Guilty as Charged?

Feeling guilty because we have hurt someone, is part of the human condition. Most of us, quite rightly, would do what we could to rectify the situation. But what do we do if we experience guilt for something that we really had no control over? Like when we suddenly have to care for a sick loved one, that can leave us drained and ill prepared. With all that stress, it’s understandable that many would have feelings of regret and remorse due to their predicament. This can result in guilt, but with no chance of reparation. This is disproportionate guilt and in itself, can leave us feeling overwhelmed and stressed.

Perhaps it is the compassion or empathy for the ill person that we are experiencing, but that makes it no less painful. It could be that we are simply experiencing negative emotions at an inappropriate time. As a caregiver who is tired and anxious, it’s no surprise that nerves become frayed. When we are put in this position is it really surprising that guilt can creep in to our everyday lives?

When a member of our family suffers from a chronic condition and needs additional and sometimes unexpected care, the whole group dynamic can change. Simple activities could now prove difficult to the extent that you no longer partake as a family. Perhaps it’s just the strain on funds, or the unpredictability of the condition, putting further pressure on everyday life.

So much so that our ability to nurture and care, that we took for granted, may be called into question. If we learn that someone we know is in this situation many would wonder why they haven’t asked for help. But asking for help means admitting to a problem.

It is easy to understand when it’s the person needing help, that regrets the affect they are having on their family. But when the caregiver or other family members, are having these negative thoughts, then guilt can be very destructive.

Rock and a hard place

When someone you love has a sudden health issue, we do what we can to improve the situation. We seek medical advice, administer medication and change family life accordingly. It sounds simple, doesn’t it, but in a way that can be the easy part. It is far more difficult to accept what has happened. And if you are the parent of an ill child, then you may feel guilty that your little one is suffering. Dr Dennis Harper of University of Iowa College of Medicine, has studied the impact of ill children for over 30 years and concluded that it is very common to feel this way.

We can feel guilty for anything, from not be able to cope, to feeling angry because we have lost some of our freedoms as parents. Thoughts about the life we wanted for our children could now seem a distant pipe dream. It can even be hard to differentiate between being angry at the condition or your situation.

Being angry at the position we now find ourselves in, maybe a bit of a taboo, but why should it be so unacceptable? Caring for someone is hard work, it can be exhausting both physically and mentally. It could mean that the time you spent looking after you is diminished. After all, you can’t simply stop everything else that having a family entails, because one of them is ill.

Making sure the whole family feels appreciated is a juggling act, which sometime, just isn’t possible. We put so much pressure on ourselves to keep up what we think is expected, that emotions are bound to become fraught. Knowing this, we shouldn't really be surprised that we experience frustration and anger. Or that other family members appear resentful and overlooked. Such a big change in any household is bound to cause ructions.

Moving on

Accepting the illness of a loved one involves undergoing a period of mourning, for the loss our old lives. As such we need time to learn to cope with the situation. There is no prescription on how long this process can be. By acknowledging that the whole family needs to adapt to the illness, means that you do so, together.

Getting everyone involved can bring you closer together. That extra bit of responsibility, however small, may help others feel included. Accepting help from others can not only provide much needed respite, but may help your ill relative feel less guilty. In addition, time away could allow you a chance to look after you and do things that the condition otherwise prevents. This will enable you to become a better caregiver.

Having a family life that isn’t like that of your neighbours can give you a unique view on the world. Others may be preoccupied with trying to fit everything in, to be the perfect family. But when you have found what’s best for your family, you no longer have to fit with everybody else. When your household operates differently, it is far easier to ascertain what is really important.

Maybe it’s time we give ourselves a break and accept that we will feel angry and guilty at times. Finding an outlet for these emotions means that you are better equipped to deal with all that life throws at you.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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