rowing up on a Kansas dairy farm, I was taught that
“men’s work” was more important than “women’s
work,” and that it was a woman’s responsibility to
make her husband happy.
After 19 years of a miserable marriage to a
raging alcoholic, I went to see a counselor. I told her I wanted
a divorce and I needed to know how to make everything okay
for my husband and three teenaged children.
After talking for 45 minutes straight, I took a breath, and
she said, “I’m going to give just you one piece of advice: Get
in your own shoes and stay in them.”
She continued, “You are so tangled up in everyone else’s
feelings that you have no idea where your own feelings begin
or end. You need to deal with your feelings, and let everyone
else deal with theirs.”
The idea that every person is responsible for their own
feelings was radical to me, and once I learned how to stop
feeling guilty when I hadn’t done anything wrong, I felt like
I’d been released from prison.
I cared for my aging parents from a distance for 10
years. Part of caring for my mother was supporting her in
caring for my father after his stroke. I’ve been caring for an
elderly aunt since 2006, and for my current husband, Alex (a
wonderful man), through years of chronic and severe back
pain, including two major back surgeries. I haven’t done
everything right, but I have learned to cut myself some slack
when I’m less than perfect.
Caring for a loved one whose physical and mental
capabilities have been impacted by a stroke can be
incredibly stressful. There will be times when you lose
your temper and say things you wish you could take back.
There will be days when you feel resentful for the loss of
the life you once had, and there may be moments when
you have difficulty identifying anything you still like
about your care receiver.
Having these feelings doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It
means you’re human. Caregivers often get angry and then they
feel guilty — even when they haven’t done anything wrong.
Guilt Isn’t Always an Appropriate Response
If you intentionally inflict physical or emotional pain on
another person, guilt is an appropriate emotional response.
However, if you have not intentionally injured another
person, you may be experiencing feelings of guilt that are not
appropriate to the situation.
Sometimes feelings of guilt are self-imposed. Sometimes
we allow ourselves to be manipulated by others. Regardless
of the source, it is important to remember that guilt can be a
cruel and controlling emotion that often leads to resentment,
depression and caregiver burnout.
Change Your Emotional Vocabulary
If you’re like a lot of other caregivers, you might experience
some of these thoughts and feelings.
• I was really mean just now.
• I’m tired of not having time for what I want to do.
• Oh no, that’s going to cost so much money.
• I don’t even want to be in the same room with
them right now.
• I hate that I wasn’t able to keep that promise.
• I wish this would all just go away!
And when you do experience those thoughts, you may
feel guilty for doing so.
It’s perfectly normal for caregivers to feel tremendous
sadness and disappointment about how their care receiver’s life
and their own have changed as a result of a stroke, but feeling
guilty about situations that are beyond your control will only
increase your emotional stress.
When you haven’t intentionally hurt another person,
shift your perception. A great first step is to change your
emotional vocabulary. Try replacing the word “guilt” with
the word “regret.”
• I regret that I’m not always as kind or patient as
I’d like to be.
Tired of Feeling Guilty?
CHANGE YOUR EMOTIONAL VOCABULARY!
By Elaine K. Sanchez
Caregiver speaker, author, and co-founder of CaregiverHelp.com