- Recognize the feeling of guilt : Unrecognized guilt eats at your soul. Name it; look at the monster under the bed.
- Identify other feelings : Often, there are feelings under the feeling of guilt. Name those, too. For example, say to yourself: “I hate to admit this to myself, but I’m resentful that Dad’s illness changed all of our lives.” Once you put it into words, you will have a new perspective. You will also be reminding yourself of how fortunate you are to have what it takes to take care of loved one.”
- Be compassionate with yourself : Cloudy moods, like cloudy days, come and go. There’s no one way a caregiver should feel. When you give yourself permission to have any feeling, and recognize that your feelings don’t control your actions, your guilt will subside.
- Look for the cause of the guilt : What is the mismatch between this “Ideal You” and the real you? Do you have an unmet need? Do you need to change your actions so that they align with your values?
- Take action : Meet your needs. Needs are not bad or good; they just are. If you need some time alone, find someone to be with your loved one.
- Change your behavior to fit your values: For example, Clara felt guilty because her friend was in the hospital and she didn’t send a card. Her guilt propelled her to buy some beautiful blank cards to make it easier for her to drop a note the next time.
- Ask for help : Call a friend and say, “I’m going through a hard time. Do you have a few minutes just to listen?” Have a family meeting and say, “Our lives have been a lot different since grandma got sick. I’m spending more time with her. Let’s figure out together how we’ll get everything done.”
- Revisit and reinvent the “Ideal You” : You made the best choices based on your resources and knowledge at the time. As you look to the future, you can create a refined vision of the “Ideal You.” What legacy do you want to leave? What values do you hold dear? Then, when you wake up in the morning and put on your clothes, imagine dressing the “Ideal You.” Let this reinvented “Ideal You” make those moment-to-moment choices that create your legacy.
- Understand that you will be a more effective caregiver when you care for the caregiver first. Loved ones neither want nor expect selfless servants. As a caregiver, when you care for yourself, you increase and improve your own caring. Yes, guilt is part of caregiving, but this guilt can help you become the caregiver you and your loved one want you to be.
Dr. Vicki is a board-certified surgeon and Clinical Instructor at the University of Washington School of Medicine who left the operating room to help caregivers and patients take the most direct path from illness to optimal health. You can email her at DrVicki@DrVicki.org.