Guilt is the conflict between reality and your perception of the "ideal you." The list of things you might feel guilty about are endless, but this article will focus on caregiver's guilt relating to decision making for their aging parents. You can feel guilty about making a decision or you can feel guilty about not making a decision. Do you ask for help or refuse to ask for any support. Remember, we don't always make the right decision, we just do the best we can. 

In the past week I have spoken to several adult children upset about their need to make decisions for their aging parents. The one statement that came up repeatedly is "I feel so guilty."  One daughter, even though her mother asked to be moved to an assisted living facility, was upset about the decision. She felt she should have been able to have her mother live with her. That is ideal if the aging parent's needs can be met with home health agencies, day care, other family members. Hopefully, you have not promised your parent, when things were good, that you would never put them in a nursing home

It is often difficult for caregivers to cope with the needed role reversal asking, "When did I become the parent?" While this is a natural evolution, especially with increased life span, most often you are not prepared for the change. Until now the parent has been the strong, all-knowing caregiver. Struggling with the loss of normalcy, feeling overly responsible and feeling inadequate in providing the level of care needed, gives rise to feelings of guilt.

Guilt is the psychological mechanism that provides feedback. It is neither logical or virtuous to dwell on the pain. These feelings can surface when one feels that they have violated family values. Values that may not be realistic. These can be standards that are unwarranted, carried over from childhood, when we didn't do something we were supposed to do.

A few ideas to help keep you balanced during these challenging times.

  1. Like any body pain, pay attention to this pain.
  2. Revisit and reinvent the "Ideal You."
  3. Change your behavior to fit your values
  4. Ask for help, call a friend, seek professional helpl

When these emotions come up and you feel guilty about decisions you have made, remind yourself that just as your parent spent your younger years making the best possible decision for you based on the information they had and the options available, you have made the best possible senior care decision for your parent. Remember decisions are made in their best interest, you didn't cause the need, now may be the time for professional caregivers and to take time to grieve the losses. 

Judith Glick, LCSW

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