Respite and Guilt

January 31, 2022

Black and white photo of a woman sitting with her head in her hand and she's looking off to the side.

How is it that the people who give so much find it so hard to receive? For example, family caregivers take care of another person in need and are so good at giving so selflessly, yet they feel that they need to do everything themselves.

They even resist accepting help from others when it’s offered. So imagine how challenging it is to take the action to coordinate respite.

At what age does this belief begin—the belief that being strong, independent and resilient is the best way to live our lives? Being a martyr is a badge of honour that many want to wear.

What happened to the sense of community—extended family and friends helping in times of need? Where does the resistance to receive help come from?

As emotionally draining and physically demanding that caregiving is, it’s not as taxing as the feelings of guilt and worry that come over us when we think about taking time for ourselves.

  • Is taking care of our own mental wellbeing a bad thing? No!
  • Is having some alone time a bad thing? No!
  • Is wanting to do nothing when you have time to yourself a bad thing? No!

Our mind is certainly not our friend in these instances as we get these little gremlins in our head that tell us the craziest stories. Stories that we're selfish for taking time for ourselves; that we're unloving because we're hiring someone to come into the home; and that we're abandoning our loved one because we're going out and enjoying life and leaving her behind.

And as a parent of a child, you may experience that child being in tears and clinging to you as you try to leave the house. Then, that’s the image that’s ingrained in your mind for the entire time that you’re away.

That’s why it’s so important to flip the switch and tell yourself (your mind) that respite is so very important.

Even the all-powerful sun rests every night so it can rise again in the morning and shine.

The important thing for caregivers to understand is that these feelings are normal. With this acknowledgement that guilt and worry are normal, it allows us to accept them when they appear and then we can say hello to them and hopefully let them go.

One of my tricks is to talk to these feelings of guilt and worry and let them know that I do deserve a break and that I am an amazing caregiver. I remind my mind that it's the quality of my care and not the quantity. By telling those feelings of guilt and worry that I’m a loving, caring and engaged caregiver, I’m reminding myself at the time.

This is what self-compassion looks like. Those moments when we can be gentle with ourselves in the wake of very negative thoughts.

And then, focus on that activity that you would like to do during respite. Feel the joy that it will bring. Feel your shoulders drop and your worry melt away as you focus on that activity and how it will bring much needed relief. Just like the sun, you need some time to rest so that you can return to your loved one and shine while you’re caregiving.

In my book “Self-care: From the Trenches...with Love, Humour & a Kick in the Pants”, I cover topics such as resistance, emotions and the stories that we tell ourselves. I invite you to check it out on Amazon if you enjoyed this article.

**A version of this article Overcoming Guilt also appears on cares for you as you care for family and friends.

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