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.

Watch Leeza's firsthand advice on coping with caregiver guilt.

Video 2 of 13

More tips:

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.

See also:

When You're Feeling Guilt

When You Don't Feel Appreciated

When You're Sleeping Poorly

When You're in Over Your Head

When You Lose Your Temper

Family Is Being Torn Apart

When You're Just Not Eating Right

When You Rarely See Friends

When You Resent Being a Caregiver

When No One Will Help

Feeling Anticipatory Grief

After Caregiving Ends

Paula Spencer Scott

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers and much of the Alzheimer's and caregiving content on Caring. See full bio

about 4 years ago, said...

Although this made me cry & yes feel guilty but it did make me feel better too! Thank you!

over 4 years ago, said...

How about the guilt that we feel when we're still working, (I'm talking 12 hour days) and need to work, and can't do as much as the family member who is retired? I expect myself to be available on the days that I don't work, leaving me feeling very guilty if I stay home to clean my house, or go food shopping. I feel even worse when i engage in an activity that brings me joy....I shouldn't be enjoying myself at all if it means another family member has to take care of my parent. I try to tell myself that I cannot be available for anyone, especially my parent, if I'm exhausted and resentful. It doesn't stand up against the resentment I sense in my family member who works tirelessly without giving herself time off. I think I should be as exhausted as she is in order to not feel guilty. A mess, no?

almost 5 years ago, said...

Just knowing that your not alone and that other's experience the same feelings of guilt. I am so overwhelmed and tired. I am one of four children, but everyone has since moved away. They visit when they can, but everyone has their own life. My problem right now is getting a job and since I don't speak Spanish it's been very hard. Anita

almost 5 years ago, said...

This describes exactly how I all that I do accomplish I get the feeling that it's not enough. People make comments that hurt. It's easy to say what you would do in certain situations but it's not you. When I hear my aunt's laughter and when she tells me how much she loves and appreicates me it does my heart good because i know that she really means it. Sometimes I don't make the right decisions but God knows that I love my aunt and only want whats best for her. Thank God for sites like this.

almost 5 years ago, said...

When I go visit my mom, she always wants me to stay longer. I feel so guilty to be leaving. Then, I hesitate to visit her again because I know she will make me feel guilty. Then I feel guilty about that!!!

almost 5 years ago, said...

Leeza is the caregivers sweetheart. I ordered her book today.

over 5 years ago, said...

Great Start to Leeza's video series. And brief too. A 1.5 minute three-tip video on guilt. THANKS!

over 5 years ago, said...

I am glad someone like Leeza has come out and talked about this issue. I used to feel guilty about wanting to have a day to myself without 15 hours of taking care of my mother. My family who I thought would be there climbing all over each other trying to help her were nowhere to be found. They would show up two or three times a year for a day and call it a weekend. I was so tired all the time. I was researching emphysema all night for over 18 months and checking on her every 10 or 15 minutes worried that she would die in the night if I fell asleep and knowing I would not be able to live with that guilt so I stayed up every night except two for a year and a half. I slept from 6 am to 11 am. All that research paid off in the long run. I developed six protocols that ultimately reversed my mother's emphysema, something the doctors said was impossible. I think it is impossible if you use their medications. Every medication stopped working eventually and at my mother's most critical hour, End Stage Emphysema. She actually recovered from End Stage, 4 liters of oxygen and 77 pounds back to her original body weight (103 lbs) and not requiring any supplemental oxygen. She was even able to drive a car for the first time in six years. I started with a drastic diet change that is detailed at: Read the logic page and see if it doesn't make more sense than what you have been told. If it makes more sense, keep reading. If it doesn't, rely on medications and masking symptoms, the only other option.

over 5 years ago, said...

Just needing to hear it & know that guilt is always a big issue.