Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Care Partner Wednesday--The Battle with Guilt

I sometimes picture the care partner as a warrior, travelling a journey with their loved one. Today, it's stress that beats them down and almost defeats them. Tomorrow it might be exhaustion or frustration or financial worries. Difficult decisions and the accompanying indecision can fling them to their knees. A sudden medical emergency can leave them gasping for breath. There are multiple battles, but one overshadows them all. The battle with guilt.

Why is guilt so insidious? Guilt niggles its way into every other battle, and the moment you think you have done well, it whispers its nasty little questions. "He really got to you when he said that, didn't he? You felt impatient. Did you keep it out of your voice?" Or perhaps guilt says, "That decision you made back there--are you sure it was the right one? You're really not very good at this, are you?"

You are not alone. Every care partner who has ever walked this journey has felt the same, and more. So how do you handle it? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Recognize it for what it is.

  • Are you struggling with a relationship issue with your loved one that goes back to your childhood? If that's the case, look at what can and can be solved. There may be some parts that can be resolved, but manipulation and selfish attitudes probably aren't going to change.
  • Are you a perfectionist who is setting unreasonable standards for yourself? Give yourself permission to let somethings go. Lower your expectations just a little, and focus on the relationship rather than the details. Look for the joy instead of the perfect.
  • Are you trying to reason with dementia? This will only lead to frustration and failure, which ultimately leads to guilt. Check out for tips on communicating with someone with dementia. Better communication leads to a more fulfilled relationship and less guilt.
2. Put on your loved one's shoes and start walking. There's a reason for what is happening that is causing you frustration, and it may take some detective work on your part. Are they in pain? How are they sleeping? Often, another infection (such as a urinary tract infection) can affecting how they act. If you see signs of anxiety, such as shaking, pacing or incessant questions, ask the staff what has been happening. They may be able to give you some insight.  If possible, have a conversation with your loved one, gently exploring some of these issues.

3. Sometime guilt isn't false. Check your own heart. Do you need to apologize for something? None of us are perfect, and we all have breaking points. If you have "lost it" and said something you shouldn't, apologize.

4. Give the gift of respect above all. You may need to have a difficult conversation or make an unpleasant decision or a humble apology. If respect for your loved one is your bottom line, you can turn your back on guilt. It has nothing on you.

And now, brave warrior, give yourself a break. Let the sun shine on your face, read a book, pray. Take a deep breath. 

Then get back on your horse and soldier on.

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