Caregiver Guilt: The Gift that Keeps Giving


Elderly man sitting on bed looking serious

If you are a Caregiver, there is likely going to be a point at which you feel you aren't doing enough, you aren't doing it well, or a combination of the two.

So it's not really a question of "Do you feel Caregiver Guilt?" but "When do you feel Caregiver Guilt?"

Caregiving is accompanied by numerous emotions; including (but not limited to) impatience, anger, anxiety, resentment, feeling overwhelmed and drained.  In addition, caregiving is often accompanied by dynamics such as sibling tension and a sense of feeling conflicted between your numerous roles; mother, co-worker, wife, sibling,  and the tension between the needs of work, parenting and parental needs, and personal time. You tell a little white lie about needing to leave your mother to attend a meeting, then go home and lock yourself in the bathroom and run a bath – and feel guilt, or worse:  Shame.

Some examples of caregiver guilt: (from "Life in the Moment")

  • Regrets about being insensitive to the person’s behavior before the diagnosis.  You may also feel bad about not recognizing the signs earlier or putting off getting a professional diagnosis.
  • Feelings of inadequacy about your skill or dedication as a caregiver.
  • Guilt about dark thoughts that tend to blame the person for their condition.
  • Feeling shame for a desire to take time for yourself (or feeling selfish for even considering your own needs)
  • Guilt over missed opportunities to connect with the person
  • Feeling that you have abandoned the person if you delegate their care to another person (or facility)
  • Even moments of happiness can be difficult to savor, since you may feel guilt for experiencing joy at a time when your loved one seems to be beyond sharing that emotion.

Let’s pause here and talk a little bit about the distinction between Shame and Guilt.  Dr. Brene Brown has done incredibly powerful research on the topic of shame vs. guilt, and makes this very clear distinction between the two:

Guilt:  I made a mistake

Shame:  I am a mistake

In any of the examples above, I think some people might use guilt and shame interchangeably, but it is important to note the difference, as the psychological impact of shame is much more destructive.  As Dr. Brown notes:

“Based on my research and the research of other shame researchers, I believe that there is a profound difference between shame and guilt. I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.

I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”  She goes on to say that “shame, unlike guilt, is highly correlated with addiction, depression, eating disorders, violence, bullying and aggression.”

So, the first task is to check in with yourself to determine whether it is guilt you are feeling (which could be adaptive and lead to positive change) or shame (which is corrosive).

If it is guilt, try and recognize that (1) you will never be able to please everyone, and (2) guilt about having resentment, or anger towards your loved one, is common. Barry J. Jacobs, a psychologist and author of The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers, says "You love the person you're caring for, but you hate the caregiving. That's normal."

How to respond to caregiver guilt?  First and most important, is to recognize what it is that you are feeling, so that you can then take steps to manage those feelings.  At this point, self care is essential.  Self care looks different for different people – so it is important to find strategies that will work for you and result in increased well being (which is the goal!)

Some suggestions:

  • Keeping a journal to channel those negative emotions and get them “out” so that they are not bottled up inside you.
  • Relaxation/meditation
  • Exercise
  • Respite can often be a lifesaver
  • Talking with supportive friends
  • Seeking support from other caregivers
  • Forgive yourself
  • Share your stories
  • Try to focus on one day at a time (as thinking about the future can be overwhelming and non-productive)

I facilitate a Caregiver Support group each month – and the next group meeting is this Friday, March 18, from 12:00-1:00.  You can register here.  I would love to see you there!

In addition, please remember we are available for individual consultations here at Work/Life.  If you would like to talk to one of us about managing your caregiver stress, please give us a call (919) 531-LIFE (5433) or email us at


About Author

Kim Andreaus

Work Life Program Manager

Kim Andreaus is the Aging and Eldercare Program Manager for Work/Life. She has experience in geropsychiatry; both inpatient and in a community mental health setting. In addition, she has been a faculty member at NCSU, UNC-CH and Wake Tech and has taught courses in gerontology and conducted training in geriatric mental health.


  1. Michele Reeves on

    Thank you for this gift of validation. Being a caregiver is, by far, my hardest job. It has caused the greatest highs and lows I've ever experienced. I find that during a low/stressful situation, it works to take a deep breath and say "count it all joy."

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