to get thanks is to give it first. If you’d like others to show appreciation toward you, start by showing them appreciation.
If your older adult does something helpful, no matter how minor, recognize it and thank them. For example, if they hang up the hand towel rather than leaving it on the counter, say thank you. You’ll be reinforcing a positive behavior and increasing the chances they’ll thank you for something in the future.
See It as a Compliment
Unfortunately, the more capable, helpful, and reliable you are, the more likely you’ll be taken for granted. After all, the person who gets everything done and knows exactly what they’re doing doesn’t stand out because they’re not causing problems.
This may be a small comfort, but it can help reframe the lack of appreciation as a compliment to your outstanding caregiving skills.
Does your hard work as your older adult’s caregiver go unappreciated? Do you feel resentful or unmotivated? What helps you manage stress and resentment so you don’t burn out? Please join the conversation so we can learn from each other.
Connie Chow is a founder of DailyCaring.com, a website and email newsletter with free, practical caregiving tips for families caring for older adults. Her mission is to connect caregivers with trustworthy advice and resources. Connie’s insights are in The Huffington Post, BlogHer, About.com, and more. Sign up for helpful caregiving advice at DailyCaring.com.