Ready to Stop Feeling Guilty?

By Elaine K Sanchez

Have you ever felt guilty for taking a break from your duties as a caregiver? If so, you are not alone. According to a survey of 1,000 caregivers, 54% stated they felt guilty when they spent time doing something for themselves.*

I received an email from a woman a few weeks ago whose husband had just died. He’d had ALS, and during the last three years of his life, he couldn’t eat, speak or move. She had cared for him around the clock, with her only respite being a hospice visit four times a week for about an hour.

After his death, she was overwhelmed by her feelings of guilt. She said she couldn’t remember all of the loving care she had provided because she was racked with guilt over the times she had lost her temper, raged in front of him, and sometimes handled him roughly.

My heart ached for her. I offered several strategies, which I will be covering in our Webinar, “Giving Caregiver Guilt the Boot!” on October 13th at 10:00 a.m. EST. In the meantime, I would like to ask if you think guilt is an appropriate emotional response for someone to experience if they have completely sacrificed their own life to manage the care of another person. (HINT: I DON’T!)

Why do we feel guilty?

The dictionary defines guilt as a sense of having done something wrong or having failed in an obligation. I believe when a person intentionally inflicts physical or emotional pain on another person that guilt is the correct emotional response. However, I think most caregivers have unrealistic expectations of how much they can give and how long they can ignore their own physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs before they become angry, frustrated, and resentful.

During the Webinar, I will ask you to think about the source of your guilt. Is it self-imposed, or is it being imposed on you by someone else?

How do you know if you’re dealing with a guilt-tripper?

If you do something that takes your focus off of meeting someone else’s needs and wants and you schedule some time away to do something that brings you a little relief, respite, or pleasure, how do they react? If they get angry, sad, glum, or complain about how inconvenient it is going to be for them, there’s a pretty good chance you are dealing with a guilt-tripper.

Guilt-trippers will always put their needs ahead of yours. People who use guilt to control and manipulate others only care about one thing, which is getting what they want. They will never tell you to stop. They will never suggest you take a break to care of yourself.

You will never be able to give enough, love enough, or do enough to please a guilt tripper, and they will not change. So if you don’t want to continue to be manipulated by guilt, you are the one who will have to change.

During the Webinar, we are going to discuss the importance of self-care, how changing your emotional vocabulary can lift the heavy burden of guilt off your back, and why we need to stop accepting the responsibility for managing other people’s feelings.

Until then, I’d like to ask you to identify a situation that made you feel guilty. Think about your physical and emotional state at the time, and then ask yourself these questions:

Did I intentionally cause harm to another person? ❑ Yes ❑ No
Could I accept, explain or forgive that behavior in someone else? ❑ Yes ❑ No
Is this feeling being imposed on me by someone else? ❑ Yes ❑ No
Can I change what happened? ❑ Yes ❑ No
Does my guilt benefit my care receiver? ❑ Yes ❑ No
Does it help me? ❑ Yes ❑ No

It’s important to remember that being a caregiver is one of the most incredibly difficult and generous acts of love any of us will ever perform on behalf of another. It is extremely stressful. You will get angry. There will be times when you say and do things that you wish you could take back. There will be moments when you don’t like the way you feel toward your care receiver. This doesn’t mean you are a bad person. It means your human.

I hope you will join us on October 13th for the Webinar, “Giving Caregiver Guilt the Boot!” I promise you will come away with some strategies that will help you stand up for yourself and stop feeling guilty when you haven’t done anything wrong.

*SOURCE SCAN Health Plan survey of 1,000 US caregivers age 65-plus. Mike B Smith, Veronica Bravo/USA Today

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