My daughter who has MS and is 54, has such anger issues with me. She lashes out for me to stay out of her life, but in her next breath she says she misses not having a mother in her life. How may I learn to deal with this? Perhaps I should see a therapist as she won't go with me to see one...I love her and wish to help her any way I can on her new journey of dealing with MS.
Thanks for writing, and sharing this question with us. Since I don’t know you personally, I will offer a general response applicable to all who are experiencing anger on the part of family members who have MS.
As you can imagine, it is natural to be angry about having MS, and about living with limitations that the illness often imposes. Anger is the type of emotion that needs to be directed, so we are usually angry at a person. It is difficult to be angry at a thing, like a disease. That’s why many family members of people with MS report that they are the recipients of anger from their relative with MS. The frustration a person with MS feels is sometimes rooted in her inability to protect her family from the impact of the illness – in other words it can be rooted in guilt, or shame.
As adults, we so value our independence. When an adult develops MS, she of course wants to remain independent, or as independent as possible. But a person with MS often needs assistance and support in order to maintain independence. She or he may express frustration at needing help, even though there is no doubt that the help is needed. As you point out, Nancy, your daughter seems to want help and reject it at the same time.
What can you do if your family member seems angry at you often? As with most life situations, there is no one answer that solves every problem. First, remember that the anger is really not at you, because of you, and is only directed at you. Remembering that can help you respond with more empathy, saying, “I can tell by your anger that you are very frustrated with your MS right now.” That comment expresses empathy and gives the message that you know that your loved one is really not angry with you.
It is also reasonable to label the anger and angry behavior as unacceptable. None of us should be used as a pin cushion for the barbs of anger and frustration caused by MS. When doing so, avoid generalizing – don’t use “always,” don’t call names, just refer to the angry behavior, and say you wish to be treated differently.
Even though your family member who is struggling with MS refuses to go to counseling, it is certainly worthwhile for family members to pursue counseling for themselves. In fact, your loved one with MS might become curious and interested if you give a brief report about your counseling session, during which you talk about how you can deal with MS more effectively. Rather than try to convince your family member with MS to go to counseling, entice them by providing just a little bit of information, and welcoming them to come with you.
One wonderful source of support is a caregiver’s group. Find out if there is a caregiver’s group in your area. Your local chapter of the National MS Society should be able to help you locate such a group. If there is no group in your area, ask the NMSS to help you start one, or see if they can provide an introduction to another caregiver in your area.
David Rintell, Ed.D.
Psychologist, Partners MS Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Partners Pediatric MS Center, Massachusetts General Hospital.
Clinical Instructor in Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School
One Brookline Place, Suite 225
Boston, MA 02445