This is a really tough subject, how to deal with the guilt trips that come with caregiving. Because this guilt comes on so many different levels.
First of all, it comes from you…the caregiver.
You feel guilty because of the situation your loved one is in. You feel guilty because you are trying to do all that you can for them, and sometimes feel like you are failing them. You feel guilty when you feel you need a break.
This is bad enough to deal with. But there is a worse aspect of guilt when it comes to caregiving.
This is when the person you are caring for goes out of their way to try and make you feel guilty, otherwise known as the classic guilt trip.
What caregiver hasn’t heard their parent say, “After all that I have done for you all my life…(fill in their request here)” This is the toughest guilt to deal with, because it is intentionally manipulative and designed to make you feel guilty. In addition, the person who is saying it is probably a shell of their former physical self, and they are deliberately using their frailness as an advantage to accentuate the guilt trip.
There are plenty of variations of this, besides the “After all that I have done for you…” garbage, such as…
- I thought you would want to take care of your mother (I have heard that one plenty)
- I am desperate (when you know they really aren’t)
And so on, and so on, and so on…
So with all of this being said, how does a caregiver find a way to take care of their loved one yet still manage to live their life without feeling guilty…and how do you get rid of the guilt trip once and for all.
Understand The Psychology
The whole purpose of “After all that I have done for you…” is to manipulate you. So you need to understand that, be prepared for it and then know how to counter it…in a nice way.
(Trust me, there are times that the “in a nice way” is REALLY tough)
This is what I do when that gets thrown in my face…
“Mom, I am not going to allow you to manipulate me, especially after all that I have done for you over the last few years.”
And then, I will subtlety remind her of all the things that I have had to do. The point of me doing this isn’t to “guilt trip” her back, but it is to get us back onto the same level playing field where she understands that I have helped her as much as she has helped me.
Now, a lot of caregivers have a problem doing this. Part of the reason is that we still view our parents as authority figures. But another part of the reason is that our general sense of guilt about our parents situation makes us feel sorry for them. And this is understandable.
But what your parents don’t realize are the disruptions that caregiving brings to your life and the life of your family. I am talking about the way that you have to neglect your spouse, your children and your job responsibilities because of the burdens of caregiving. They really have no idea the toll this is taking on you.
And this leads to the second point…and it’s a big one. And in order for you to overcome the guilt trip, you must acknowledge the trueness of the next remark…
You Have The Absolute Right To Live Your Life
So often we get rapped up in the burdens of caregiving and wear it as a badge of honor. If this happens, you can self-create a situation where you only do things that make you miserable and subconsciously try and bfcome the “martyr” so that everyone can feel sorry for you.
This happened to me.
The correct answer to this is to take a step back and truly realize that you have the absolute right to live your right. You have the right to spend time with your spouse. You have the right to take care of your children. You have the right to seek out help via respite care (insert link) so that you can do these things.
And your parents DO NOT, under any circumstance, have the right to make you feel guilty about living your own life.
You did not put them in their current position. You are trying to help them with their current situation. But there are others that are depending on you that need the help as well.
So the next time that the guilt trip hits, you need to remember your other responsibilities as well. And sometimes, this might mean learning how to say no.
Getting Rid Of The Guilt Trip
Getting rid of the guilt trip comes down to learning how to say no without sounding ungrateful for all tat your parents have done for you, because you know that variations of the “After all I have done for you…” are bound to come flying as soon as you say it.
And sometimes, this might just mean saying no to break the cycle. Because the one thing you need to think of is how long you have enabled your parents behavior? How long have they used the gult trip on you? And if they have more than one child, do they only use the guilt trip on only one of you (and that, of course, would be the primary caregiver)?
Why do you think that is?
Because they know who it will work on and who it won’t work on. And if you have enabled this behavior for years then you ae going to have a major problem at first breaking the cycle.
Here are a few ideas how you can do this…
- Just say it. When the guilt trip first comes up, calmly state, “Mom, I am not going to let you manipulate me anymore with the guilt trip”.
- Don’t make saying no personal. “I’m sorry but I can’t take you shopping this weekend because I promised the kids we were going out.” If they persist, “Mom, you wouldn’t want me to disappoint the kids, would you?”
- Being that one caregiver typically does 99.99% of all the caregiving, remind them that they have other children who can also pitch in.
- Offer a “2nd place prize”. You might not be able to fulfill their primary request, but can fulfill a secondary request.
- Just say no. And stick to your guns about it. If youunderstand that you have the right to live your life this will be easier.
- Point out to them that your “No” is actually in their best interests and the safest option. I had to recently do this.
Mom wanted me to take her out of the nursing home…to get her ears pierced. (Note: in 70 years she never had her ears pierced. Now all of a sudden its a priority.) And while I had taken her to family functions at our house and my brothers, where I would have additional help moving her around, I never took her out into public because of her lack of mobility.
The nursing home advised that this wasn’t the safest course of action. I shouldn’t take her out in public.
So while it was disappointing, I had to relay to her the reason why I said no and this softened the blow.
The biggest help to me in all of this is that currently Mom understands that the guilt trip won’t work anymore. I was VERY difficult at first, but in all honesty we are all better off for that.
And one final note. I am not a psychologist and don’t pretend to be. I wrote this article from the perspective of a caregiver who had dealt with the guilt trip all my life…and let me mother get away with it…until it reached the point where I had to stop enabling her behavior. So if a psychologist were to read this they may disagree with some of my recommendations, and they are free to do so.
I am just telling you what worked in my situation.