How Do I Get Rid of the Guilt?

guilt-mdOn a regular basis, family caregivers will ask me: How do I deal with all this guilt?

Because it can seem like caregiving is a party of three: You, your caree and your guilt.

You may feel guilty for what you have that your caree no longer does: Good health, friends who call you, activities you can enjoy.

You also may feel guilty for what you can’t do for your caree. You can’t take away the pain. You can’t provide cure. And, you can’t be as available as often as your caree would like.

In essence, you may feel guilty because you have too much life and too little time.

If you let it, guilt will paint you in a corner. A few suggestions on how to avoid the trap:

1. If you give up on your life, you make caregiving much, much harder than it has to be. If you give up what you enjoy out of guilt because your caree can’t, you’ve created a situation ripe for bitterness and resentment. Enjoy your life. Sacrificing what you love for the sake of your caree won’t cure your caree. It will only hurt you and your caree.

2. Whatever you can do is enough. If you need a break on Wednesday evenings, take a break. Hire help, ask a family member, find a volunteer to fill in for you. It’s okay if your caree doesn’t agree with your decision to take a break. You must look out for your own health–physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.

3. You can’t make another person happy. It may seem like you can, but you can’t. And, when a caree has experienced extensive losses (loss of friends, spouse, health), you can’t make up for those losses. If you are concerned about your caree’s mental health, seek out services through your local Area Agency on Aging, Easter Seals and other social service organizations.

4. Eliminate your own personal disclaimers, such as “I’m a good daughter if I drop everything to be available for my mother.” Simply know you are a good daughter (or son or spouse). When you take away the conditions (“I’m only a good daughter if I do as I’m told”) then you lose guilt’s hold. You are a good daughter (or son or spouse). Let go of believing you have to prove it. Simply be it in a way that fits you.

5. Remove the comparisons. You may hear what others do for their carees and think, “I’m really a horrible caregiver.” What works for others simply works for others. Determine what works for you and leave it at that.

6. Create your own job description for how you help your caree. When you’re clear on how much you can do, you understand how doing too much will come back to haunt you. When you’re clear about what you can do, you can clearly say “No” to requests that are too much for you.

Getting rid of the guilt can feel like a start and stop process. Sometimes, you start off well. Sometimes, you can barely stop. Fighting off guilt takes practice. Allow yourself starts and stops and do-overs. When you practice often enough, you’ll be able to shake off any feelings of guilt.

How do you cope with your feelings of guilt? Please add your suggestions in our comments section, below.

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About Denise Brown

I began working with family caregivers in 1990 and launched CareGiving.com in 1996 to help and support them. Through my blog, I share words of comfort and offer coping strategies and tips. I also write opinion pieces about recent research, community programs and media coverage of caregiving issues. I've written several caregiving books, including "The Caregiving Years, Six Stages to a Meaningful Journey," "Take Comfort, Reflections of Hope for Caregivers" and "After Caregiving Ends, A Guide to Beginning Again." You can purchase my books and schedule a coaching call with me in our store.

2 thoughts on “How Do I Get Rid of the Guilt?

  1. Avatar of BobBob

    Denise, I have been dealing with the issue of guilt all along from May 2012 when I had no choice but to have my wife go into long term care. I’m dealing with a heavy dose of it right now because I’m looking at a place to live that is not close to where my caree is. It’s roughly the same distance, even less. She is afraid I’ll meet someone else. She feels I deceived her by not discussing it with her until today. I told her I held off because I just felt there would be conflict, guilt; etc. and I could not handle that at the moment. She basically wants control over everything I do. I try my best to visit her as often as I’m able while trying to pull off the impossible in other areas of mine and our life. She feels she has lost her role as my wife because my family helps me out. No matter what I do it never seems enough. The bomb she often uses is that she is not going to be around much longer and I may feel really sorry and guilty I didn’t spend more time with her; etc. No matter how much I tell her I’m only human, it does not seem to matter. She seems to want to totally possess me even though she says she doesn’t. I appreciate this post on guilt. Right now I’m going through it and I have to be strong and continue setting healthy boundaries while showing her I understand her concerns. Thanks for posting this blog.

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