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Eight Tips to Managing Caregiver Guilt

By Dr. Vicki

(Page 1 of 2)

Guilt is a common feeling in the landscape of caregiving. Guilt can propel you to be the best you can be…or it can immobilize you.

For caregivers, painful feelings — such as guilt, sadness and anger — are like any other pain. It’s your body’s way of saying, “Pay attention.” Just as the pain of a burned finger pulls your hand from the stove, so, too, guilt guides your actions and optimizes your health.

You have a picture of the “Ideal You” with values you hold and how you relate to yourself and others. Guilt often arises when there’s a mismatch between your day-to-day choices and the choices the “Ideal You” would have made. The “Ideal You” may be a parent who attends all of the kids’ soccer games. Miss a game to take your dad to the doctor, and you think you’re falling short.

You may have needs out of line with this “Ideal You.” You may believe that your own needs are insignificant, compared to the needs of your sick loved one. You then feel guilty when you even recognize your needs, much less act upon them. A mother may ask herself, “How can I go out for a walk with my kids when my mother is at home in pain?” (A hint for this mother: she can give more to her mother with an open heart when she takes good care of herself.)

You may have feelings misaligned with the “Ideal You.” Feeling angry about the injustice of your loved one’s illness? You might even feel angry at your loved one for getting sick! Recognizing those feelings can produce a healthy dose of guilt. Yes, you may even feel guilty about feeling guilty.

“Why did my loved one get sick?” you may ask. Perhaps, if the “Ideal You” acted more often, your loved one would be healthy. What if you served more healthful meals? What if you called 911, instead of believing your husband when he said his chest pain was just “a little heartburn”?

If you’re the kind of person prone to guilt, learn to manage guilt so that guilt serves you rather than imprisons you. Here are eight tips for managing your caregiver guilt:

Recognize the feeling of guilt: Unrecognized guilt eats at your soul. Name it; look at the monster under the bed.

Identify other feelings: Often, there are feelings under the feeling of guilt. Name those, too. For example, say to yourself: “I hate to admit this to myself, but I’m resentful that Dad’s illness changed all of our lives.” Once you put it into words, you will have a new perspective. You will also be reminding yourself of how fortunate you are to have what it takes to take care of loved one.”

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