Being the friend or loved one of someone with a mental illness can be emotionally difficult. While you wish to remain open, objective and compassionate, sometimes your reserves of patience become too drained and make it difficult to maintain a reciprocal relationship. You may even begin to feel taken advantage of.
You may feel guilty for being angry at someone who is suffering. But, if you’re wondering if you can feel both compassion and anger at someone suffering from a mental illness, the answer is yes. Here are some steps to help you through these difficult and conflicting feelings.
Work Through Emotions
Understand that you’re a human being experiencing human reactions. Do what you need in order to remember who you are as an individual, and channel your emotions in healthy ways, such as by finding a new hobby.
Try to remember that, normally, a person with a mental illness doesn’t intend to direct inappropriate behavior or statements at you. They may not correctly interpret how you’re feeling, either.
Don’t let anger build up inside of you and result in resentment or outbursts. You need to find firm ground inside and outside of yourself. If you decide to stay in this person’s life, it is important to take things in stride and establish your own methods of handling any dysfunctional behavioral patterns.
Establish a Plan
Feeling stuck? Make a plan for how you will assist, cope and stay balanced. Set clear directives for how you’re willing to help and when. Define how you take care of yourself, and schedule that time. Your job is not to fix a person — but you can help them along. Offer compassion through space and active listening and learning, but also establish clear boundaries.
You want to be there for your loved one, but sometimes for your health and safety, you can reach a point where you have to weigh how they’re affecting your life. Ask yourself these questions:
- Are they making efforts to improve their condition?
- Does this sufferer’s behavior threaten your health or livelihood?
- Can you accept the sufferer as they are, or do you want them to change?
- What do you need?
- What do they need, and where do you fit in?
Mental health conditions ebb and flow, but many possibilities for management and treatment exist. You can’t change someone. Only they can change themselves. There’s a limit to what’s reasonable for a person to handle.
Based on an analysis of 37 research studies, between 30 to 80 percent of people don’t pursue treatment for their mental illness due to feelings like fear and inadequacy. Mental health conditions can be serious, and someone who doesn’t make an effort to get better can have a serious impact on your quality of life. You may decide to end a relationship when the person:
- Is dangerous, stalking or abusing you
- Becomes reckless
- Projects blame onto you for their problems
- Neglects and avoids treatment consciously
You may have other reasons beyond these, and those reasons might be valid too. If you feel unsafe, take the steps you need to feel safe again. Contact a victim advocate for guidance escaping from the situation. Trust your instincts, and document your journey.
Build a Support Network
People often forget themselves when their energy and efforts get directed to the health of a loved one. You sleep and breathe their condition, wanting to understand it and them better. You see the person. Do you see yourself?
It is important to make the loved ones in your life feel appreciated. Spend quality time together, and ask for validation, support and even time away when you need it.
Next, build your support network of friends, family, support groups, advocates and counselors. Yes, it’s okay to get a therapist or counselor for yourself. They can provide you with the tools required for self-growth, emotional regulation, and communication.
Establish Self-Care Routines
How do you support yourself? What are your self-care routines? You need to exercise self-care in your personal routines and maintain these practices every day. Keep a regular schedule. Eat healthy, with multiple colorful food groups represented on your plate. Make your bedroom comfortable so that you can get enough sleep and sleep well.
Exercise at least 30 minutes each day to boost your mood and overall health. Moderate levels of aerobic exercise like jogging, swimming, dance, brisk walking or tennis will do the trick. Find what works for you.
Most sufferers get better over time with treatment as they develop more confidence and coping mechanisms. Anger can come with compassion when you’re a support person, but you also need to honor yourself and your health. Do what you can to support them, but don’t feel bad about your own feelings — they are valid and are meant to be felt and worked through.