The guilt that comes with being a caregiver

Published 10:54 am Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Isn’t it amazing that the simple, loving act of caring for a spouse or family member often leads to feelings of guilt?  Those guilty feelings often come from self-doubt – “Am I doing my best? Is it enough?”  And many caregivers harbor incredible guilt that can hit hard, particularly after the loss of the loved one for whom they spent months and years providing care – “Could I have done more?” Is carrying that guilt justified?
Caregiver guilt isn’t usually the result of criticism from others. Honestly, when I was caring for my mother, if one of my family members would have said to me that I wasn’t doing a good job, I would have gladly traded places and given up the role of caregiver to one of them. Alas, in my case, both my brother and sister remained perfectly happy allowing me to retain the position as mom’s care provider. We all knew that being a caregiver is not a family member’s dream job!
In my case, my family frequently told me that I was doing a good job caring for our mother. For other care providers I’ve met, both while still giving care and subsequent to the passing of their loved ones, some indicated that they felt what they did or had done just wasn’t adequate.  Those feelings, if not dealt quickly with can last for years and contribute to a loss of self-respect and personal well-being.
In addition, as active caregivers, some do get caught in the guilt trap of feeling that they aren’t doing enough.  This can lead to a 24/7 level of commitment solely to caring. Doing that shuts out and cuts off all outside activity and replaces the caregiver’s personal life with an unachievable commitment to doing more than is humanly possible. Caregivers who fall into this trap often allow guilt to overtake them and drain every ounce of energy and every minute of the day from their lives.
Allowing this to happen will contribute, at best, to the mental, emotional and physical decline of the caregiver, and at worst to his/her possible death from failing to care for his/her health and well-being.
Among Webster’s dictionary definitions of guilt is “…self-reproach for inadequacy or wrongdoing.” There is, in most cases, no wrongdoing while caring for a loved one.  It’s just difficult for many caregivers to accept that they can’t be everywhere at once or do everything at the exact moment the patient may want it done. There are only 24-hours in a day, and some of that time MUST be reserved for the benefit of the care provider.  We can’t expect or be expected by our loved ones and family to do more than is humanly possible.
Most caregivers do the very best they can, at times to their own personal detriment. It’s okay from time to time to have the occasional thought of “Am I doing enough?” That’s normal.  So too is not allowing those feelings to destroy your self-esteem. The best reaction to those feelings is to acknowledge the difficulty of the task you’ve undertaken, and give yourself a lot of credit for doing it.
Remember, you’re doing the best you can and you don’t deserve the guilt!
Ron Kauffman is a Geriatric Consultant and Expert on Issues of Aging in private practice in Henderson & Polk Counties.  He is the author of Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease, available at the Polk County Senior Center.  His podcasts can be heard weekly at You can reach him at his Hendersonville office at (828) 696-9799 or email:

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