Caregiver Guilt: Your Inner Judge and Jury

Kathy Eynon, Parent Care Alliance

Feeling Guilty?

I doubt that there are many things that caregivers do better than guilt.  Whether you are caring for an elderly parent, your children or another loved one, you likely have experienced this to a greater or lesser degree at some point.

Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving according to humorist Erma Bombeck.  There is no doubt that guilt can be a very powerful driver in our lives.

And as caregivers, aren’t there just a vast number of things that we can use to feed that guilt!!

You may feel guilty when you lose your patience with your elderly mother or perhaps you have been complaining about not having enough sleep or time for yourself.  You feel guilty when Dad asks when you are coming again to see him or calls you for the 4th time in an hour and you don’t pick up the phone.  Maybe you didn’t get a particular task done when you hoped you would or let something fall between the cracks.

Most humans, especially caregivers, are extremely good at taking on all of the expectations of not just our cultures and possibly our religions, but also our families as well!  Add to that jury the toughest critic of all, you, and you have quite a crowd mulling around in your head!  And they become quite good at sharing what they thing about something that you have done or have failed to do.

Of course not all guilt is bad.  Good guilt causes us to examine ourselves and make a change in our behavior if it is needed.  This might be the guilt you experience when you lose your patience with a loved one who has dementia and you have responded negatively to something that they can no longer control.  At times like this, guilt may be the poke you need to, perhaps, try a little harder next time.

But bad guilt doesn’t usually have a constructive side.  This is the guilt you feel over a situation that you cannot change or control; or, over something that is actually positive for you the caregiver.  Perhaps your mother must go into rehab after she has fallen and broken a hip.  She doesn’t like it there and repeatedly makes you aware of that.  Can you feel the guilt building?

Or, maybe you are finally making arrangements to go away for a much needed, and deserved, vacation and your father is fighting you about bringing in some respite care to take over while you are gone.  Is the pit in your stomach tightening yet?

And some caregivers even feel the need to experience guilt because they are experiencing happiness!  Did you ever take a step away from the caregiving to go out for a nice dinner and find yourself feeling guilty about enjoying yourself?  Then you know about Happiness Guilt.

Yes, guilt loves high standards.  But guess what, life happens.  Nobody is perfect.  And no matter how much you love the person you are caring for you are not going to be able to prevent every fall or illness.  A bill might get missed and your temper may spill over at times.  Don’t let the small list of things that slip by get overshadowed in your mind by the long list of things that don’t.  Being a good caregiver 80-90% of the time may be a more realistic expectation!

So, challenge your inner jury.  Push back with a good defense and know that you are doing the best that you can.

On the journey with you…….Kathy

Kathy Eynon is an Eldercare Coach and Consultant who works with those struggling to cope with the demands of caring for an aging parent.  She can be reached by email at: Kathy@ParentCareAlliance.com.

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