If you haven’t lost your temper yet at an aging parent, consider yourself lucky. That said, you aren’t out of the woods yet. Most of us are taught to respect our elders—and losing your temper with them is considered inappropriate. However, it can happen for various reasons and definitely more than once.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Common Reasons to Get Frustrated or Angry at an Aging Parent
- How to Talk to Your Aging Parent About Your Anger Triggers
- How to Cool Down When You Start Getting Angry at an Aging Parent
Losing your temper repeatedly can be a hard habit to break, but anger and hostility are not healthy and are often counterproductive. Whatever you hope to achieve by getting angry is likely to worsen the situation than improve it. Shame, guilt, and frustration often accompany temper, and the mental health impact can be significant.
Understanding what causes flare-ups and how to cope with them can help you control outbreaks. Regaining compassion and patience can require persistence and effort, but will be well worth it in the end.
Common Reasons to Get Frustrated or Angry at an Aging Parent
There are some common reasons you may get frustrated or angry at an aging parent. Some have to do with long-standing conflicts that have worsened as your parent has aged. Or, declining function and loss of independence cause your parent to be unreasonably resistant.
Caregiver burnout can happen to anyone, thanks to the stress and strain of taking care of another person. The tasks seem endless, your parent may not be grateful, and you may have sacrificed a job or time with your family to take care of an aging parent. After a while, caregiving can take a toll and lead to angry outbursts. Other stressors in your life added to caregiver burnout create a harmful environment that increases frustration and anger.
Despite your best efforts at keeping your aging parent safe, they continue to make poor decisions that threaten their well-being. If your parent has dementia, then this is expected, but if they don’t, it can be baffling as to why they continue to thwart your efforts. After trying to be patient, you finally get angry.
Symptoms of dementia can include poor decisions and judgment, impaired memory, and for some, anger and irritability. Taking time out to read about dementia and learning strategies for managing behaviors can help you understand that their behavior is not their fault.
Negative behavior could result from a long-standing personality trait that worsens when someone ages. Or negative behavior could be new. Your parent could be angry, demanding, and stubborn most of the time. Your parent may lash out at you because they feel they have lost control of their independence and can’t cope with their decline and illness.
If you have a historically challenging relationship with your parent, those old conflicts can come roaring back when they get older. One reason for this may be that your relationship with your parent was routine for most of your adult life. As they age, you are now forced to spend more time caring for their needs. The personality traits you were able to overlook earlier are accentuated now.
Denial of decline
Denial of decline is most likely a coping mechanism older adults use when they lose independence. But, it can be incredibly frustrating for adult children to cope with. One consequence of this denial of decline is the inability to see that they need help and reject your suggestions.
A common example is when an aging parent clearly needs assisted living but they deny that there is any reason to move. Or, your parent refuses in-home care because they cannot recognize they need help.
How to Talk to Your Aging Parent About Your Anger Triggers
To stop or reduce your temper, you may decide to talk with your aging parent about your triggers. Explaining yourself may or may not work, but it is worth trying. And at least you will have tried to do the right thing.
A good way to start a conversation with your parent about your anger triggers is to apologize for your behavior. Saying you are sorry can help your parent feel more empathetic to you and open to discussing your feelings.
2. Have a plan
Talking to your aging parent about your anger triggers while you are angry is not best. They are unlikely to really listen, and your thoughts may not come across rationally. Plan a time when you are all calm and when you are most likely to have their attention.
Try not to overwhelm them with complaints, observations, and prioritize what is bothering you most. Couch your frustrations within the context of caring about their safety and well-being.
3. Be respectful
You may have developed a habit of treating your parent as a child. It’s not hard to slip into a negative and condescending attitude. Try to use a respectful tone that treats your parent like the adult they are. Your parent may listen better with a more open mind when you address them in a respectful manner.
4. Be honest
When you talk with your parent, be honest about why you lose your temper. Try and approach the conversation from an “I” standpoint, such as “I feel hurt when you reject my suggestions.” Being honest but not accusing can be a delicate balancing act. But when done correctly, it is more likely to ensure an open and transparent conversation.
Be as specific as you can about what behavior and or words trigger your temper. Remind your parent that you do not want to make decisions for them and are trying to help, not control.
5. Ask a sibling to attend with you
If it seems appropriate, ask a sibling to attend with you. The idea is not to gang up on your parent, but in fact to have another voice that helps you avoid any behavior that leads to losing your temper. Having a sibling present can also lend itself to a more cooperative meeting where you all can problem solve triggers and hopefully reach a consensus.
6. Be prepared for nothing to change
Sometimes doing the right thing, regardless of the outcome, is enough. If you expect your parent to change and they don’t, then the only thing you can control is yourself. If you continue to expect that they will alter their behavior or understand your perspective, this could increase frustration and anger. It is hard to let go when you care so much, but it might be the healthiest approach to take.
How to Cool Down When You Start Getting Angry at an Aging Parent
Getting angry is a combination of your physiological and emotional responses. Fear, anger, and anxiety can trigger a fight or flight response. You may be very familiar with the sensation of your heart rate increasing, blood pressure and breathing going up, and sweat.
There can be an overwhelming urge to release the tension, and before you know it, you have lost your temper. You can manage your temper by training your autonomic system to calm down while simultaneously controlling your emotions.
7. Remind yourself of the reasons your parent is difficult
Assume that your parent doesn’t live to make you mad! Remember that getting older and losing control and independence can change your parent’s behavior in ways that aren’t recognizable. If you can, try to help your parent feel more engaged, less dependent, and more involved. Ask them what they need and want.
8. Calm your nervous system
Before speaking, take some moments to calm your nervous system. The best way to do this is to take deep breaths to lower your blood pressure and heart rate. It may seem silly but count to 10 while breathing, and you might be surprised at how much calmer you feel.
Be aware of how your body responds when you are about to meet with your parent. Do what you can to calm down and control your emotions before being with them.
9. Pick your battles
Not everything that triggers your temper requires a response. If the situation is urgent and requires immediate action, that is different than getting upset over small things that aren’t critical. At some point, you may have to accept that your parent will not listen to you, so getting upset won’t help.
10. Take a break
If you are in a situation with your parent where you can feel your anger boiling over, let them know you need to leave and come back another time. Taking a break will give you a chance to think more clearly and calm down. Take a walk outside and breathe deeply.
Notice what is around you and appreciate your immediate environment which will decrease your anger. If you are the primary caregiver for a parent, consider respite care for a more sustained break. Build in relief to keep emotions manageable.
11. Vent your temper in healthy ways
One way to cool down when you start to get angry is to do what you can to prevent it, to begin with. Venting in appropriate ways is healthy. Keeping a journal where you write the frustrating things about your parent is one idea.
Another is to talk with a therapist who can help suggest coping strategies to cool down when you are with your parent. Take care of yourself by using relaxation techniques, eating well, exercising, and getting plenty of sleep. Anger can take a toll on your physical and mental health.
Losing Your Temper at an Aging Parent
Losing your temper for any reason is not pleasant. Dealing with aging parents is complicated by changing care needs and the shifting nature of your relationship with them. If you can, follow our tips for controlling your temper at an aging parent and preserving your relationship with them.