When your husband found out he had cancer, you were probably thrust into a caretaker role of some sort. You needed to take on more than you did before. You may have picked up some of his jobs while still doing your own tasks in the household.
This can be tiring and overwhelming. If you are working full time and raising a family, often it can feel like simply too much. So you feel stuck and trapped. You might find yourself thinking damn this cancer! Or damn him!
But he is sick, and not just with the flu – cancer is serious. And it’s not his fault. How difficult this must be for him! So immediately you feel guilty as well. How can you be mad at him? But still, you are mad. You may end up acting like a child as well, yelling or answering with snide remarks. This is not the way you want to be!
This is what we call emotional childhood. Emotional childhood is when you blame someone else or something else for how you feel. It’s like when a child stomps her feet and screams “it’s all your fault!” This is what we are doing when we are blaming our emotions on someone or something else. We aren’t taking responsibility for how we feel. We may feel like a victim of fate – why did this have to happen to my family!
The extra hard part with cancer is that we then feel guilty for our negative feelings. As if we have no right to feel bad, because we’re not the one with cancer. So, we pile guilt on top of anger and frustration. It’s a triple whammy and you feel terrible!
So how do we get out of this dis-empowering place and move into emotional adulthood?
Emotional adulthood means you recognize that only you are responsible for your feelings. Not anyone or anything else. That may at first sound daunting, but when you recognize your emotions are yours to own, it’s so much more empowering! You get to decide how you want to feel about something.
Sometimes, you may want to feel bad for a while. That is OK. Taking care of someone who is dealing with cancer is hard, and can be tiring and overwhelming. So if you find negative thoughts coming up about your husband, know that it is completely normal and OK. Everyone has a right to feel pain – and no one’s pain is more justified than another. This is what it means to be human.
Then, you need to be kind to yourself. Often we immediately judge ourselves and start feeling guilty for our angry and resentful thoughts. As if we don’t have a right to our negative feelings because we are not the ones with cancer. But adding on guilt just makes us feel worse! Don’t judge yourself for whatever negative feelings you may be having toward your sick husband. It will keep you in emotional childhood.
You can move on from those emotional childhood feelings into emotional adulthood. To do this, first recognize your feelings for what they are, allow yourself to feel them without judgement, no matter how ugly they are. Then let them pass. This is how we move ourselves out of emotional childhood and into emotional adulthood.
I would love to hear your comments on when you’ve found yourself in emotional childhood.