Caring for an aging family member can be a highly emotional experience, and one of the most painful emotions caregivers grapple with is guilt. Caregivers often hold themselves to impossible standards and then criticize themselves when they don’t measure up. If you feel like your caregiver guilt is consuming you, you’re not alone.
There are endless reasons that caregivers struggle with guilt. Many caregivers feel guilty for feeling resentful toward the individual they care for. Caretaking is an extremely demanding and emotional responsibility, and it’s not uncommon to feel guilty about experiencing burnout or frustration. Placing your loved one in a nursing facility can bring up intense feelings of guilt, too. You might feel like you’ve failed them by no longer being able to care for them yourself.
Caregiver guilt is a common struggle, but that doesn’t mean you have to live with it. Guilt can destroy your mental health and prevent you from enjoying your time with your aging loved one. Learning to let go of your caregiver guilt is critical for your well-being.
Here Are Seven Strategies to Cope with Caregiver Guilt
1. Acknowledge the Guilt
Whenever you’re dealing with a painful emotion, acknowledging the feeling is the first step toward overcoming it. Don’t try to suppress or ignore your caregiver guilt when it’s affecting your mental health. Instead, identify the feeling and where it’s coming from. Your caregiver guilt might be linked to a specific situation, or you may feel guilty over a broader pattern in your relationship with the aging individual. Understanding why you feel guilty will help you find a resolution.
Acknowledging your caregiver guilt also helps you humanize yourself. Caretaking is a difficult job, and all caregivers struggle from time to time. While your overall mental health should never suffer from being a caregiver, feeling frustrated or upset occasionally is completely normal.
2. Adjust Your Expectations
Caregiver guilt often results from unrealistic expectations for yourself. You want to be the perfect caretaker for your loved one and provide them with the highest quality of life. Caregivers are not miracle workers, though. If you put such intense expectations on yourself, you’ll only feel guilty when you can’t fulfill them.
Don’t expect yourself to provide 24/7 care for your loved one with no other support. Everyone needs a break to rest and recharge. Also, try not to blame yourself for your loved one’s health outcomes, especially if they have a progressive illness. You want to keep your loved one as healthy as possible, but that isn’t always within your power.
3. Avoid Comparisons
Comparing yourself to other caretakers can be devastating to your mental health and sense of self. You can never truly know what’s going on in someone else’s household. A caregiver may appear to be perfect on the outside, but they have their own struggles. Comparing your entire self to someone else’s highlight reel will only lead to guilt and shame.
You have to focus on your own life, your own family, and your own responsibilities. If you find comparison to be a good motivator for self-improvement, compare your current self to your past self. Notice how you’ve grown over time, and set long-term goals so that you can continue to grow.
4. Focus on Quality Time
Finding meaning and purpose in your time with your loved one can help you avoid caregiver guilt. When you’re a full-time caregiver, it’s easy to get lost in the routine and go through the motions each day. However, you have an incredible opportunity to spend quality time with your loved one. Focus on finding joy in your time together. Reminiscing, laughing, or simply enjoying each other’s company can be a powerful experience. By enjoying these little moments, you remind yourself that you are doing enough.
5. Seek Social Support
Caregiver guilt can be a sign of burnout or fatigue. When you feel too exhausted to support your loved one, the feelings of guilt and shame start to creep in. The best way to avoid burnout and continue providing quality care is to lean on your social support network. No one can provide round-the-clock care without a break. If you feel guilty because your exhaustion is affecting your ability to care for your loved one, ask a trusted friend or family member to step in.
Caregiver support groups are a valuable resource, too. Not everyone understands how physically and emotionally exhausting caretaking is, so connecting with other caregivers can help you feel understood. You’re not alone in your experiences, and hearing from those who relate to you can be comforting.
6. Find Balance
Caregiving is an important responsibility, but it shouldn’t be your entire identity. If your only sense of worth or purpose comes from caretaking, you’ll feel extreme guilt and shame over the slightest missteps. To maintain your mental health, you should find a balance between caregiving and the other aspects of your life. Continue to engage in your hobbies and spend time with friends, and allow yourself to find joy and purpose outside of your caregiver role.
7. Talk to a Therapist
If your guilt persists despite your best efforts, it may be time to reach out to a mental health professional for support. Caregiver guilt can sometimes be managed by changing your perspective and receiving support from family or friends. In other cases, though, guilt is a complicated and deeply rooted emotion that’s difficult to unpack on your own.
Therapy can help you understand the source of your guilt and how your guilt is impacting your life. You may have some vulnerable emotions to work through, but your therapist will provide a safe and supportive environment for you to process your feelings. As you come to terms with your guilt, you can work on reframing your thoughts and beliefs so that you relate more positively to your role as a caregiver.
Blue Moon Senior Counseling provides therapy services for older adults. If you or an elderly loved one is need of senior counseling, contact us today.