Utilizing Caregiver Guilt

Posted by Allie Fannin on Sep 22, 2018

Guilt. That ugly feeling we get when we are not reaching our expectations. We often feel like we are letting someone down especially a loved one. But in reality, the person we have probably let down the most is us.

We all have the image of the person we want to be and when we do not achieve that image we are weighed down by guilt. We often feel alone in our role as caregiver and think we need to consistently do an "outstanding" job and not be frustrated by all of the little things. For example we believe we should have unending patience with our loved one. But when they ask the same question five times in five minutes, we snap in irritation and we are bound to feel guilty. Or if we want to do something for ourselves like go to lunch with a friend, or look for some down time for ourselves. Then, we feel guilty for leaving our loved one alone or with another family member.

Uncomfortable feelings such as guilt, and anger or sadness can actually be useful in helping us make better decisions. While we long to be the one to care for our aging family members after they are unable to do so themselves, there are times in our lives when we are unable to be their primary caregiver. It is important to think about what is best, not only for our loved ones, but what is best for us.

Learn to recognize the feelings of guilt. In order to be able to do something about guilt we first need to be able to recognize it. Oftentimes, we find that there are other emotions accompanying our guilt.

Be compassionate with yourself. Remember that nobody is perfect! You are doing better than you think. Some days will be harder than others and some days will be easier. It is okay to allow yourself to feel a variety of emotions. Remember that these emotions should not control your actions.

Look for the cause of guilt. What is making you feel guilty? Is it that we have unmet expectations of ourselves? Do we have unmet needs? What can we change to ease our guilt?

Change your behavior to fit your values, energy and time. If you believe you should be more patient find ways to help your patience with extra curricular activities such as yoga or exercise. If you feel guilty for leaving your loved one alone for a few minutes, find someone who will sit with them so you can have your alone time to regenerate and lift your spirits. Or, be realistic with yourself and introspectively ask, "Have I reached the limit of my physical or emotional ability to be a primary caregiver?" Guilt can help you make changes that can benefit you and your loved one.

Ask for help. It is incredibly hard to ask for help sometimes, or even accept help. But, remember you do not have to do this on your own. You have a wonderful support system that is waiting to be used. So ask someone to come sit with your loved one while you go to the grocery store, or you go for a drive, or you go out to eat with a friend. Take advantage of the support system of family or friends who want to help but are not sure how. There may come a time when we must look for outside help. For temporary assistance adult day care or respite care are available both in the home and at local assisted living residences. If caregiving is no longer possible then permanent outside help can be the answer. Assisted living is the most cost-effective solution in long term care. Remember, you are not “putting” your family member into a facility, instead, they are moving into a beautiful, non-institutional assisted living residence. We move throughout our lives based on our current needs. It is short-sighted to think that needs do not change especially when family members reach their eighties or nineties. And, those changes in your loved ones’ health and physical abilities may not be things you are equipped to do at the present time.

Revisit and reinvent the "ideal you." We make decisions based on the information we have at the time. Life changes and over time we learn more about our needs and our wants. While we want to be the best caregiver we can be, sometimes we are needed to be or to do something else. We want to care for our parents full time, but we are needed to work full time or care for our children or grandchildren. We want to care for our loved one full time, but we aren't able to give them the best care. We should make adjustments to fit our personal needs and our capacities the best we can.

Remember, when we take care of ourselves first we are ultimately a better caregiver. Make sure your own needs are being met. Without our needs being met we are more likely to experience burnout. Loved ones neither want nor expect absolutely selfless servants. Yes, guilt is a part of care giving, but it can help guide you to become the type of caregiver you want to be.