You spend countless hours taking care of your loved one and have given up so many things. So why do you still feel guilty about not doing enough? Why do you continue to second-guess yourself?
You may ask yourself Am I doing enough? Did I make the right decision? What if… what if…? Here are ways to recognize your feelings, tips for accepting them, and ways to forgive yourself.
Why do you feel guilty?
- Do you feel that you aren’t doing enough for your care recipient? Make a list of everything you do for the person you care for. Preparing a meal, shopping for groceries, driving to appointments, making a bed, doing laundry, making a phone call, sitting next to the person, even just giving a hug: the list adds up! You are doing a lot more than you think you are!
- Are you guilty about your negative feelings? Resentment, anger, and grief are all normal. They are just feelings and they aren’t wrong. Feelings are complicated and you are entitled to them. You probably love the person you are caring for but the time you spend is precious and you might rather be outside gardening or hiking or traveling.
- Do you feel bad about taking time for yourself? Don’t! If you don’t stay well, including eating and sleeping well, there’s a good chance you will get sick. And that is not going to help anyone! Please take some time for yourself. If you are a full-time caregiver, at least take a 15-minute walk every day. Get some respite care. Your local county social services department can most likely provide you with some options for help.
- Are you feeling inadequate as a caregiver? The Alzheimer’s Association offers free classes on caregiving. “The Savvy Caregiver” is an excellent five-session class for family caregivers. It helps caregivers better understand the changes their loved ones are experiencing, and how to best provide individualized care for their loved ones throughout the progression of Alzheimer’s or dementia.
- Do you resent losing personal time for meeting with friends, exercising, painting, playing an instrument, or traveling? It’s normal and natural to feel like you’re missing out on the things that bring you enjoyment. Try to carve out at least an hour or two a week where you can do whatever you want to do.
- Do you have unresolved issues that stem from your childhood that get in the way of your feelings for the person you’re caring for now?
- Are you comparing yourself to other caregivers? For instance, if you’re in a caregiver group you may be in awe of the amount of time another caregiver spends taking care of a spouse or how many hours she sits next to her husband in a memory care home. You are YOU, you’re unique and have different needs, a different history, and a different relationship with the person you’re caring for. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.
- Do you have past unresolved issues with the person you’re caring for?
Tips for easing guilt
- Ask yourself what’s bothering you. Talk with a close friend who will not judge you, or with a professional therapist, clergyperson, spiritual teacher, or intuitive guide. Talk about your guilt until you feel your body release the tension that is stored in your muscles and cells.
- Remember that you are human and not perfect. No one expects you to perform with absolute clarity and grace all the time.
- You cannot control everything all the time. You are doing the best that you can with the information, strength, and inner resources that you have.
- Join a support group. Caregivers share many of the same problems and issues. A support group meeting can be a safe place where you will not be judged.
- Have an “empty chair” dialogue by speaking out loud and pretending that your care partner is in the chair next to you. Express your feelings openly and wholeheartedly. Ask for forgiveness if you feel that you wronged your loved one in any way.
- Write down your thoughts and feelings. Journaling is a wonderful, inexpensive way to release your concerns and worries on paper. It’s available when your therapist and best friend are not, and you can do it anywhere at your leisure.
- Strong feelings of guilt, remorse, and grief will diminish over time. If they continue to haunt you, seek professional help.
Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”–winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in self-help– in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Boulder Book Store, Tattered Cover Book Store, Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.