Caregivers are some of the most compassionate, caring people on the planet. Why, then, do so many caregivers experience caregiver guilt and feel as though they aren’t doing enough? This piece will discuss how caregivers can let go of the guilt and begin acknowledging all that they do.
What is Caregiver Guilt?
Caregiver guilt is one the primary components of caregiver burnout. The shame that caregivers experience is caused by the notion that you just aren’t doing enough for the person you’re caring for.
Thoughts self-imposed shameful thoughts like, “Why should I enjoy myself when my loved one can’t?” can cause the caregiver to ignore their own social, physical, and mental health. This, in turn, will cause other issues for the caregiver down the road, eventually leading to full on caregiver burnout.
Causes of Caregiver Guilt
The nature of the illnesses seniors suffer from are inherently extremely difficult to deal with. Some of the difficulties include: the declining mental health of a loved one, the fact that other members of your family are completely relying on you and the self pressure you put on yourself can lead to caregiver guilt ¹. Be sure to set realistic expectations as well; you could be the most incredible caregiver on earth, but there’s still only so much you can do when it comes to illnesses like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Symptoms of Caregiver Guilt
There are many leading signs and symptoms of caregiver burnout, so it’s important to keep an eye out for the specific indications associated with caregiver guilt in particular. Having constant regrets about the past can be one sign. Whether it’s a small mistake you made while caregiving or even wishing you had done certain things with your loved one before they became sick, dwelling on the past isn’t fair. Rather, being in the moment will help keep you mentally present and will prevent you from repeating the same mistakes again.
As alluded to earlier, caregivers will often feel shame about enjoying themselves outside of their job. As a caregiver, you’re facing many difficult challenges daily and are under a tremendous amount of stress, but there’s nothing wrong with finding joy or happiness whenever you can. As a matter of fact, finding those positive escapes are crucial.
Stay levelheaded by trying to avoid feelings of anger, because those feelings can quickly turn into shame. Anger can cause caregiver guilt, and if that anger makes you snap at a senior who’s receiving care, or even family that’s checking in, you’ll end up feeling twice the guilt.
How to Let Go of Caregiver Guilt
Feeling shame as a caregiver is not a permanent affliction. There are many ways to both prevent caregiver guilt and cope with caregiver guilt once it arises.
Speaking with other caregivers is a definitely a good method to alleviate the feeling of caregiver guilt because only people who have been through what you’re going through can articulate what it’s like, and draw solutions from their own experiences to help you. Attending a support group with other caregivers is a powerful tool for alleviating caregiver burnout and guilt.
Don’t try to be perfect. Perfection is impossible, especially in regards to caregiving. It’s okay to pat yourself on the back every once in awhile for all the hard work you put in; you’re doing a better job than you realize. If you do make a mistake, be sure to forgive yourself. Caregivers must constantly deal with strong emotions, lack of sleep, complicated treatments, and watching the decline of a loved one, so you’re going to make a mistake every once in awhile.
It’s okay to acknowledge that you need help. In fact, it’s brave and strong to do so. Reaching out to other family members to take some of the load off your shoulders is recommended. Additionally, working together as a family to support an aging loved one is a bond that can last long past the experience of caregiving ².
If circumstances cause caregiver burnout to become inevitable or your loved one reaches a point where they need to be surrounded by professional caregivers each day, you shouldn’t feel any shame in admitting your loved one to an assisted care facility. This is not a sign of you giving up, rather this is you being an advocate for them by looking out for their best interests.
All in all, there’s only so much one caregiver can do, and as long as you continue to do what’s best for your loved one and what’s best for you, you should be very proud of yourself as both a caregiver and as an individual.