Posted in after the diagnosis, Caregiving, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Emotional Health, living with chronic illness

Overcoming Caregiver Guilt

Welcome to Caregiver Friday!

Guilt is a powerful emotion.  It is probably one of the most difficult emotions to handle because it gets tied in to your self-worth and self-esteem.  When I meet with caregivers I’m always amazed at how self-deprecating they can be.  They feel that they aren’t doing a good enough job.  If they tried harder the patient would get well faster.  They’re being selfish if they take some time for themselves.

The board of directors in your head is very powerful.  In life the gremlins feed on our insecurities.  The truth about caregiving is that every scenario is different.  So, even if you’ve done it before a new person with a new disease is a different situation.  You as a caregiver cannot be responsible for the patient’s wellness.  Treatments don’t always work, but it’s not about caregiving.

Caregiving is the most loving and selfless act any person on the planet can experience.  It takes dedication, organization, patience and compassion.  Don’t get me wrong…frustration, overwhelm and uncertainty also play a big role so caregiving is truly multi-dimensional.

It’s often intentional but patient’s may play on your sympathy.  It’s not uncommon for care providers to be at the beck and call of the patient, even giving the patient a bell in case they need anything.  The truth is that care providers aren’t great at setting boundaries.  I hear over and over that requests become demands, they haven’t heard a thank you in months and the patient doesn’t take into account that the care provider is entitled to a life.

Take back your life.  I’m not saying that caregiving isn’t consuming.  I’m not saying that there aren’t sacrifices to be made.  I’m not saying that patients don’t need help.  I am saying that you can’t give up everything in life to be a care provider.  You can’t be made to feel guilty unless you give the other person permission.  Guilt is often the result of manipulation (no not every patient is manipulative), but the care recipient knows your vulnerabilities.  Think about it, didn’t we know how to get what we wanted from our parents when we were sick as children?

The only difference now is that adults we have a few more tricks up our sleeve.  Setting boundaries is a great way to eliminate guilt.  Giving yourself the benefit of the doubt that you are doing what  you’re capable of doing.  Yes, we can always do better, but caregiving is like everything else, you get on-the-job training.  When you learn as you go of course there will be gaps, but like Oprah says “When you know better, you do better”.

Give yourself credit for assuming this difficult role.  Show yourself the same compassion you offer to the patient.  Keep the lines of communication with the patient open and clear.  Give yourself a break.  We need caregivers to journey with the patient.


I've lived my life in service to others. I'm focused on mental health and how it impacts our relationships, culture, and society. Through creative expression and narrative I believe we can impact change.

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