Coping with Caregiver Guilt

Throughout 2020 we all became aware of how it feels to miss important events. From birthday celebrations, to graduations, to funerals – the pandemic has forced us to support each other from a distance.

Caregivers are likely one of the most affected groups. Caregiver guilt is common during the best of times, but nothing could have prepared us for the additional challenges and heartache caused by the pandemic.

Pandemic-related issues

Older people have faced a huge emotional toll during the national lockdowns, particularly those living by themselves. As a result, family caregivers have been stretched as they struggle to be there for their loved ones, while also struggling to deal with the pandemic related issues in their own lives.

Popping to the supermarket now requires careful planning, a mask, and hand sanitiser. Helpers from outside the home now present a potential health risk. Even a trip to the GP can be anxiety inducing. All of the means additional work, stress, and potential guilt for family caregivers.

When you add in the fact that many services for older people have been forced to stop, it’s resulted in a potentially lonely winter for many people.

The additional feelings of guilt this creates for family caregivers, especially long-distance caregivers, can’t be understated. The stress they already shoulder, which can lead to anger and even resentment, has only been amplified by all of these new pandemic-related factors.

Origins of caregiver guilt

All too often, the guilt experienced by family caregivers is rooted in self-criticism and feelings of inadequacy. Guilt often occurs when the ideal choice you want to make, differs from the choice you actually made. You can feel like you have fallen short, or that you should have done more.

But, as flight attendants like to remind us, you must put on your own oxygen mask before trying to help others. Is essential that caregivers look after their own basic needs, if they don’t, they will not have the energy – both physical and emotional – to help their loved ones.

Alleviating caregiver guilt

So, what can family caregivers do to help address these feelings of guilt? Barry Jacobs, a clinical psychologist, family therapist and healthcare consultant, offers the following tips.

Don’t aim for guilt-free caregiving.

Feeling guilty is perfectly natural, however we mustn’t allow these feelings to take over and affect our daily lives. “That discrepancy between what you think you should do and what you’re willing and able to do may always cause some guilt,” Jacobs says. “Let’s accept that as a given, then, and work on tempering the feeling.”

Give up the fantasy of rescuing others.

When we see a loved one in need, we want to help them however we can. Unfortunately, as the pandemic has shown us, there’s not always anything we can do. “We owe our loved ones good effort, but perfect outcomes can be impossible,” notes Jacobs. “Hold yourself to realistic goals, not fantastic ones.”

Maintain balance.

Family caregivers often have additional responsibilities on top of being a carer. Whether it’s to their children, partner, or co-workers. All of these responsibilities can be draining. Jacobs explains: “While taking those breaks from caregiving may bring up feelings of guilt, they’re necessary for our own emotional health.” Remember as well: It’s okay to ask for help!

Tolerate ambivalence.

It’s okay to feel some ambivalence about your caregiving responsibilities. You are a human, and your feelings are valid. These emotions do not negate your love for your care recipient. “Having negative feelings is part of normal family life,” Jacobs reminds us. “In the years before old age and illness, our family members were probably sometimes irritable toward one another without so much self-condemnation. Caregiving doesn’t make us angels.”

Find other motivations.

It’s entirely normal to feel some resentment about your caregiving responsibilities, as well. It isn’t fair that your loved one is sick. You already have a full plate, and it can be frustrating to have even more tasks. But these feelings aren’t helpful and only increase feelings of bitterness. “It is far better for us to act on more noble impulses — wanting to provide care because it is important to us or pleases us,” Jacobs says.

All feelings are valid

Being a family caregiver is something to be proud of, however that doesn’t stop it from being stressful. It’s important to give yourself a break now and then, and to talk about your feelings. If you would like EveryDay Care & Support to help you care for a loved one, call us on 0191 287 7028 or email enquiries@everydayuk.org. Depending on your circumstances, you may be entitled to additional support to enable you to access respite services from our Wellbeing Centres. To check your entitlement, call 0191 280 8484 option 1.

There are also several additional services that may be able to help you. Age UK North Tyneside offer Carer Support Groups and North Tyneside Carers’ Centre have mindfulness and life coaching sessions to help cope with carer guilt. To find out more about these services, call Age UK North Tyneside on 0191 280 8484 option 1 or email enquiries@ageuknorthtyneside.org.uk.

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