MANAGING FEELINGS OF GUILT
We need to recognize that guilt serves a very important and productive purpose in our lives by helping us follow our moral compass. It prompts us to stop and analyze our thoughts, words, and actions. We can then adjust our “course” accordingly to match our values and beliefs. This is valuable to our well-being and society in general.
However, guilt becomes troublesome when we are unable to let go of it, even after corrective actions have been taken. Guilt is a difficult emotion to shake, leaving us with an uncomfortable negative feeling. It is persistent and nagging, robbing us of peace and often influencing our decisions. It causes stress, exhibited by insomnia, headaches, anxiety, GI distress, and much more. We’ve all been influenced by feelings of guilt. Knowing this, some unscrupulous people become master manipulators using guilt to get their way.
Unfortunately, caregivers are especially vulnerable to this emotion and feel some level of guilt almost daily. We want to be the very best that we can be, and when we make mistakes or fall short of our high expectations, human nature causes us to feel disappointment, anger, resentment, impatience, etc. It’s easy to let feelings of guilt overtake our better judgment.
How can you know if guilt is affecting your life? Do any of these thoughts sound familiar?
- I’m not spending enough time with him/her.
- I’m neglecting my own family and friends.
- I resent that it takes so much of my time.
- I’m missing too much work.
- I shouldn’t have gotten angry.
- Why do I have to carry the load?
- Why can’t I make him/her feel better?
- I shouldn’t have wasted time taking a nap.
- If I were a better person…
- I should have done this, or said that…
- Why can’t I be more patient? stronger? cheerful? …
Add your own thoughts to this list. Place a + beside all the thoughts that are helpful to you. Draw a line through those that are counterproductive and leave you feeling bad about yourself. What conclusion can you draw from this?
I recommend you read the post Finding Perspective to understand how your thoughts and perspective become your reality.
WAYS TO OVERCOME GUILT
We cannot always control our circumstances, but we can manage our thoughts and perspective to alleviate feelings of guilt. Here are some ideas:
Analyze your personal standard of care. Are your expectations beyond reasonable? If so, you may need to adjust your standards from idealistic to realistic.
Determine if you are providing care out of love, or obligation. Obligation can lead to feelings of resentment, followed by guilt.
Recognize and accept that feelings of guilt are inevitable, but we don’t need to dwell on them.
Think quality of care, quality of time, etc., not quantity.
Set priorities and communicate them to all concerned.
Set limits for yourself and be consistent; don’t give in to pressure from others.
Realize there are different ways to provide care, all just as valuable and meaningful as hands-on caregiving, i.e. providing transportation, preparing a meal, doing laundry, etc.
Forgive yourself and others; apologize if appropriate.
Understand that you can’t do it all. Identify areas of care that require help from friends, family, or professional services.
Accept your imperfections; embrace yourself just as you are.
Decide if guilt deserves your time and energy at this critical time in your life.
Let go of guilt and focus on all the good you are doing. Cherish this special time with your loved one.
Take care of yourself by getting enough rest, eating nutritious meals, and making time for yourself to do something you enjoy.
Pray, count your blessings, and give thanks.
Guilt allows us to stay on course with our moral compass. It nudges our conscience when we’ve stepped over the line. We can then take steps to correct it or prevent it from happening in the future. After that we need to let go of it and move ahead, however, we often allow feelings of guilt to become all-consuming. If we’re unable to forgive our shortcomings, the trials of caregiving become more difficult to bear. Ultimately this increases our level of stress.
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