Caregiver guilt: handling feelings of shame and inadequacy
At some point, every caregiver feels they aren’t doing enough. They may lose their temper and snap at the person in their care. On particularly bad days, they may simply wish it would all be over. All of these situations — and many other moments of stress — can quickly lead to feelings of guilt and shame.
That’s only natural. Guilt is a very human emotion. But repeated descent into guilty thoughts can be destructive to your sense of self-worth and even your physical well-being.
Types of guilt you may experience:
- Regrets about being insensitive to the person’s behavior before the diagnosis. You may also feel bad about not recognizing the signs earlier or putting off getting a professional diagnosis.
- Feelings of inadequacy about your skill or dedication as a caregiver.
- Guilt about dark thoughts that tend to blame the person for their condition. (See Negative Caregiver Thoughts)
- Feeling ashamed for taking time for yourself — or feeling selfish for even considering your own needs.
- Guilt over missed opportunities to connect with the person.
- Feeling that you have abandoned the person if you delegate their care to another person or facility.
- Even moments of happiness can be difficult to savor, since you may feel guilt for experiencing joy at a time when your loved one seems to be beyond sharing that emotion.
How should you respond?
Guilt can’t be stopped, but it can be managed so it does not overwhelm you. First, you need to recognize the onset of these feelings and then take proactive self-care steps.
Talking to a friend about your feelings can be helpful. Keeping a journal is another way to get your emotions “out” so they are not bottled up inside. Try to find a moment for relaxation techniques such as meditation to assuage your feelings. Any opportunity to step away from the guilt with a brief respite will help settle your mind.
Some other thoughts about coping with guilt
- Seek the support of other caregivers, either in person or online, to share which strategies seem to work best.
- Focus on today, not tomorrow. Dwelling on the future can be counterproductive. Instead, pick the positive moments of each day as they occur and use them to help you overcome feelings of negativity.
- Letting go is not giving up. You can’t do it all, so don’t try to. There may come a time when you have to trust other people to take over the lion’s share of your loved one’s care. Just do your best while you can and don’t forget to take time for your own needs. Remember you have a life to live as well.