Positive emotions in caring for a spouse: a literature review

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The research of caring has its main history in studies of strain, burden and challenges of caregivers as well as in negative life changes and the coping strategies connected to them 1. Some exceptions exist; for example, Carbonneau, Caron and Desrosiers 7 proposed a conceptual framework for a better understanding of the processes related to developing positive aspects of caregiving experience. The framework was later modified by Li and Loke 8 in a study of spouse caregivers of patients with cancer. Both studies are based on literature reviews of positive aspects in caregiving. Furthermore, McKenzie and Greenwood have also studied positive experiences of caregivers of stroke patients in a literature review 9. Some efforts have also been made to build assessment tools that take into account the positive aspects in caregiving. The purpose of these efforts is to help professionals to develop targeted interventions which along with other aims enhance positive experiences in caregiving 6.
However, the possible positive aspects of starting or continuing to care for a spouse are seemingly being neglected, not only in research, but also in general discussions and in health and social politics. This is an ethical challenge, because both negative and positive emotions need consideration in order to understand and support spouse carers. More profound research is needed, and our article aims at filling this gap and at increasing knowledge about positive emotions as well as the outcomes connected to them.
The role and emphasis on spouse care vary over the decades and in different countries. A part of this is connected to the battle between public, private and voluntary care in different welfare regimes, and the role of genders in caregiving (e.g. 11. However, it seems that at least during an economic recession, the impact of the work done by family carers will become more essential in many countries in case the formal social and healthcare sector aims at decreasing institutional care services and the public cost of care provisions. This change will inevitably include more expectations and pressure on family care, and the need to support family caregivers will become more necessary. These kinds of change moments are fruitful in looking at spouse care from a new research angle, in this case, from the positive perspective. Studying positive emotions widens our perspective of caregiving, and a broader knowledge base helps professionals to collaborate more effectively with family carers 13.
Theoretically, our article is based on the concept of emotion and on some assumptions of positive psychology. The concept of emotion is crucial because emotions are important sources of information when studying the act of coping with challenges of life 14. Individual emotions work like ‘signposts’ as they tell us how people react, for example, to stress. The emotions attached to caring can be examined using the term ‘basic emotion’, which is often attached to functionalist descriptions that stress the adaptive value of emotions in coping with fundamental life tasks 15. In much research, emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger, fear and disgust are defined as basic emotions 16. Positive emotions can be viewed through the dimension of happiness, which can be described with words such as happiness, joy, loving and cheerfulness. Happiness ‘reflects the appraisal that progress towards a valued goal is being made’ 16. Likewise, Lazarus and Folkman discovered that positive emotions such as happiness, relief or pride appear when one succeeds in resolving a situation 4.
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