Overcoming Caregiver's Guilt

Medically Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on April 28, 2014
3 min read

Caregivers are often pulled in different directions. This can lead to guilt. Maybe you feel you're not doing enough for your loved one. Or that caregiving is taking away time from other members of your family. Or you have feelings of resentment toward the person you're looking after.

And that’s natural.

But guilt doesn't get you anywhere. It's important to move past those feelings so you can take care of your loved one -- and yourself.

Feeling guilty is normal

Most people in your situation have felt pretty much the same way.

"This feeling of not ever feeling like you're doing a good enough job with anything you're doing is normal. It's unfortunately just a function of being spread too thin," says clinical psychologist Barry J. Jacobs, author of The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers. "People shouldn’t beat themselves up for that. Everyone has to just lower their standards a little bit and do the best they can."

Instead of spending all your time caregiving at the expense of your family, find a balance, Jacobs suggests. A little less time here, a little more time there. Then you're not focusing all your attention in one place or on one person at the expense of someone else.

Get a network of support

It's easy to feel like you're not doing enough if you’re trying to do it all yourself. It’s not going to help you or your loved one if you don’t delegate and get some time for yourself.

"Let it be OK to ask for help," says clinical psychologist Sara Honn Qualls, PhD, director of the Gerontology Center at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. Ask for aid with specific tasks, like driving the loved one to a doctor's appointment or bringing a meal. Maybe you have a family member who can help with finances.

You may just need a few hours of time for yourself to decompress.

"People have to learn to pace themselves and replenish themselves," Jacobs says. "When people don’t take care of themselves, they're more likely to burn out.”

You can’t feel guilty for things that are out of your control. Your help is finite. Remember that. For example, you might think it's your fault if the person you're caring for is suffering.

"It's as if you're supposed to almost magically make that person happy," Jacobs says. "But sometimes they're not going to be happy or feel better. That's life. That's reality."

So if you can’t control what’s making you feel bad, instead look at why.

"It's important to separate feeling negatively toward caregiving vs. feeling negatively toward the person you're doing the caregiving for," Jacobs says. "I'm allowed to hate the act but still feel OK about the commitment I made."

And try to remember that you're being a huge help -- but that help should be balanced. You’ll feel much better if you also pay attention to your family, social life, and other activities.

Internist Cathy Alessi, MD, president of the American Geriatrics Society, says when caregivers come in with her patients, she lets them know what an impact they've had.

"I make sure to tell them what a difference I've seen since they've been helping the person they've been caring for," she says. "The situation doesn't have to be perfect, and it's probably much better with their help and assistance."

She suggests finding caregiver support groups, online information, or therapists.

"Caregivers tell me it's helpful to talk with someone else who is going through a similar experience. It's helpful to get tips, and the group can come up with ideas you may not think of yourself."