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How to manage carer’s guilt

Caring for an older person can be a rewarding and positive job, but it is a commitment that doesn’t come without its challenges.

Key points:

  • Negative feelings such as guilt and resentment are a common part of a carer’s journey, particularly if you are caring for a loved one
  • These feelings are normal and justified, particularly if you are having to juggle caring duties with family commitments or health issues 
  • Self-care, a short respite stay and mental health supports can be utilised to help you manage carer’s guilt

Most carers experience feelings of depression, stress, anxiety, frustration, resentment and guilt – particularly when balancing caring duties with other life commitments. This is often called carer’s guilt.

If you are a carer, you may feel like you are not doing enough for your loved ones. 

Carers often feel guilty for not being present enough in the life of the older person, or that they are not there enough for their own immediate family. You might even feel guilty about feeling guilty! 

These feelings can compound and have a negative impact on your mental health if they are not dealt with properly.

If not managed, these feelings can lead you to neglect your own health needs and self-care practices – jeopardising both you and the care you are providing to an older person.

So how do you navigate carer’s guilt?

Common feelings for a carer

Common feelings like guilt and resentment can make caring a more challenging job. 

Many carers have reported feeling resentful that their own personal time is being sacrificed by being a carer. 

Depending on their needs and abilities, caring for an older person can occupy a good portion of your day. This means you may feel like you don’t have enough time for your own personal needs. 

While this feeling is normal, it usually doesn’t stop feelings of guilt for thinking this way and carers often feel selfish for having those thoughts.

If you deal with your own personal health problems, you may feel torn or unsure of how to balance caring and addressing your own issues adequately. You may even feel guilty that your health issues are taking away from your ability to be a carer, or you may feel resentful for sacrificing your health in order to be a carer. 

Resentment can arise during the caring journey, especially if you are caring for an older person within your immediate family, as unresolved issues from childhood or other unresolved family issues can cause you complicated feelings. 

Additionally, comparing yourself to others may exacerbate feelings of guilt when you see another carer. You might look at what the other carer accomplished and you may feel a sense of inadequacy or that you aren’t doing enough. This feeling may cause you to overwork yourself and become burnt out.

Even elements of care outside of your control can cause adverse feelings. All carers know that eventually, the person they are caring may need to receive higher level care from others or lead to a move into assisted living or a nursing home. Despite knowing this placement is inevitable, carers and other family members usually feel guilty for putting their loved one into a facility when the time comes.

How to cope with carer’s guilt

It is normal to feel guilt from time to time, but acknowledging when you feel guilty and what you may be feeling it about is the first step to coping with carer’s guilt. 

Accepting that you are doing the best you can with the resources you have can be a rational thought to help ease the negative feelings that may arise while caring.

Once you have identified feelings of guilt, there are some things to keep in mind that can help you process them in a healthy way. These include:

  • Realising you’re only human – All of us make mistakes and we also have different strengths and weaknesses and negative feelings often pass
  • Making time for yourself – Ensure you allow yourself an hour or two a week to do what you would like to do. Read a book, have coffee with a friend or attend a caregiver support group to maintain your own health and wellbeing
  • Accepting your limitations – This can be hard to accept, especially if you’ve made a promise to a loved one in the past that you can no longer keep. Know that you are making the best decision as new circumstances arise
  • Knowing your options – If you need a break from caring to be able to manage your mental health, consider looking into a short-term respite care placement for the older person you care for. They may be approved for a short stay at an aged care facility to give you a break and the space to address your own needs. You can read more about respite care in our article, ‘Respite: an opportunity to recharge’.
  • Dealing with unresolved issues or accepting them – If you are caring for someone and you feel resentment towards them, you can choose to try and resolve those feelings with that person or decide you cannot care for them anymore. Talking to a professional can help you navigate this situation
  • Reaching out for support – Remember that you are not alone. Mental health professionals, support groups and talking with family and friends can help you to work through negative feelings. They can also help you address your own needs so you can be the best carer and person you can be

Carer’s guilt shouldn’t take away the positive aspects of being a carer from you and can be managed by knowing what your resources are. 

It is important to remember you can’t properly care for someone else if you aren’t looking after yourself, so monitoring and addressing adverse feelings such as guilt is essential for you to be the best carer you can be.

Are you a carer? What helps you deal with carer’s guilt? Let us know in the comments below. 

Related content:

Caring for carers: What supports are out there?
How can a placement consultant assist me?
Getting support and help through Carer Gateway
Informal home care from family and friends


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