Guilt is an emotion that so many caregivers experience. It is one of the major challenges associated with caregiving. As caregivers many of us do all we can for the person we are caring for but sometimes it feels like that is not enough. There are a complexity of emotions associated with caregiving that can include frustration, grief, joy, fear, compassion, intimacy, sadness, and anger. Many times guilt creeps in and begins to overwhelm and immobilize. For many this is a tipping point. There are many reasons caregivers experience guilt:
- People don’t feel right about taking time from being a caregiver to take care of themselves. They feel selfish for recognizing and meeting their own needs.
- In spite of all caregiving efforts the person being cared for does not improve. Caregivers blame themselves falsely believing if they did more the loved one would get better or have a better quality of life.
- You may feel guilty because you are healthy and the person you are caring for is not.
- You may feel guilt because you don’t have the finances, time, energy, or willingness to assume a caregiver role.
- You may feel guilt because your role as a caregiver is taking time away from family, friends, and other relationships are suffering because you are unable to juggle all these relationships.
- You may feel guilt because work or school or other responsibilities are being negatively impacted by your caregiver responsibilities. Perhaps others are having to take over for you or you are performing below your expectations. You perceive this as a personal failure and chastise yourself.
- Guilt can also evolve from feelings of resentment or anger towards others who are not helping or even the person you are caring for.
I am sure caregivers can add many additional reasons they experience feelings of guilt. It is important to understand as a caregiver you are not alone in feeling this way. When feelings of guilt do arise recognize them. Here are ideas about what can you do to manage them:
- Identify guilt when it occurs-Denial of guilt only makes it worse and more debilitating. It is all right for you to put a label on this emotion and not judge yourself harshly for feeling this way.
- Explore Self Expectations. Try to step back and take a realistic look at what you are asking yourself to do on a day to day basis. Are your self expectations realistic? Are you expecting to do things that Superman could not do? Would you expect someone else to do what you do
- Show yourself Compassion–Caregivers are notoriously bad at taking care of themselves. That is why burnout is such a common phenomena. Be as compassionate with yourself as you hope people would be towards you in a crisis. Give yourself permission to do this guilt-free.
- Make time for yourself-Caregivers must recharge and nourish themselves to continue as caregivers. Allow yourself time to do things you enjoy. Spend time with people that are supportive and understanding. This is a gift you can give yourself that will help you be a more effective caregiver. You need to act before you become burned out and guilt ridden.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help-When you feel emotions like guilt, anger, frustration emerging more frequently take action. This is the time to ask for help. Identify family, friends or healthcare professionals that can step in. They can help objectively and realistically assess the situation offering support and suggestions where it is needed. Caregiver sites, support groups, and chat rooms are also good places to go where people are in similar situations. They can offer compassion, support, and positive reinforcement.
There are many aspects of caregiving we have no control over. But how you handle your emotions is something you can manage. If the person you care for or family members remain critical of your efforts don’t personalize it and assume blame. Relish the good moments in your caregiver relationship. Identify something kind you can do for yourself everyday. It is ok to say you did a good job during a tough moment. Remind yourself you are not responsible for everything negative that happens. Don’t mentally relive mistakes that you make. Instead focus on the efforts that produce positive moments. Include some praise in the self messages you send yourself each day. Remember if you can do these things for yourself in the end you will be the best caregiver you can which is a gift for all concerned.
Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW is the author of Role Reversal How to Take Care of Yourself and Your Aging Parents.
Role Reversal is the winner of 8 major book awards. Ms. Waichler has been a medical social worker and patient advocate for 40 years. She has done freelance writing, counseling, and workshops on patient advocacy and healthcare related issues for 18 years. Find out more at her website http://iriswaichler.wpengine.com