Letting Go of Caregiver Guilt

Concerned caregiver sitting on couch

Family caregivers give a lot of themselves when caring for a loved one, but they’re only human and can’t be perfect. It’s natural to occasionally feel overwhelming feelings—ranging from sadness and frustration to guilt—about your role as a caregiver. Caregiving is hard enough without the added pressure of feeling guilty. Unfortunately, letting guilty feelings persist can make caregiving even harder and may affect our own health as well. Abrio Home Care wants to help family caregivers understand their own feelings so they can reduce caregiver guilt and change their perspective on the crucial role they play in a senior loved one’s life.

Causes of Caregiver Guilt

Caring for a loved one can bring up a lot of different emotions, and guilt may be one of the strongest. At times, it might seem like everything makes you feel guilty. Some causes of caregiver guilt may include:

  • Feelings of bitterness, frustration, or resentment about your caregiving role
  • Negative thoughts about caregiving
  • Feeling inadequate as a caregiver
  • Wanting your caregiver responsibilities to lessen or to end
  • Missing doing things on your own or without your loved one
  • Wishing you could visit your loved one more often
  • Taking breaks when you think you should be doing something else

Tips for Dealing with Feelings of Guilt

Unfortunately, the thoughts and feelings that lead caregivers to feel guilty may also cause them to set unrealistic expectations or goals for themselves—and then to be too hard on themselves. They may feel the need to push harder or to do more, sacrificing their own care needs in the process. Overwork and not getting help may lead to additional feelings of stress, less self-care, and even health issues.

It is important for family caregivers to find ways to manage their feelings of guilt for their own health and to make caregiving a bit easier too. Here are some strategies to help manage caregiver guilt:

  1. Acknowledge your feelings – Many people have learned to hide or to ignore difficult feelings, but doing so tends to make the feelings worse at some point. When you allow yourself to be aware of what you’re feeling, it might feel awful in the moment, but it can be beneficial in the long run. Identifying that you’re feeling guilty, and recognizing the thoughts and feelings that come up, can help to lessen the negative feelings overall. Difficult feelings will eventually pass. It can also help to remember that there’s no one right way to feel as a caregiver, and feelings will change from day to day. Giving yourself permission to feel your feelings also allows you to practice more self-compassion.
  2. Set realistic expectations – We often set much higher standards for ourselves than we would ever expect from others. Unfortunately, unattainable expectations often lead to feelings of guilt. If you think you should be able to take care of your full to-do list and do all the work without feeling tired or frustrated, ask yourself if that’s truly reasonable. Would you expect other people to be able to do all the same things perfectly and without complaint? If the answer is no, why is the standard different for you? Whenever you hear yourself thinking you “should” do something, ask yourself if you’re being realistic. Try setting reasonable goals that can be achieved within the timeframe you have available. To keep goals more manageable, focus on a few tasks that are time-sensitive or the most pressing instead of tackling a long to-do list.
  3. Watch out for perfection – There is no way to be perfect in life, and that applies to caregiving too. Even people who seem like they have it all together may be struggling. Everyone manages stress differently, and some people may not show their emotions, leading you to think they aren’t having difficulty. Caregiving situations are unique, but it’s likely that anyone in your situation will feel like they’re having a hard time on occasion.
  4. Practice self-care – Remember to care for the caregiver too! Sometimes we feel selfish taking time for ourselves, but it’s important to do so. Caring for yourself allows you to feel better and to be in a calmer state when caring for a loved one. Some ways to practice self-care include: taking breaks, writing in a journal, deep breathing, meditating, going for a walk or being active, and doing a hobby or something you enjoy.
  5. Use reasoning –To eliminate your feelings of guilt, it can help to focus on the facts. For instance, rather than thinking, “I feel guilty that I couldn’t visit my dad yesterday,” it can help to think, “I couldn’t visit Dad yesterday because I had a prior commitment that was also important. I know we’ll have time again soon.” This type of reasoning helps shift your perspective and can help keep you from putting that extra pressure on yourself.
  6. Remember the positives – Caregiver guilt can lead to feeling like a failure at times. It can be beneficial to focus on all the positive things that you have done for the older adult you love. Taking time to appreciate the good times and the accomplishments you have made can also help to reduce stress and improve your mood.
  7. Find support – Remember to reach out to your friends and family for support as needed. They may be able to take on some of your responsibilities so you can take a break. Caregiver support groups are another way to find support by connecting with people who understand what you’re going through. It can be reassuring to know that you aren’t alone in your feelings. Additionally, respite care services from a professional caregiving agency can allow you to take some time away from your responsibilities so you can relax and recharge.

When caring for a loved one, it’s easy to give so much that we forget to take care of ourselves too. By seeking help, setting realistic goals and expectations, and taking time for yourself, you can improve your overall health and attitude about caregiving. When you practice self-care, you’re also allowing yourself to be a better caregiver for your loved one.

For additional caregiving support, contact Abrio Home Care. We offer customized services to meet the specific needs of your loved one. Our personal care services include meal preparation, light housekeeping, assistance with bathing and personal hygiene, companionship, and more. Contact us at 877.71.ABRIO to learn more about our home care services and respite care in Phoenix and the surrounding areas or to schedule a free in-home consultation.