By heatherericksonauthor.comThe Erickson Family

Guilt Caregivers Feel

Caregiver Guilt

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 that 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?

Dysfunctional Relationships

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.

Caregiver guiltOughta-shoulda-coulda-woulda

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 to 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.

Guilty feelings

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.


I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!


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

Also, check out Facing Cancer as a Parent: Helping Your Children Cope with Your Cancer.

Also, put your memories into words with The Memory Maker’s Journal.

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Have any questions or comments? I would love to hear from you! By commenting, you agree to the terms of my privacy policy.

9 comments on “Guilt Caregivers Feel

Ellen Reyzer

Thanks for the encouragement and affirmation this morning. My class is celebrating our 50th reunion. Reservations made for hotels, dog sitter found; excited to go and then found out the dinner/social time is at someone’s house on their deck that is not wheelchair accessible. Without thinking, I looked at my husband and said “we are still going. You love the log cabin we are staying at. Just bring a book to read” I should have thought it through before opening my mouth. We have done everything together or we don’t go. But I really want to go. After further discussion lastnight, I felt alittle better but he seemed somewhat distant. As his disability is getting more difficult and needs have changed, our life has changed. We are still going, but already thoughts and concerns about will he be okay while I’m at the dinner, how is he going to get something to eat, what if the cell phone coverage isn’t good, what if he gets sick, what if he drops the TV remote – all those things that I want to know but can’t. God is faithful and He will bring us through.


Hi Ellen, This post made me misty this morning. You have so eloquently captured the feeling of caregiver guilt in words. You have been such a gift to your husband. He may be quiet because of being deep in thought about this. Is the entire house, where the social time will be, inaccessible to him? Maybe the people who are putting this on can do a little brainstorming and come up with a way to at least put your mind at ease. It might not be ideal, but you will enjoy yourself more if you didn’t have to worry about him. That’s important because a 50th reunion doesn’t come along every day. I will be praying that all goes well and that you and your husband can enjoy your time, even if some of it is spent apart. You are such a blessing, and you are right: God IS faithful!

Super useful, Heather. We can’t go back and relive the past so it is not helpful feeling dwelling on it.

I definitely had some guilt over my brother’s dead from cancer. There were a few things I just wish I could go back and change and sometimes I feel guilty for not being pushy about it, but the reality is, at the time, I had no idea how it would turn out.

~Patricia Lynne aka Patricia Josephine~
My A to Z’s of Dining with IC
Patricia Lynne, Indie Author


Hi Patricia. I’m so sorry that you are feeling the weight of this guilt. I had a boyfriend in high school who had open heart surgery and died on the table. He had been nervous about the operation and I told him not to worry about it. I just didn’t have a clue. That was about 30 years ago and I only recently stopped feeling that pit of guilt in my stomach when thinking back on it. Now, I think of my younger self in more charitable terms. There are always things we wish we could do over. I think that when we can’t change something, we need to try to forgive ourselves and others. Often there isn’t even anything to forgive. We can only do the best we can with what we knew, or believed, at the time. Still, it can be so hard to let those feelings go.

My husband was care giver to his parents. They weren’t ill but in their late 80s and needed care. After his Dad died his Mum at 90 got shingles and couldn’t get over the unexpected loss of her husband of 70 years. She had to move to an aged care facility and my husband felt so guilty. After a year, she is a different person so happy and settled that my husband has slowly started to get over his guilt. Another thought provoking post thank you. XX


Hi Sue, It’s so hard making those decisions, even when they are the right ones. I think it’s even more difficult when it’s your parent and suddenly you are making decisions for them. It’s a real role reversal. I have met so many people who reluctantly moved into a senior living place (either independent living or one with full-time nursing care) and they ended up being so glad they did. I think they remember nursing homes as they used to be and they weren’t that great. So much has changed for the better. Have a wonderful weekend, Sue!

Such an apt theme! In fact , I had thought about a similar series.. I think people often forget the caregivers.. I read a book called ‘Being Mortal’ that also discusses the same group of people.
Archana recently posted…G for GrassMy Profile


Hi Archana, I just looked up the book and put it on my wishlist. Thank you for the recommendation. I think I saw this author on a PBS program. Much food for thought there. Have a wonderful day!

Comments are closed for this post !!
A to Z Challenge Survivor



Facing Cancer as a Parent Book Cover

Get the Memory Maker’s Journal

Facing Cancer as a Friend!