By heatherericksonauthor.comThe Erickson Family

The Ideal You vs the Real You

The ideal you

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 I for the Ideal You vs. the Real You.

One aspect of caregiver guilt that I want to look at more in-depth, is the idea of the ideal you versus the imperfect, real you. The ideal you taunts the real you whenever you don’t measure up.

Not doing “enough?”

Often we have expectations of ourselves that no one could reasonably meet. These unrealistic expectations set you up for disappointment and frustration. Maybe the ideal you is whispering into your ear that you’re not doing enough for your loved one, or, that your caregiving responsibilities are taking away time from your spouse, children or even friends. You might see the way coworkers or friends are living and compare. Comparison breeds envy or pride. Neither of these is based in reality.

The best thing you can do is to realign your goals with the reality you are living. See where you can reduce your responsibilities, and how you can delegate some of the rest. Lower your standards from ideal to real. Everyone—the patient you care for, family members, and you, must lower your standards a little bit and do the best you can. Aim for a B+ in some areas of your life rather than an across-the-board A+.

When guilt nags, ask yourself what’s triggering it:

  • A rigid “I ought to do this. I ought to do that?”
  • An unrealistic belief about your abilities? Even the ideal you doesn’t have superpowers. Try to get comfortable with that gap between perfection and reality instead of beating yourself up over it.
  • Guilt for spending time away from your loved one. You finally get up the courage to go out and do something for yourself. Rather than enjoying the break, you feel guilty for having a good time while your loved one is ill.

Guilt loves impossible standards set by the ideal you.

The real you isn’t perfect—neither is anyone else. No caregiver anticipates every problem that can arise. Tempers flare. Appliances break. Germs sneak in. Visitors show up at the worst time! Checks bounce. Life happens. Because of this, no matter how much you love the person, or how much you feel you “owe” him or her, know that you are the real you—not the ideal you. Set your expectations with that in mind and everyone will be a lot happier.

ideal vs real

Musts and oughts

“I ought to visit more often. Twice a week isn’t enough.” This kind of thinking is a little more tricky. Sometimes, it is legitimate. More often, the ideal you just piles on the guilt without any merit. When you think in terms of musts and oughts, consider things as they really are. Are there friends and family who can pitch in and reduce your load?

You weren’t meant to do this alone.

It’s interesting that guilt often comes to call as soon as a caregiver’s load is lightened by getting help. The ideal you whispers that it’s weak to ask for or find assistance. Ask for help.

There isn’t enough of me to go around

So, you were living your life. Maybe you had a job, family obligations, maybe church activities, things you volunteered for. Then, bang! A loved one gets cancer and you must step up to the plate. You don’t feel equipped, but you love them so you’ll do it. At the same time, you try to keep up the other commitments you have in life. The ideal you spurs you on to perfection and the real you falls short every time. You feel exhausted. Anyone who’s been a mom has likely experienced this strain of guilt at some point. Whether a mom has one child or eight, she has enough love to go around. She does have to make changes in the way she runs her household, though.

Revisit and reinvent the “Ideal You”:

The real you will have to make the best choices based on the resources and knowledge you have at the time. You will be a more effective caregiver when you care for yourself first. Loved ones neither want nor expect selfless servants, worn and burned out because they never took a break or asked for help. When you care for yourself, you increase and improve your ability to be the caregiver your loved one needs. The true ideal you is someone resourceful; Someone who gives others the opportunity they’ve been looking for to help.

The true ideal you knows it’s wise to lighten your mental load by talking with a friend, a therapist, or a peer group. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed. Asking for help to run errands, make meals, and take care of chores around the house can close the gap between the real you and the ideal you. One you feel the peace that comes from delegating, you will find that the real you and the ideal you become one and the same.


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

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6 comments on “The Ideal You vs the Real You

I get this with my illness. I get guilty for taking it easy and think I should push myself to get more done. It never ends well.

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


Hi Patricia, My husband pushes himself so hard and it always backfires. Sometimes I think it’s a result of living in such a “productivity-minded” society. Have an awesome day and take some rest. 🙂

I’m happy to report I am past this malady. I work, work hard, move on. Settle. Whew!


Hi Jacqui, You get more done before breakfast than I do all day. I am always so impressed. Have a great day!

Amanda Palm

Thanks again Heather, I need to remember to encourage Kevin to read your writing, what encouragement and knowledge he could gain from your words.


Thank you, Amanda. I hope it is helpful for him. And of course, he is always welcome at Jack’s Caregiver events. They are fantastic for guys who are caregivers. Bless you!

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