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Senior Care: Why Do Caregivers Struggle With Guilt?

Well, Mom has done it again! Another plan for some tearful reminders that she is all alone and doesn't have adequate support from her family. Of course, the guilt sets in and I agree to disrupt my plans in favor of hers. Its no surprise that resentment is the next emotion I recognize. I love my mom and spend a great deal of time caring for her and tending to her needs. Why do I always feel compelled to respond immediately? Why do I feel guilty?

It seems that often feelings of guilt arise from a conflict between your typical choices and the choices you believe you SHOULD be making. For example, you believe that you should go with your parent to all of their physician appointments. Miss one appointment to attend a luncheon and you believe you are falling short as a caregiver. Your parent's reactions of hurt and blame further reinforce the self-judgment.

Whatever the underlying cause, guilt can be a toxic emotion when it comes from unwarranted self-judgment. Believe it or not; guilt is completely self-imposed. Often, we want to believe that we cause the other party's negative feelings by our actions because it gives us a sense of control over how others' feel about us. We may believe that if we can cause others to be hurt or upset, we can also cause them to be loving and kind. Additionally, we may conclude that if we just do everything "right", then we can control how others feel about us. Obviously, this is just an illusion of control which leads to unhealthy guilt.

If you find yourself prone to debilitating feelings of guilt try the following tips for better management of your feelings:

Recognize the guilt and the other feelings you have along with it. Express out loud specifically what feelings you believe exist under the guilt. For example, "I really do not like to admit this but I resent all of the stress Mom's illness has caused me." Once you identify what you are feeling you can come up with alternatives for handling the situation.

Give yourself permission to have any feeling. Understand that there is no one correct way for a caregiver to feel. Recognize that your feelings don't have to control your actions; you have options.

Reflect on the situation. Try and determine the root cause of the guilt. Is there a conflict between your values and your actions? Do you need to make some changes so that your behavior aligns with those values?

Take action. If you have unmet needs, make some changes to meet them. Perhaps you will have to find an alternate caregiver for some respite time.

Consider asking for assistance. Call a friend and "vent"...often "blowing off some steam" to an understanding listener may alleviate some stress. Perhaps it's time for a family meeting with siblings to discuss sharing responsibilities.

Revisit and reevaluate your core values. What is most important to you? Who is your "ideal you"? What kind of legacy do you want to leave? Allow these redefined values to guide your decision making and actions.

Understand that no one expects a completely selfless caregiver. Recognize that the best caregivers are those who properly care for themselves and lead a balanced life.

Guilt is not all together unhealthy. In some situations, it alerts us to issues that must be addressed. It can propel us into necessary action. However, unchecked, unfounded guilt can be crippling. Address feelings of guilt now and rest easy that you are doing the very best for your loved one.

If your loved one need more help than you can provide, please call us today at (770) 442-8664. Easy Living Services can provide experienced, professional caregivers at an affordable hourly or live-in rate. We have been helping Atlanta families keep loved ones safe and cared for at home since 1994. For more information visit us at

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