How to survive caring for an Elderly Parent: Dealing with Guilt

Anne Jones’s tips on how to survive caring for an elderly parent while being strong in yourself as you care for a loved one.

My mother was given a maximum of six months to live so we brought her into our home to care for her last days. Three years later she was still with us! I share the insights and understanding that this time brought me and how you can keep your energy and spirits strong through what can be an intensely demanding and challenging time.

This week I am looking at the inevitable consequence of having a dependant relative, whether you are the main carer or share the role with other family members or professional carers and nurses, there is bound to be a time when, however much you are doing, however much you give, you will feel pangs of guilt.

Feeling guilt doesn’t mean you have done something wrong! It’s the emotion we feel when we haven’t reached our own expectations and when feeling love and compassion for the suffering of someone we care for its easy to feel that our efforts are inadequate. There are certain to be times when you feel you haven’t given enough, done enough or shown enough attention. We normally set our own bar of expectation for everything we set out to achieve in life too high. It’s a normal human experience. If you are a perfectionist, seeker of high ideals or have any issues of self-worth or esteem then self-doubt and self-criticism will probably disturb your inner peace much of the time. You may feel shame which is linked to guilt but reflects your own self-image in a destructive and toxic way.

When you are close to someone and they become dependent on you for emotional support, as well as physical caring, there are going to be times when your own needs and maybe those of your family have to come first and you will feel torn in two directions.

Anger

It is likely that you will feel anger from time to time and this too can build on your burden of guilt. When you are dealing with things outside of your control you will often feel frustration and anger; anger that you are in a situation that so limits your life; anger that comes from dealing with slow moving social services, lack of medical support etc. It’s not always easy to contain this anger and you may find yourself getting irritable with the person you are caring for. Here is a link to a YouTube I have recorded that can help you to heal your anger: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PhCoEaypjAI

What guilt can do to you

There are symptoms you can experience that indicate that you are feeling guilt. You may also be dealing with old suppressed feelings of guilt that have been with you most of your life that can come from a careless word from a parent saying you have disappointed them or let them down. Guilt and shame are held in your solar plexus which is the energy centre that also holds fear and anxiety (butterflies in the tummy) and also your WILL, inner strength and determination also come from this energy centre.  So fear, guilt and shame can erode your inner strength, your ability to make choices and you may find yourself overcome by anxiety and worry.

Symptoms that you hold guilt

  • Over-eating or other addictions

A strong pointer to guilt and shame is the constant need to eat and fill the ever-demanding sense of emptiness in your solar plexus leading to weight gain, digestive and dietary problems, addictions etc. This hollow feeling may be fed by frustration and powerlessness, caused by the futility that whatever you do is not enough to make your parent well and happy. I suggest you do the exercises at the end of this article and manage your diet based on real hunger. Ask yourself before you eat – is this going to make me feel better for more than an hour? Understand where you feelings of guilt and shame may be coming from. If it’s something in your past then forgive and cut the cords to it. If it’s coming from a sense of not doing enough for your parent despite all your best efforts then cut the cords to your need to be perfect. (See exercise below)

  • Pain in the gut

You may feel pain and have physical problems with your stomach such as ulcers, indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome and other complaints in your stomach. This is caused by the tension that builds from the solar plexus energy centre when fear and anxiety take over.

  • You sacrifice yourself to please.

You feel the need to please, and are looking for approval to negate your own disapproval of self. The long term effects of carrying guilt can turn you into a doormat or a pleaser; someone who looks for confirmation and approval especially from parents. Realise that some people cannot show gratitude and as people get older sometimes their personality changes and they lose their own perspective and become demanding from their own position of powerlessness. Do what you can then step away.

What more can you do?

It’s important to address your guilt and forgive yourself otherwise guilt can build and develop into shame which is very destructive, toxic and may feed feelings of low self-esteem and self-worth and ultimately lead to mental illness. The pain of guilt is described as karma in some beliefs and karma expects us to suffer for the suffering we have created for others and can be relieved by atonement and retribution – it can also be relieved by forgiveness and love and, as we know, love heals. Forgiveness and love can come from the person you have wronged or from yourself. If your sense of guilt comes from feeling you are not achieving your goal of making our parent well and happy then forgive yourself and detach yourself from impossible to meet expectations.

Meditation to release guilt – cut the cords and forgive

In this meditation you can cut the cords to your expectations of being the perfect carer/son/daughter and to the expectation of making your parent completely happy and well. You can cut the cords to aspects of yourself too; to shame, guilt, desire to be approved, your anger for being in this situation, food etc. Anything which you believe takes you from being present and content with yourself and life. Most importantly of all you can dissolve any negativity caused by your thoughts about your parent that can turn cords of love into cords of stress caused by your constant worries of your parent’s condition and your inability to resolve the situation for them. You want the cords that connect you to your parent to be filled with love not worry, guilt or frustration. This exercise is great for clearing any negative energy that has developed between you.

  • Before you start tie a thread around your wrist to represent the cord that flows between you and the person you are caring for. Tie another one to your expectations of perfection.
  • Write a letter to your parent expressing your love and asking for forgiveness for anything that you may have done to cause them distress or pain.
  • Write a letter to yourself, thank yourself for the gifts of love and kindness you have shared and forgive yourself for anything that you may have missed, forgotten or misunderstood in the care of your parent.
  • You can burn these letters or shred them, let the emotions attached go and allow yourself to move on.
  • Close your eyes and relax, take four deep breaths and drop your shoulders.
  • Cut the cords to your expectations of being perfect.
  • See the cord that connects you to your parent and as you ask for forgiveness and acceptance from yourself cut through the cord and release all the worry and stress and make a confirmation that love for yourself and for them will be your focus in the days to come. Accept that there will be times of frustration and upset but that the overriding emotion will always be love.
  • Finally ask for any help that you need. Ask angels, God or the Universe, whatever feels right for you, but ask for the support that you need through these challenging times.
  • Here is a link to a YouTube I have created to help you clear your karma and guilt. https://youtu.be/DIPUjzZfIDM

Always factor in your own wellbeing and happiness – a happy carer will do far more for the feel good factor of your parent than a stressed and miserable one! In my next article in this series I will look at ways that you can keep yourself strong and uplifted.

About the author: Anne Jones is an international author and key-note speaker. Her self-help books have been translated into 17 languages. With her down to earth style she helps her audiences and readers to find ways to cope with everyday problems and overcome the effects of trauma and loss. She gives practical advice on how to stay uplifted and energised as you face the challenges of life. See her website for further information.

You may also like...