What’s Behind the Fury?

I see a lot of anger in my work. Families are frustrated with their person, irate about something that happened at the care community, enraged with each other.

What’s behind the fury? I have my theories.

If Everything Was Going Well…

I know I’m not meeting families on their best day. If everything was going well, they wouldn’t need to know me. Dementia is the underlying problem, and it generates plenty of others.

As I’ve said many times before, I’ll never try to talk you out of your feelings. Feelings just are…until they aren’t. Feeling them and letting them pass is far more effective than stuffing them down and waiting for the moment they start seeping out around the edges.

Still, I think it’s worth sharing what I’ve observed about anger.

No One Likes to Feel Powerless

No one likes to feel powerless. Dementia makes us feel powerless. So we try to control whatever else we can. Often that’s expressed as micromanaging caregivers or savaging others’ attempts to do something helpful. The thing is, people like feeling controlled about as much as they like feeling powerless.

Birds of Feather

Like attracts like. If you think about a time in your life when everything was coming up roses, you’ll recall nothing negative phased you. Everything was going way too well to get bogged down. You were pretty much wearing a force field that bounced negative energy away from you and at the same time sucked in all kinds of positive energy. It works both ways. When we’re filled with rage, we attract more of it to us.

We’re Livid

Anger is part of grief. And families are definitely grieving. It’s called “anticipatory grief” in situations where we anticipate the outcome. We’re watching changes we can’t do a damn thing about, grieving what was, how it is now, and what will never be. And we’re livid about it.

Grief, like stress, is a word so commonly used we often forget what we’re really talking about. We say, “Don’t give me any grief,” or, “I don’t need that kind of stress in my life” in joking ways. We forget that grieving people show signs of cognitive impairment, often exhibit a deficit in healthy coping skills, don’t sleep so well, and often generally feel run down.

In Emotional Deficit

In other words, angry people are suffering. They’re in emotional deficit. Their resiliency doesn’t come through reliably. They are hurting.

When I see anger in my work, I interpret it as a 9-1-1 call for me to bring the Good Stuff–respect, kindness, love, empathy, and compassion. Are there times I’m sure it’d feel more gratifying in that moment to throw an energetic fireball right back? Of course!

Angry (or Not) Moments

But the great thing about moments is they pass, so you can pass on the temptation to respond in kind to anger.

The other really great thing about moments is they make up the fabric of our existence. Weave enough moments together and you’ve got a life story. Sometimes we forget that, we lose track of the moments we’re creating.

The next time you’re feeling angry, turn the Good Stuff on yourself. You need it. And recall President Lincoln’s wise words:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Christy Turner is a speaker and consultant, founder of DementiaSherpa.com, and creator of the program Memory Care at Home. She’s had the privilege of working with over 1,200 people living with dementia and their families…including multiple experiences in her own family.