We’ve all felt it. That nagging feeling like we’ve done something wrong; failed. It keeps prodding at your heart and mind. You could have done more, done better; and now you’ve let someone down. Guilt.
The person you’ve failed or let down the most is probably you! You have an image of the “ideal you” - the way you believe you should be and the way you want to be. This image is base on your values and beliefs of how things ought to, in a perfect world. When the things you do are different than the way the “ideal you” would have done them, you feel guilty. You've let yourself down.
For example, the “ideal you” has unending patience, but after answering the same question ten times in 5 minutes, you raise your voice in irritation. Guilt. The “ideal you” makes sure your spouse is always happy, but when you have lunch with a friend on Saturday, your husband eats alone. Guilt. The “ideal you” believes your father should live with you when he is no longer able to live alone, but in reality your job and family make that impossible. Guilt.
Uncomfortable feelings such as guilt, anger and sadness can be helpful emotions when you let them guide you into good decision making. But when your image of the “ideal you” is misaligned from what you realistically can be and do, these emotions can immobilize you and lead you down a path of self- destruction. If you are prone to guilt, learn to manage your guilt and use it to serve you rather that imprison you. Here are some helpful tips for managing caregiver guilt.
Learn to recognize the feeling of guilt. In order to handle guilt properly, you must first be able to name it. Often, feelings such as anger and sadness accompany guilt feelings. When you evaluate all you feelings, you may find that guilt is not the only thing troubling you.
Be compassionate with yourself. There is no certain way a caregiver should feel. Some days are better than others. Allow yourself to feel any emotion - anger, sadness, joy- and recognize that these emotions don’t control your actions.
Look for the cause of the guilt. What is the discrepancy between the real you and the “ideal you?” Are your expectations of yourself too high? Do you have unmet needs? What actions can you change to help you better achieve the “ideal you?”
Change your behavior to fit your values. If you believe you should be more patient, find ways to deal with repetitive questioning. If your husband doesn’t like to eat alone, find a friend or volunteer to eat with him while you have lunch with a friend. Let your guilt guide you into new solutions that work for both of you.
Ask for help. Your guilt may be cause by not being able to do everything you think needs to be done. So listen to your guilt and get some help. Ask friends or family for help. Call Interfaith Volunteers. Make an appointment at the county Aging and Disability Resource Center to see what other assistance might be available. No one can do it all alone.
Revisit and reinvent the “ideal you”. Is the criteria you used to develop the “ideal you” still reasonable? We make decisions based on the knowledge and information we have at the time. Life changes things. What we once thought was a “must” may now be a “maybe”. The idea of having dad move in with you was great before you had kids or a full time job. But with your life as it is now, it may not be possible. Committing to have him visit every Saturday may be a more realistic expectation at this time.
Always keep in mind that when you take care of yourself first you are a healthier caregiver, both physically and emotionally. Make sure your own needs are being met. Needs are not good or bad, they are just needs. Loved ones neither want nor expect selfless servants. Yes, guilt is a part of care giving, but it can help guide you to become the caregiver you want to be.
Older Americans Act Consultant
Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources
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