I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Facing Cancer with Grace, I will focus on caregiving. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, where I will share ways to increase your creativity. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is G for Guilt Caregivers Feel.
Are you blaming yourself for things which are beyond your control? Most family caregivers feel some degree of guilt, regardless of how good a job they are doing caring for the responsibilities and relationships in their lives.
Caregivers often burden themselves with guilt.
Caregiver guilt is not only fruitless but caustic. Don’t beat yourself up for making mistakes that are human, making decisions that are unavoidable, and having faults that are imagined.
At a time when you need to be even stronger than you think you can be, you don’t need anyone knocking you down—including yourself!
Doing or saying the “wrong” thing.
I remember in the beginning, trying to balance hope and faith with what the doctors were saying about my husband’s prognosis. I was afraid of everything: What if Dan didn’t take what the doctors were saying seriously, and didn’t follow his treatment plan? Some people insinuated that trusting the doctors meant I didn’t have faith for him to be healed by God. Was my fear standing in the way of his healing?
Many of us deal, not only the potential loss of our loved ones but also with guilt because our relationship with them wasn’t what we wish it could have been. This intensifies our grief and our guilt.
Some rules of thumb about guilt: You can’t ignore this pesky emotion or will it away. Guilt simply is. There’s nothing inherently bad or wrong about feeling it.
There is good guilt and bad guilt.
Good guilt will prompt you to examine your behavior and make any needed changes. If you feel guilty, for example, because you were impatient with the patient you are caring for. The guilt is a reminder to try a little harder next time.
Unfortunately what eats most of us alive is bad guilt. There’s nothing constructive about bad guilt. Bad guilt pops up during circumstances that you can’t do anything about (your parent has to move into a hospice facility, for example). It can even show up when something happens that’s good for you, like hiring a home care nurse.
For caregivers, this can sound like: “I just can’t put Dad in a nursing home. I should be able to care for him myself like Mom would’ve wanted.” Or, “Why didn’t I push him to go to the doctor sooner? Maybe we could’ve done something more if I had.” This kind of thinking is really common. It’s also not helpful. You can’t go back in time and change things. Even if you could, you might not be able to change any of this. The best thing you can do now is to live in the moment. What can you do, right now? That’s where your focus should be. Things (and feelings) are what they are; stewing in them wastes precious energy.
Don’t discount yourself
Selfless people often feel the most guilt because they work so hard for the benefit of others, even at a cost to themselves. When they finally get around to caring for their own needs, it feels like they’re doing something wrong. If you’ve ever experienced this, take it as a sign that you need to follow increase the amount of care you give yourself. Talk about these feelings of guilt with a friend you know you can trust to support you. Often, recognizing guilt for what it is, helps to drive the boogie man away.
You may discover some underlying feelings that have been lurking beneath the guilt. You may experience resentment toward the person you’re looking after. This is common and often is part of the grieving process. You are grieving the loss of things as they once were, and as you hoped they would be. This can result in feelings of anger and resentment. Even though you know that none of this is the fault of your loved one, you may struggle with these feelings. It’s a good idea to see a therapist who can help you work through these feelings, without making you feel more guilty than you already do, for having them. Putting these feelings into words may give you a new perspective.
Be gentle with yourself:
- There’s no one way a caregiver should feel. Give yourself permission to have your feelings. Your feelings don’t control your actions (not if you don’t let them). Eventually, your guilt will subside.
- Look for the cause of the guilt: Do you have an unmet need? Do you need to change your actions so that they align with your values?
- Take action: Meet your needs. Needs are not bad or good; they just are. If you need some time alone, find someone to be with your loved one.
We will talk more about the biggest cause of caregiver guilt in the post, Ideal You vs. Real You.
I’m in the early stages of putting together a resource page for caregivers of cancer patients. I’d love it if you’d check it out and email me any suggestions of resources you’d recommend. While you’re here, sign up for my email list to get a periodic email newsletter to encourage you on your cancer journey.
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In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.
My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com
I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker