Reducing Your Feelings of Guilt

By Barbara Small

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A common emotion among family caregivers is guilt:

* Not doing enough for the person they are caring for or not doing it well enough.

* Feeling angry, resentful or frustrated about their situation.

* Taking time off for themselves.

* Not spending enough time with the person to whom they are providing care.

* Not having enough time for other family members (children, spouse).

* Living in another town and not being there when they are needed.

* Bringing in outside help to assist them with caregiving.

* Their family member moving into a care facility because they can no longer be safely cared for at home.

Even the most effective caregiver can find something to feel guilty about. Feelings of guilt, however, drain time, energy and emotion - all three of which are already at a premium for family caregivers.

Guilt arises when there is a gap between the way family caregivers are and the way they perceive they should be. They spend time berating themselves for what they see as failure instead of focusing on the caring and compassion they bring to a family member’s situation. When energy is focused on how things “should” be, it’s more difficult to find solutions for the actual situation.

Sometimes, guilt allows people to feel “good” while doing something that they judge as wrong or inappropriate. Or perhaps guilt comes from helplessness because they can’t do anything about their family member’s illness or disability.

Look beyond the guilt. Caregivers should ask themselves, “Where are my guilty feelings coming from?” and “What are these feeling telling me?”

Once those underlying feelings are recognized, we can see our situation from another perspective and address it directly as needed.

Guilt is fostered by unrealistic expectations of what we are capable of doing, as well as what we imagine we should be doing. It is important to remind ourselves that we are doing the best we can at the time with what we know. Given the tools we had to work with, we used our best judgment and made caregiving decisions we truly felt were in the best interest of all concerned.

Sometimes guilt is the result of another person’s comments or actions. However, someone else cannot make us feel guilty if we are not already feeling that way internally. Their comment pushes a button we installed ourselves - so it highlights what we are already feeling. If we change our internal perceptions and expectations, and accept that we are doing our best, then they cannot trigger our guilt.

Moving beyond guilt to acceptance and self-forgiveness will make us more relaxed and confident caregivers. Guilt seldom achieves any positive outcomes.

Next month: Caregiving over the Holidays





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