Cannot be a Caregiver? Don’t Feel Guilty

Phyllis Quinlan | February 22, 2016

There are 66 million unpaid adult family caregivers in America — 29 percent of the adult U.S. population — providing care to someone who is ill, disabled or aged, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. Female caregivers outnumber their male counterparts two to one. In 2012, female family caregivers, on average, were 48 years old, lived alone, and provided about 25 hours of care per week.

As anyone who has been a caregiver knows, caregiving is rarely a sprint. It is a marathon of planning, adjusting, attending and doing. Not everyone is capable of staying in the race—and that’s okay.

When You Cannot Be the Caregiver

Credit: Thinkstock

Credit: Thinkstock

What happens when being a caregiver is not an option? What do you do when your own health, personal and career commitments or relationship with the person in need of care leaves little room for you to take on the added responsibility that comes with the role?

Many struggle with this relentless internal conflict and the onslaught of negative emotions that often result in a profound sense of isolation. The comments and judgment from others can add to your confusion and perhaps toxic sense of self.

What is called for at this crossroad is self-compassion. You shouldn’t listen to your harsh self-criticism and dig down deep to find a way to be available and accommodating. Instead, honor your sense of personal limits and don’t make a commitment when committing to more than you can handle will invite undue hardship and risk your health and well-being.

End Negative Messages with Self-Compassion

Just what is self-compassion? It is responding to yourself (and your situation) with kindness rather than criticism. It is stopping the loop of derogatory self-talk that often takes on the tone we imagine we would hear from some authority figure in our life. It is the extension of kindness, care, warmth and understanding toward oneself when we are faced with the reality of our human shortcomings, inadequacies, or perceived failures.

Self-compassion is not self-pity and does not mean perpetuating a sense of being a victim. It offers you the sense of objectivity and control earned by being an adult. You need to give yourself the time and space to make a choice that honors your needs as well as the needs of others. Individuals who are self-compassionate are more likely to learn and grow from the challenges in their lives.

Self-compassion also provides the foundation for developing personal resilience. It helps us to maintain a healthy perspective when we are bombarded by those on the periphery of the decision. There are those who are all too often unwilling to lend a hand. These same people are also too free with judgments and rhetoric designed to manipulate you into thinking that you’re the best or only person who can do the caring when others cannot.

That’s why you need to stay strong and not feel guilty if you find you cannot be a caretaker. Honor your understanding of what is best for you. Do not make a “noble sacrifice” by ignoring what you intuitively know is right, wrong, healthy or destructive. If you force yourself into the caregiver role, you could also possibly harm or bring undue negativity to those you’re caring for.

Respond to the challenge of caregiving with critical thinking rather than judgment clouded by emotion. Put your own oxygen mask on first.

Where to Go for Help

If you’re not cut out to be a caregiver, there are resources available to help you find the care your loved one deserves:

Related Articles

Adult Day Care Helps Manage Caregiver Stress

The Value of Social Workers in Long Term Senior Care

How to Keep Your Senior Care Support Network Strong

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