I suspect that most caregivers experience “guilt” as their bosom buddy. I would be hard pressed to find anyone caring for a chronically ill or aging family member who is not having an ongoing experience with this emotion. For most of us, guilt is a relentless voice in our head that renders us helpless and out of touch with ourselves. It can swallow us up and leave us wondering if we are doing enough or if we have failed in some way.
I am a Geriatric Care Manager who works with seniors and families and I have witnessed the conflict that guilt precipitates as family members wrestle with difficult decisions for a loved one. Guilt often renders people unable to make decisions or to see the reality of the situation clearly. In response to this personal and family “guilt” dynamic, I have developed an interactive workshop to help individuals define guilt; to understand guilt and recognize how it manifests itself in our lives.
Who Takes The Guilt Trip?
We all take the guilt trip at some point in our lives. The seeds of guilt are planted in our psyche early in life. Parents teach us the difference between right and wrong and, as we develop our superego, guilt inevitably becomes an integral part of our hard wiring. Often, a parent’s disciplinary process leads a young child to develop a means of judging themselves and these internalized voices inform all future development. Guilt is not intrinsically bad — think of it as you might think of fire. Fire can warm your home and cook your food, but it can also generate great destruction. Guilt is not necessarily good or bad, it is just one of the components of being human. If you understand guilt, you can accept it and then you can transcend it!
The “guilt” dialogue that we hear in our heads can be thought of as a method we develop to protect ourselves. As we try to do the “right thing” in situations, we are also trying to demonstrate care. In the process, we are attempting to avoid the judgment of our parents or in some cases of God. The feelings generated in childhood often parlay a substantial reaction of doubt, and fear. We do not know where these feelings come from, or exactly what they are, but we experience the extreme visceral response that we know as fear, self doubt, and the inability to judge our own current situation realistically. Sometimes, we collapse under the weight of our emotions. Our adult “observing self”, which is also known as Witness Consciousness, is rendered helpless.
Guilt: Not A Destination, but A Journey
I believe there is a misconception that guilt can simply go away. The purpose of “The Guilt Trip” workshop is to provide individuals with the tools to recognize how guilt works and to reveal its intricacies. We come to understand that guilt is a cover-up of the fear that is below the surface. The choice is to let “guilt” go or to organize our lives to prevent anything that would precipitate the guilt experience. So, for example, a caregiver avoids making the tough decisions such as placing their loved one in a facility to avoid their own emotional upset. Regardless of the needs of the senior, many caregivers can not facilitate the changes that are necessary based upon their loved one’s current health status. A crisis is right around the corner, but the caregiver’s own emotional reality renders them helpless.
Guilt does not go away. Most of us will find it lurking around the corner especially when we are caring for someone we love. But, what is available to us is the opportunity to see how it works, what it does, and its consequences while realizing that it is not who we are. Once we learn how to separate who we are from these feelings, we become aware of what we face as an observing adult. Only then do we have the capacity to intercede and take the difficult steps necessary to support our loved one with compassion and the knowledge that we are doing the right thing.
I invite you to be my guest at the upcoming “The Guilt Trip” workshop at Atria Center City. Please RSVP directly to our gracious hosts:
Atria Center City, 150 N. 20th St., Philadelphia, PA 19103
Thurs., March 27, 2014 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
RSVP by Weds., March 19th
Call: Lisa Pflaumer: (215)564-5455 or
Mark these future workshops on your calendar. Details to follow:
The Solana Willistown, 1713 West Chester Pike, Willistown, PA 19382
Weds., April 23, 2014 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
Freedom Village at Brandywine, 15 Freedom Boulevard, West Brandywine, PA 19320
Sat., May 17, 2014 from 11a.m. – 1p.m.
Beverly Bernstein Joie, MS
Founder and President, Complete Care Strategies