Caregiver Guilt – Changing the Way You Respond to Guilt-Trippers
I believe that caregiver guilt is a cruel and controlling emotion. I also believe that it is rarely an appropriate response to the situations and events that cause most family and professional caregivers to feel like they have done something wrong.
Guilt IS appropriate response when you have intentionally inflicted physical or emotional pain on another person. Anyone who has ever raised a child understands the rage behind child abuse, and anyone who has ever cared for someone who is aging, disabled or demented can understand the frustration and rage behind elder abuse. Nothing will ever make acting on that rage right or acceptable, but experiencing the feelings does not make you a bad person.
If you have intentionally caused physical or emotional harm, or if you are afraid that you might cross the line and hurt someone, seek help immediately. Call 1-800-677-1116 during business hours.
Visit the National Center on Edler Abuse website for prevention strategies, intervention partners, and for contact information in your state.
However, if you are caring for individuals who can no longer care for themselves, you may be experiencing feelings of guilt that are not appropriate to the situation. Most caregivers tend to have unrealistic expectations of themselves. They want to do the right thing, and they often ignore their own needs in order to meet the needs of their care receivers. When caregivers become physically and emotionally drained, and when they stuff their feelings of anger and resentment, it’s inevitable that they will lose their tempers and that they will not always act as loving, patient, and kind as they feel they should be.
But here’s the bottom line. When we don’t take care of our own needs, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to meet the needs of those who cannot take care of themselves.
Sometimes our guilt is self-imposed. We feel guilty because of our actions – things we did or didn’t do. But most often we feel guilty because of the way we FEEL about something or someone.
When we are experiencing feelings of guilt because of our thoughts or emotions, we become extremely vulnerable to the manipulations of the guilt-trippers in our lives.
How can a caregiver identify a guilt-tripper?
When something bad happens to you that takes your focus off of someone else’s wants, needs and happiness, how do they respond?
If their primary concern is about how your challenges or misfortune will affect them, it’s pretty certain that you are dealing with a guilt-tripper!
You will need to accept that guilt-trippers will always put their needs ahead of yours. It may be hard for you to accept this, but people who use guilt to control and manipulate others only care about one thing, which is getting what they want.
As long as you’re willing to accept the responsibility for completing and endless list of tasks, they will be happy to keep piling it on. They will never tell you to stop or to take care of yourself.
It isn’t because they don’t love you. It’s because guilt works. It gets them what they want. You will never be able to give enough, love enough, or do enough to please a guilt tripper. They will not change. So if you want to put a stop to the behavior, you are the one who will have to change.
Your guilt-trippers will want you to stay in line, and they will not be happy if you decide to change the way you respond to their manipulations.
Change Your Emotional Vocabulary to End Feelings of Caregiver Guilt
I’m going to ask you to change your emotional vocabulary. I want you to delete the word Guilt and replace it with the word REGRET.
GUILT feels like you’ve done something wrong. You feel awful and ashamed.
REGRET is a feeling of sadness or disappointment about an unfortunate or unpleasant situation. It’s what we feel over a lost or missed opportunity. Regret does not imply personal responsibility – it’s more a feeling of wishing things could be different.
Here are some statements that are familiar to most caregivers. Observe the difference in the emotion when you replace the word GUILT with the word REGRET.
I regret that I often feel negative and angry
I regret that I sometimes loose my temper
I regret can’t change, fix, or control their situation
I regret that I resent the time it takes to take care of their needs
I regret that I resent the money it takes to provide their care
I regret that sometimes I think about what something is going to cost before I think about how it will benefit my care receiver
I regret that I get tired, and I don’t always have the energy to attend to their needs
I regret that I resent them for needing so much
I regret that our relationship has changed
I regret that my feelings toward my care receiver are not always loving
I regret that I don’t enjoy our time together
I regret that it’s hard to make conversation, and that I look for excuses to get away because being with them does not bring me any pleasure
I regret that I can’t keep promises made in the past
I regret that I made those promises to begin with, and now I’m sad that the situation has progressed to the point that I can’t do everything I thought I would be able to do
I regret that there are times I wish it would all just end
I regret that I’m tired of being a caregiver and I want to go on with my life
It’s perfectly normal and acceptable for caregivers to regret how their care receiver’s lives and their own lives have changed. Feeling sadness and and disappointment as a disease progresses is a natural part of the caregiver’s experience. However, it is not healthy for an individual to stop living her life and accept the responsibility for her care receiver’s physical or emotional condition.
It’s important to remember that being a caregiver is one of the most incredibly difficult and generous acts of love any of us will ever perform on behalf of another. It is extremely stressful. You will get angry. There will be times when you say and do things that you wish you could take back. There will be moments when you don’t like the way you feel toward your care receiver. This doesn’t mean you are a bad person. It means your human.
If you said or did something in a moment of anger or frustration that you regret – apologize, make amends and move on.
Changing the way you describe your emotions toward a situation won’t change the circumstances, but it can help you stop experiencing unwarranted feelings of caregiver guilt.