Coping with Caregiver Guilt

Guilt is a far too common emotion for a lot of caregivers. Especially for family caregivers, guilt can be both a motivating factor and an immobilizing deterrent. Guilt often occurs when there is a discrepancy between idealized ambitions and actual outcomes. Even more often, these feelings of guilt are irrational and unreasonable.

It is the way that you handle these feelings of guilt that play a big role in your effectiveness as a caregiver.

Cause of Guilt

Family caregivers may feel guilty for a wide variety of reasons. However, every situation is unique and there are some common sources of guilt that many caregivers share. Some of the most prevalent reasons caregivers feel guilty, are:

  • Not dedicating enough time to your loved one
  • Not being an effective caregiver
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Feelings of resentment
  • Feeling like you are burdened by caregiving duties
  • Taking time to attend to your own needs and interests
  • Being healthy while your loved one battles chronic health problems

Whether these feelings of guilt are based in reality or not, they can still have the same detrimental effects on your ability as a caregiver.

How to Cope with Caregiver Guilt

When these feelings of guilt arise, it is important to have an effective way of dealing with them to prevent health problems of your own and to continue providing effective care. Some possible approaches to dealing with caregiver guilt, may include:

  • Acknowledge your feelings
  • Assess the underlying causes
  • Go easy on yourself
  • Establish a good life balance
  • Keep expectations realistic
  • It is OK to ask for help
  • Explore other motivations for caregiving

Acknowledge your Feelings

The first step to effectively coping with guilt is to acknowledge guilty feelings when they come up and deal with them directly. Too often emotions like guilt, anger, or frustration are repressed because it seems like the easiest way to deal with them.

While this might work as a short-term fix, what it is really doing is exacerbating the problem as these negative feelings accumulate and fester. The best approach is to deal with feelings of guilt head on to determine what may be causing them.

Assess Underlying Causes

Figuring out the root cause of your guilt is the most effective way to understand and manage these feelings. Are your expectations unreasonable? Do you feel like you are spending too much time on your own interests?

Go Easy on Yourself

Whatever you are beating yourself up about, chances are that you are being way too hard on yourself. Be realistic with your caregiving agenda. Trying to do more than you can handle is no good for you, or the person you are providing care for.

On the other hand, trying to provide guilt-free caregiving may also not be realistic. Guilt is an intrinsic emotion that is natural for survival. It’s all about finding the right balance.

Life Balance

One secret to leading a satisfying and fulfilling life is balance. Finding a way to balance responsibilities, interests, and ambitions is the key to contentment for many people. It is also crucial to be able to balance emotions. Guilt can be balanced when you are aware of why it is happening, so appropriate actions can be taken to neutralize it.

Keep Realistic Expectations

Guilt can easily stem from trying to rescue someone else from their problems. The desire to relieve a loved one of their pain is completely understandable, but you should be aware of your realistic ability to make that happen. No one can do it all on their own and there is certainly no shame in asking for help.

Getting Assistance and Support

I’m sure you are familiar with the term “many hands make light work”. A team of caregivers will be more effective in providing useful care than just one person would be. Other family members can be a source of additional help and relief of your own responsibilities.

If no other family members are available to assist, professional caregivers are always accessible for respite care services. Respite caregivers can provide relief for regular family caregivers to offer some reprieve, and time to focus on their own needs.

Caregiver Motivation

Guilt can be a powerful motivator, but maybe not the best of reasons to provide care for a loved one. Think about what motivates you to provide care and support for a loved one. Does caregiving bring you satisfaction? Do you feel like you are making a difference?

Focusing on positive reasons for caregiving instead of the negative can help offer a new perspective. During the time you are not providing care, it is helpful to focus on all the good things you are doing for your loved one instead of guilt and worry.

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