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Caregiver Guilt

Taking care of someone as they get older is a serious responsibility that takes a lot of effort. That work can be incredibly rewarding – but it can also be an extremely emotional experience.

Caregiver guilt is a common challenge for people taking care of their aging loved ones. This guilt can be a serious problem, especially as it grows over time. Fortunately, there are ways for caregivers to address guilt and protect their own wellbeing. Use this guide to learn more about caregiver guilt and what you can do to manage it. 

What is Caregiver Guilt?

Caregiver guilt is the collective mix of emotions that people can experience when caring for a loved one. Acting as a caregiver can be taxing, both physically and emotionally, and can take a toll on you over time. There are a variety of factors that can cause caregiver guilt.

  • You have to make difficult decisions: Serving as a caregiver means making a lot of decisions. Even with the best intentions, the pressure of being the decision maker can take a toll over time.
  • The family dynamic has changed: A lot of roles change when a loved one needs regular care. Navigating the transition from child to caregiver, along with other dynamics with siblings and other family members, can create tension in various relationships.
  • Caregiving is a lot of work: Caregiving is a time-consuming responsibility that can be very difficult. That level of commitment can take time away from personal pursuits and other responsibilities.
  • Caregiving can affect people aside from you and your loved one: Your parent, spouse, or other loved one may be the one who needs help, but caregiving doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Caregiving responsibilities can take time away from other loved ones, leading to resentment or other potential issues.
  • Pressure from other people: A lot of people can put pressure on you, including the person that you’re caring for. Their expectations can weigh heavily on you, whether they intend to put pressure on you or not.
  • Placing pressure on yourself: Caregivers can be their own worst critic. Some people will stress out over not doing enough or wrongly blame themselves if their loved one has a worsening medical condition, even if they’re doing the best they can.

How Caregiver Guilt Can Affect Your Life

It can be easy to brush aside guilty feelings as a minor issue, but they can take a toll on you and your family. There are a variety of potential problems caused by caregiver guilt. 

  • Emotional Distress: Feelings of guilt can directly contribute to stress, anxiety, and depression. This distress can not only affect your emotional and mental wellbeing, but also impair your ability to provide effective care and cope with any future challenges.
  • Strained Relationships: Guilt can affect everyone in the caregiving relationship. Feelings of frustration and communication problems caused by guilt can damage existing relationships between parents and other family members, making a challenging situation even more difficult.
  • Burnout: Constant guilt is exhausting. The ongoing pressure of caregiving can lead to fatigue, decreased resilience, and a diminished capacity to provide care effectively.
  • Lack of Self-Care: Guilt can cause caregivers to sacrifice their own needs. Neglecting your own physical, emotional, and social well-being can have notable consequences.

Signs of Caregiver Guilt

One reason why caregiver guilt goes unchecked is because people don’t always realize that it’s affecting them. Caregivers often think of other people’s needs before themselves, so you may not consider your own feelings. Some people also try to explain guilt away as something less serious than it is. 

It’s important to try and recognize these symptoms to take the steps necessary to manage caregiver guilt. The following feelings are all potential signs that you’re dealing with guilt.

  • Irritability: You may be more prone to anger or get mad at actions or events that wouldn’t bother you as much as before you started caring for someone.
  • Resentment: You may feel like you’re missing out on other opportunities or that you aren’t being properly appreciated for your hard work.
  • Anxiety: You feel uneasy about what you’re doing or dread that something bad will happen if you aren’t around to help.
  • Helplessness: You feel like no matter what you do, nothing will get better or that you aren’t doing good enough.
  • Mixed feelings: You’re stuck feeling like you want to take care of your loved one and don’t want to deal with the responsibility and workload.

10 Strategies for Coping with Caregiver Guilt

Caregiver guilt is very challenging, but there are ways that you can alleviate the toll it can take on your health. Here are 10 ways that you can support yourself when taking care of your loved one.

Acknowledge how you feel

The first step toward coping with guilt is addressing it. There is no shame in feeling guilty when caring for a loved one. Caregiver guilt is extremely common and perfectly normal. Taking care of an aging family member is a major change and it’s natural to feel conflicted emotions during the experience. By acknowledging these feelings, you can start to manage your guilt in a healthy way.

Don’t suppress your emotions

If acknowledging your guilt is the first step, being honest about how it makes you feel is the second. It’s normal to experience anger, resentment, and other emotions caused by caregiver guilt. Remember to be honest and open about your emotions when talking to close friends and family, because suppressing them will cause more problems in the long run. 

Don’t take bad behavior too hard

At some point, your loved one may lash out at you. People can call you names or accuse you of bad intentions, but it’s important to remember that this negativity can stem from their own stress and uncertainty. These actions can hurt, but learning to let them go will go a long way toward reducing your own guilt.

Set realistic expectations

It’s okay to accept that everything isn’t going to be perfect and it’s okay to ask for help when needed. Establish realistic goals for caregiving and prioritize self-care to maintain your own well-being.

Focus on the positive

Guilt can make you dwell on what went wrong – don’t be afraid to celebrate what went right. Remind yourself about your accomplishments as a caregiver, even when there’s a setback. Your efforts are worthwhile, and it’s good to remember that. 

Make time for yourself

Everyone needs to take a break every now and then. Make time for activities that you enjoy, even if it means temporarily stepping away from caregiving duties. Taking breaks is essential for maintaining your physical and emotional health, even if it’s something as simple as a quiet night with a good book.

Seek support from others

Caregivers don’t need to care for their loved ones by themselves. Try to work with close friends and family to help spread the workload more evenly. You can also consider professional assistance, such as an in-home private duty caregiver and short-term respite care in an assisted living community

Enjoy the happy moments

Caregiving involves a lot of big decisions, but there are also plenty of small moments that help make it a rewarding experience. Whenever you’re feeling guilty about something, try and recall a fun conversation, a quick trip somewhere, or another happy memory with your loved one.

Talk to someone about caregiver guilt

Dealing with caregiver guilt can be a lonely experience. Talking to someone about what you’re going through can help you cope with guilt and discover other people you can turn to for help in the future. Consider turning to the following people to help you manage your guilt.

  • Close friends and family.
  • An in-person or online support group with other family caregivers.
  • A therapist.

Find an ideal living solution for your loved one

A difficult living situation is stressful for both you and your loved one. It’s important to find an ideal residence based on their personal lifestyle and ongoing needs, whether that’s their own home or a community. Those steps could mean making safety updates or seeking in-home health care or choosing a senior living community that meets their care needs and ideal amenities

Looking for senior living communities near you? National Church Residences owns or operates more than 340 senior housing communities in 25 states and can help you find a community that helps your loved one live their ideal lifestyle.

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