Do You Judge Yourself As a “Caregiver”

Coping strategies to help banish caregiver’s remorse and guilt 

Being a caregiver to a senior family member is a valuable service and a great responsibility, performed out of love and devotion, and the task does have its rewards. Still, it is a hugely demanding job, often requiring round-the-clock responsibilities.

The enormous challenges of caregiving can bring forth many conflicting and unpleasant feelings, causing caregivers to believe they may not be up to the task. It’s common to fall into a pattern of self-judging, constantly criticizing yourself for the many ways you feel you’re not doing the job well enough.

How can you help chase away the constant self-judgment you hear in your head and reclaim your sense of competence in performing this praise-worthy function?

Acknowledge your negative feelings. All caregivers experience a range of emotions and reactions as they try to cope with their day-to-day duties. Common feelings include:

  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Grief
  • Loneliness
  • Boredom
  • Resentfulness
  • Annoyance
  • Irritability
  • Jealousy of others’ freedom
  • Resentment of lack of appreciation for all you’re doing

And then add guilt for having these feelings! Guilt also arises when you feel you’re falling short of your ideal of the “perfect” caregiver.

The first step in managing these feelings is realizing that they’re normal and justified—and all caregivers experience similar feelings on a regular basis.

Notice damaging self-talk. Try to notice when you’re talking to yourself negatively. Keep a notebook and jot down whenever you have a self-judging thought: “Snapped at Dad this morning. I’m a bad daughter.” Or “Forgot to pick up Mom’s favorite juice. Why can’t I remember the simplest things?”

These thoughts may constantly run through our heads and we don’t notice how severely we speak to ourselves. Paying attention and writing them down will help you realize how often you’re doing it, and what you’re telling yourself. Ask yourself if you would judge someone else as harshly as you judge yourself.

Redirect negative thoughts, and look at the big picture. After you’ve been noticing your self-criticism, you’ll learn to recognize when it’s happening. Redirect your thoughts by focusing on something you’ve done well (no matter how small), or listing something you’re grateful for.

Instead of criticizing yourself for your trivial failures, look at the bigger picture. So what if the house isn’t spotless? So what if you served lunch later than usual?

Keep in mind what’s really important to you. Chances are you’ve delayed your household duties because you’ve chosen to spend quality time with your loved one to keep him engaged in life and boost his mood.

Keep in touch with other caregivers. Talking to other caregivers can give you fresh perspective. Caregiver support groups are ideal for sharing stories with others in similar situations. Many of their experiences, questions, and challenges will mirror your own. You may realize that you’re doing your best under difficult circumstances, there is no one right way to do the job, and you’re not alone in your situation.

To find a caregiver support group, check with local hospitals and community centers and senior living communities such as an ISL managed one. An online resource is the Eldercare Locator (http://www.eldercare.gov/Eldercare.NET/Public/Index.aspx) where you can enter your zip code to find the Area Agencies on Aging in your area. Call or go to the websites of the Area Agencies on Aging (sponsored by the federal Department of Health and Human Services) that are near you.