Two recent posts on CNA Edge dealt with negative emotions: “Anger Management” by Edison Terrell and “Out of the Night” by May. While they take different approaches, these two posts share at least one very important idea: don’t allow your anger and frustration to become a problem for the people in your care.
In his post, Edison confronts his inner rage demon. The piece serves as more than a simple catharsis in the “confession is good for the soul” kind of way. As caregivers, we all have to deal with anger at one time or another – and if we’re honest, every single day. By his public confession, Edison demonstrates that it’s possible to have these feelings and still be compassionate and caring if we properly manage and process them. His post helps free us from the trap of denial and projection.
May’s post was equally introspective. But instead of a battle with her inner demons, she refuses to surrender to the negative influences of her work environment, in particular the perpetual listing of grievances by some of her coworkers. Instead, May makes a deliberate choice: “I stay despite the circumstances.” Through this simple act of will, she takes control and responsibility thus liberating her – and her residents – from the wearisome self-victimization displayed by her workmates.
Negative emotions are common in the work environment. Any time you put people together in a stressful situation there is going to be a good deal of politics and personality clashes. With egos on the line and blame to shift, some level of discord is to be expected. The same is true in any line of work. Due to the nature of our work, the stakes are higher and the emotion is amplified.
As we work to process our emotions, I think it’s useful to make a distinction between the routine frustrations of the workplace and the genuine anger engendered by problems that are endemic in long-term care. It’s difficult because the two things overlap so much. However, when we are able to separate them we elevate our awareness of something that is nothing less than a social injustice. We are not just workers; we are first hand witnesses to how the elderly and sick are directly affected by inadequate staffing levels, high turnover rates for caregivers and the poor utilization of resources due to misplaced priorities.
And here the rule applies doubly: the righteous anger we feel over this social justice should not become the residents’ problem. They are the primary victims. Don’t make them pay twice.
This brand of anger should instead be directed elsewhere.