Caregiver Confessions: When You Feel Consumed by Guilt
Firsthand advice from a caregiver who's been there
For caregivers, guilt carries a double whammy: It's almost always unproductive, yet it's ever-present. Guilt over not doing enough. Guilt over not being there enough. Guilt over wrong choices, broken promises, lost tempers, unfinished conversations.
"Guilt is so common -- I would even feel guilty about the fact that I was healthy but my mother had Alzheimer's," says TV-radio personality Leeza Gibbons, founder of Leeza's Place communities for caregivers.
Beware the oughtta-shoulda-couldas. For caregivers, this refrain can sound like, "I ought to be able to handle this; I'm her daughter." Or, "I shouldn't feel so happy about going someplace without Dad." Or, "I could have handled that better." Things (and feelings) are what they are; stewing or denying wastes precious energy.
Distinguish between good guilt and bad guilt. Good guilt is the kind that causes us to examine our behavior and make a change, if necessary. If you feel guilty because, say, you were impatient with a loved one with dementia, it's like a little poke reminding you to try a bit harder next time. Unfortunately, what eats most of us alive is bad guilt. Bad guilt has no constructive underbelly. Bad guilt makes you feel guilty about a situation that you can't help (your parent has to move into rehab, for example) or that is actually a positive for you (you're hiring home care because you can't do it all yourself).
Realize that there's no ideal "enough." Even if you spent every second with your loved one and attended to every need, you'd still find something else to feel guilty about. Guilt is that pervasive. Don't let it eat you alive.
Instead, celebrate your good intentions. We feel guilty because we want so much to do the right thing. By and large, that is what you're doing! Shift your focus to all the things you do right, not to the few things that are less-than-right.