Caregiver Guilt – Some Triggers

One of the most common and perplexing experiences in the family caregiver journey is guilt.  Irrespective of the type of family caregiver one is. Caregiver guilt can be triggered by a number of things:

The cause of the condition:  Contributes to guilt if you feel responsible whether directly or indirectly for your family member’s physical or mental health condition or their substance or alcohol addiction.

Recognition of the condition: “I should have noticed earlier” -guilt can also occur when you feel responsible for not noticing sooner that your family member was developing a condition or that their condition was deteriorating.

Distance/Remote caregiving: This is quite common when caring for aging parents or if your work takes you away from your spouse or child who has a health condition. Seeing your family member infrequently or not at all and yet arranging and supervising their care remotely can cause guilt.

Misunderstood feelings: The intensity of being a family caregiver takes most family caregivers by surprise. The bewildering range of emotions and not understanding them results in guilt because it seems “bad” to have the feelings. The truth is it is normal to have the feelings. 

Grief: The caregiving journey is loaded with a lot of loss. Loss of identity, time, plans, relationships and much more. As with any type of loss, guilt can be part of the grief reaction.

Resentment about lost personal time:  When so much of your time is taken up taking care of someone else, it is quite normal to feel like you are missing out on life. In fact it is quite normal that family caregivers drop a lot of their own plans to care for others. But this feeling of resentment can be confusing to caregivers who think they should not feel this way and start to feel guilty.

Great expectations: Guilt can arise because of the mismatch between the expectations you have of yourself. A gap between what and how the “perfect you”  would do and what and how you actually do no matter how good, can create a sense of failure which in turn triggers a sense of guilt.

Picture perfect pressure: Family caregivers are often expected to be the epitome of perfection and strength by others. The realisation as days go by that we do not measure up to what others expect of us, makes many caregivers feel like a fraud  a feeling of guilt checks in.

Comparing yourself to others:  If you know other family caregivers who seem all put together and are accomplishing a lot, it can create feelings of failure and guilt.

Care recipient abuse:  If your family member suffers neglect, psychological, physical or sexual abuse, when you learn of it, you are may struggle with guilt caused by the feeling that you failed to protect him/her.

Placement: The decision to place a loved one in a nursing home, a hospice or a rehabilitation facility even when it is the best option does not always provide relief to family caregivers. There can be immense guilt. Sometimes even hiring in house help can cause family caregivers to feel guilty.

Past unresolved issues: Unresolved arguments between the family caregiver and the care recipient, other past unresolved family dynamics can hinder the caregiving process. It is not uncommon for caregivers to feel guilty about this

Personal concerns: As a family caregiver you may be juggling many responsibilities and dealing with your own personal problems such as health, financial or other problems. These may takes away from your caregiving focus and the tension of balancing all these can create guilt if you are not giving caregiving 100% of your attention.

Lowered personal needs: One of the reasons family caregivers do not give adequate time for self-care is the feeling that their own needs are less important or less significant than those of their care recipients. Enjoying some things triggers caregiver guilt  e.g. “how could I buy myself this yet….”, “how am I enjoying my hobby yet…..” “how did  I take break yet ….” “you cannot give out of an empty cup”.