In the arena of elder care, much emphasis is placed—and rightfully so—on providing the proper types and levels of care to the elderly. It is, of course, important to ensure that you are providing the care that your elderly loved one needs. However, as a caregiver, you also need to be aware of your own issues so that you can care for yourself. If you suffer from burnout or another debilitating condition you will not be able to provide quality care for your loved one, so it is important to pay attention to the warning signs and take steps to ameliorate the situation.
Here are some tips to identify and deal with caregiver’s guilt.
Distinguish between guilt and other feelings
Guilt is sometimes hidden far below the surface of the psyche. Nevertheless, it can still do serious damage by eating away at you emotionally and psychologically. Guilt is a feeling that you are simply not doing enough to provide for your elderly loved one; you may subconsciously blame yourself for his or her condition or issues. You may even feel guilty that you are still healthy while your loved one is suffering from the ravages of old age or dementia. You need to identify these feelings of guilt for what they are so you can appropriately address them.
It is good for you to be able to identify exactly what you are feeling. Be honest with yourself.
Likewise, other emotions such as anger, bitterness, and resentment have their own dangers (and treatments). As such, it is good for you to be able to identify exactly what you are feeling, and be honest with yourself: there’s no shame in admitting that you are feeling a certain thing, and you cannot take steps to treat yourself until you know exactly what it is that is bothering you.
Don’t place unrealistic expectations on yourself
Having a high expectation of yourself is good on the one hand because it pushes you to accept only excellence in everything you do. On the other hand, sometimes it is possible to be unrealistic when it comes to your self-expectations. Perfectionists tend to hold themselves to an impossibly high standard; even if you are not a perfectionist, you need to be honest with yourself: are you expecting more out of yourself than you do out of others? If so, perhaps you need to reassess what you expect of yourself.
You are only human and you can only do so much. If your elderly loved one requires a level of care that is simply beyond what you can give, it’s okay to accept this and go find help that is better qualified. You will not do anyone any good—not yourself, and certainly not your elderly loved one—by holding yourself to an impossible standard and pushing yourself until you burn out, perhaps even leading to a breakdown.
Give yourself a break
If you are at a point where you just need a quiet evening at a coffee shop, then take one! There is nothing wrong with recognizing that you need a break, and you should not feel guilty about finding someone to watch your loved one while you get some much-needed “you” time.
Sometimes people who suffer from caregiver guilt actually feel bad about needing a break, but this is completely irrational. You are only human, and it is normal to be tired and have times where you just need some rest. Give it to yourself so you can return to your caregiver duties refreshed and ready to continue providing the best care you are able to.
The feeling of guilt that many caregivers suffer from is something that must be dealt with for your own sake as well as the sake of your elderly loved one. You need to recognize what you are feeling, admit it to yourself, and take the necessary steps to treat the feeling. There is nothing wrong with accepting help and, in fact, the tendency to demand too much out of yourself is actually damaging both to yourself and your elderly loved one.
Caregiver.com (website). Eight Tips to Managing Caregiver Guilt. Available at http://caregiver.com/articles/caregiver/managing_caregiver_guilt.htm. Last visited November 19, 2015.
Bursack, Carol. Feel at Peace: Lose the Caregiver Guilt. Available at https://www.agingcare.com/Articles/caregiving-guilt-stop-feeling-guilty-126209.htm. Last visited November 19, 2015.