7 Ways to Manage Caregiver Guilt

7 Ways to Manage Caregiver Guilt


Do you ever wish your caregiving responsibilities would just be over already? Have you ever felt feel bad for feeling this way? If you’ve ever felt guilty, then this article is for you.  In this article, we are talking about how to manage caregiver guilt.

Guilt is a real thing and I’m going to share four reasons why it happens, the two ways that guilt creeps into our lives, three ways it manifests and seven tips to manage the guilt gremlins so you can have more peace. This is an important topic because caregiver guilt can really hurt you and your overall well-being. Let’s get to it!


Two Ways Guilt Creeps Into Your Life


Guilt happens when we start ‘should’ing on ourselves. This is when you say or think things like, I should have done this, I should have done that, I should do this and other versions of this.

When we have feelings that we don’t think we should have, that’s when guilt creeps in. For me, there were many times when I was taking care of my parents and particularly my dad that I just wanted him to die. I just wanted it to be over. Then, I felt so guilty for feeling this way. Oh my gosh, I felt so guilty for wanting it to be over. That led to other emotions related to anticipatory grief, loss, and shame.

Guilt keeps us from exercising our own powerful voice. Click To Tweet

Guilt also crept up as a parent when I felt I “should” be attending ALL my kids’ events. When you are a full-time caregiver for both parents and raising kids as a single mom, being everywhere all the time is impossible. I gave myself permission to feel guilty!

Guilt is a really common reason that people don’t create or maintain boundaries. For me, one of the many ways my boundaries were tested was the stuff that I allowed to be spread all over the house because I felt bad that my parents didn’t have a home or independent living. Guilt keeps us from exercising our own powerful voice.

 “If you avoid conflict to keep the peace, you start a war inside yourself.”  Cheryl Richardson


Guilt convinces you that saying yes in order to please others is a good thing that doesn’t need to be changed. Guilt encourages people-pleasing behaviors especially in the need to be needed. Guilt makes you feel responsible for other people’s feelings and compels you to feel like in order to be a good person all the time you are responsible for other people’s feelings. News flash: You ARE a good person!

If you take responsibility for someone else's life and decisions, you're going to feel exhausted, under-valued, resentful and full of contempt. Click To Tweet

Guilt tricks you into thinking that you can successfully ignore your needs and take on other people’s responsibilities.

Guilt makes you feel like you don’t have another choice.

Guilt makes you feel bad about not having done enough to have prevented your loved one from getting sick or falling or aging or whatever your situation is.

Guilt makes you feel bad for feeling like you want this to end.

Guilt makes you feel bad for having been impatient with your care receiver.

Guilt makes you believe you are not loving or even liking the care receiver at times.

Guilt makes you feel like you aren’t doing enough for the care receiver.

Guilt makes everything your fault.

If you take responsibility for someone else’s life and decisions, you’re going to feel exhausted, under-valued, resentful and full of contempt.


 “It’s impossible to practice compassion from a place of resentment. If we’re going to practice acceptance and compassion, we need boundaries and accountability.” Brene Brown

I encourage you to think about where you feel guilty and how this prevents you from living your truth, from living your voice, from respecting your boundaries.

Four Reasons For Caregiver Guilt

Caregiver Guilt Reason #1: Resentment

I  grew to resent my parents. I really resented my mom because her health issues, aside from her cancer diagnosis,  and what she eventually died from were because she chose to live a life that did not honor her body. She chose to make decisions that would make her sick and I was resentful that now her decisions were impacting my life.

It wasn’t until I dug deep and really got to know her as a person, as a woman beyond the role of my mom is when I learned and connected the dots about her life and why she made the decision she did. I realized how her childhood and her childhood trauma, hurts, resentments and pain caused her to live the life she lived.

Caregiver Guilt Reason #2:  Changes to Your Loved One’s Health

Guilt can happen when your loved one has to be hospitalized and then they end up in rehabilitation, assisted living, a nursing home or hospice. When a change in your loved one’s health creates a change in their living conditions, it can create guilt that eats at us and shows up like:

Am I doing the right thing?

Am I a good child?

Am I doing enough?

Is this right place for them?

All these thoughts, and more start to consume our thoughts.

Caregiver Guilt Reason #3: Childhood Issues

How you were raised can impact your feelings about your caregiver and caregiving in general.  As I mentioned above about my mom, my learning about her childhood abuse was a big turning point for me. It was still a process I had to go through. If you were raised in a dysfunctional home or an environment that was less than loving and safe, these feelings can creep up and impact your current feelings about taking care of your loved one.

Caregiver Guilt Reason #4:  Changes to Your Health

In my case, I went through cancer four times and the third time I went through cancer, I was taking care of my parents full time. So, I was receiving care and giving care. When my kids were sick and I was caregiving, I also felt guilty because someone would get the short end of the stick. Some days, when I wasn’t feeling my best, everyone had cereal for dinner. When a caregiver is ill while caregiving, it takes an extra toll on the caregiver and that can create all kinds of emotions.

Those are the biggest reasons why guilt happens.

3 Ways Guilt Manifests

First, guilt manifests when we ask questions like: Am I doing enough? Am I enough? Am I a good enough parent? Am I a good enough daughter, son? Should I have asked for help earlier? Am I doing the right thing? When should I ask for help?

The second way guilt manifests is when we doubt. This can come in the form of head talk like they took care of me, why can’t I take care of all their needs now? Am I messing my kids up by taking care of my parents and trying to raise my kids at the same time?

PRO TIP:  You doubt yourself and wonder if you’re doing enough. You ARE doing enough. You ARE enough.

Your parents ask themselves these very questions when they had and raised you. And were they perfect? Of course not. Yet, just as they did the best job they could given the resources, tools and the mindset at the time, you are too!

The third way guilt manifests is through your feelings. You may think or feel things like:

This isn’t fair

It’s selfish to take time for you

There’s not enough time for the kids and the parents

I’m just done, spent, exhausted.  I just want it to be over.

I gave myself permission to feel guilty! Click To Tweet

I had that feeling over and over and over and over again and when I gave myself permission to feel guilty and to feel resentful, it allowed my feelings to come up and I could process them more effectively so it didn’t impact the quality of care I provided.

7  Tips To Manage Guilt

When those guilt gremlins creep up, here are seven ways to manage guilt. I say “manage” guilt because I think guilt is an ever-evolving thing and I think it happens in layers. So, you might feel guilty about something and then you process it and then the next day happens or something else happens next week that triggers guilty feelings. For caregivers, it’s an ongoing process.

1st Tip To Manage Guilt: Acknowledge

The first is to acknowledge. Acknowledge your feelings and give it a voice, allow it to come up.

2nd Tip To Manage Guilt: Change the expectations

The second tip is to change the expectations. There were times when I was taking care of my parents and one of my kids had a football game or a recital and I couldn’t be in two places at once. And being a single mom raising three kids and taking care of both of my parents was challenging.  In between all the hospitalizations, the surgeries, rehabs, assisted living,  and hospice, sometimes I had to change the expectations and boundaries.

I would tell the kids, you know your grandparents are unstable and I really need to be here. I’m sorry I’m going to miss X. Depending on the event, sometimes another parent would record it for me and that helped me in a way to be able to be there and talk with them afterward. And there were other times where I would tell my parents when I felt like they were stable and they could  manage an hour or so, or if I could get a friend to come and sit with them if I would say, I’m sorry that you can’t go, I know you would love nothing more than to be there to see Steven play football or to see Amanda sing, etcetera, I would say to them I need to be there. I need to be there right now for them.

I think you have to adjust the expectations and boundaries as needed.

3rd Tip To Manage Guilt: Ask for help

The third tip for managing guilt when that gremlin creeps up is to ask for help. Here’s an article I wrote about specific ideas for how to ask for help effectively.

4th Tip To Manage Guilt: Self-Compassion

The fourth tip around managing guilt when it creeps up is self-compassion. Exercising self-compassion just as you exercise compassion for your loved one. Exercise that same compassion for yourself, my friend. We often times don’t treat ourselves the same way we would treat our best friend. Why is that?  We are so hard on ourselves. We are our own worst critic and our ability to recognize that and to step in, stand up, and step into your voice, and exercise that self-compassion, is the most loving thing you can do for yourself.

Have compassion for yourself. Feel, know, and believe that you are doing the best job you possibly can because you are.

Have compassion for yourself. Feel, know, and believe that you are doing the best job you possibly can because you are. Click To Tweet

5th Tip To Manage Guilt: Self-Care

The fifth tip to managing the guilt gremlin is to push and exercise self-care. This is VITAL for caregivers. Check out my articles with specific self-care tips here:

6th Tip To Manage Guilt: Trust

The sixth tip to manage the guilt gremlins is to embrace the fact and TRUST that you are doing the right thing for your loved one. We all do the best we can. If you are reading this right now, you are demonstrating that you want to learn and that you want to grow and that you want to do the best job possible.

7th Tip To Manage Guilt: Good is Good Enough

The last tip to manage the guilt gremlins is to recognize that good is good enough. Now, what do I mean by that? Well, good is good enough means that it’s okay to fly the plane as you build it. You likely don’t have a background in healthcare, medicine or nursing and therefore, you are flying the plane, meaning you’re taking care of a loved one as you’re building it, as you’re going along in daily life.

Sometimes good is good enough showed up, for me, when the dishes were all over the counter and I let them stay there overnight because good was good enough. Everybody got fed and that was good enough. It also showed up when I didn’t make time to do the laundry and I re-wore dirty clothes when I had to leave the house to take my parents to the doctor. These are examples of good enough.

I had clothes, they were dirty but I wore them. Good is good enough is when you allow your loved one to feed themselves even when it takes an hour to drink, to eat a bowl of soup, or when it takes 45 minutes to change their shirt.

A few more examples

One time my dad put on a shirt and he put it on inside out and we were in a hurry to leave and it took him a long time to get that shirt on and it was important for him to do it himself. So… we left with the shirt inside out. Good enough.

One day I was taking my sister to work and as I was running out the door I realized my shirt wasn’t buttoned up. So, I walked outside with my bra showing and everything.

Episode 4 of my Empowered Family Caregiver podcast delves into these topics more. Check out this episode here:

PRO TIP:   Balance the balls that matter. I’m hoping that this analogy will help you think differently about guilt and about boundaries and about how you choose to invest your time.

So, imagine all of your responsibilities in the air are represented by balls in the air. So, each ball represents taking care of your mother, taking care of your father, taking care of children, it could mean one ball for each child, it could mean your home, your self-care, your pets, etc.  Whatever it is that you have to balance right now and all those things on your to-do-list, put all those balls in the air.

Now, imagine that they are glass balls. So, now you have to make the decision which balls must you keep in the air.  Which things on your list must you do or nothing else matters? I hope that imagining that your ‘to do list’ glass balls help you know which ones are most important, which ones can move to the next day, the next week or cross it off your list altogether.


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Tandy Elisala

Family Caregiver Coach, Cancer Empowerment Advocate and Chief Inspiration Officer at Center for Inspiring Greatness | Empowered Family Caregiver
Tandy Elisala is passionate about helping family caregivers go from being overwhelmed and stressed to empowered and calm. Tandy went through cancer four times and learned how to heal using conventional, complementary, and alternative therapy. Tandy left her corporate career to take care of both parents simultaneously while raising three kids as a single mom. She took care of both parents for 2 1/2 years until their respective deaths. Tandy now teaches what she learned on her journey. Tandy is a family caregiver coach, a multiple best-selling author, inspirational speaker and mom to three adult kids, one angel dog and one diva cat.

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6 replies
  1. Sharona ES
    Sharona ES says:

    Caregivers Guilt, I don’t I heard/read that before…thank you because for me Guilt reason #2 really hits home…Am I doing the right thing? Am I a good child? Am I doing enough? Is this right place for them? were questions I kept/keep asking myself…

    • Tandy Elisala
      Tandy Elisala says:

      Thanks for your comments, Sharona. The “Am I good enough?” question is a common one. I hope this article helps you navigate caregiver guilt and think of it differently.


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