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Why Do Caregivers Feel Ashamed?

Margery Pabst Steinmetz - April 02, 2018 11:32 AM

Thanks Liz Kitchens for joining me again to discuss the sources of shame that we caregivers experience.  Our readers may remember our first conversation in February when we sat down over a cup of ooffee.  Today, we decided wine would be a better tonic for our conversation about how comments from others can make us feel ashamed.  My dear friend Liz is the Founder of

Liz:  You know me Margie, I love wine.  And it is helpful in breaking down barriers as we discuss hard things.

M:  Last month, we talked about how hard we are on ourselves, how our self talk often contains what we should or could have done for loved ones.  The damage to our personal confidence can be huge, so we also outlined some self talk strategies toward being more positive and toward more confidence in the caregiving role.  Liz, you mentioned there is no training for being a caregiver, that it’s on the job training.

But we also noted that what OTHERS SAY TO US, often in a well intentioned way, can create a sense of shame and guilt, the feeling that we missed something important for our loved one.

L:  Yes, it is easy to feel judged by well meaning friends.  And probably as caregivers, we are so intent on doing a good job and so any criticism feels like an attack.

M:  Just recently I was at lunch with friends, one of them heavy into caregiving duties.  She noted that her father was having trouble sleeping and my other friend asked, “Well, do you give him something to drink just before bedtime?” The caregiver friend said, “Yes, he loves cranberry juice” to which the other friend rejoined, “That’s the problem!”   Well that stopped the harmonious conversation with the caregiving friend becoming quiet during the rest of the lunch.  She told me later she felt so foolish that she had not recognized the source of her father’s sleep issues.

L:  I had a similar issue when I was caring for my mother many years ago.  My Mom chose not to go through chemo for her breast cancer, a fact she kept hidden from most people.  When she died and friends found out about her refusal to pursue medical remedies, I was judged for not making her.  In that moment, I felt shame and guilt.

M:  Professional caregivers, like doctors and nurses can really make us feel we forgot to do something even when they may be the ones overlooking a change in medication or nutrition.  Readers of this blog probably can fill in numerous examples on this!

L:  You know Margie, I was thinking about the impact of other family members’ opinions on the job you are doing as a primary caregiver.

M:  And compounding that is unless you are on skype, you hear comments on the phone or in a cryptic email which literally makes you bristle with indignation and sometimes shame.

L:  So true!  I heard a story about a friend who had Alzheimer’s and was being cared for by a son who lived in Orlando with his family.  Not only did the son have the job caring for his parents, he had to endure the grilling and criticism from his siblings who lived away.

M:  Good point.  Unresolved family dynamics, long thought buried, rise up during caregiving scenarios.  If you are an only child there are certainly other issues, however for those of you who have even one sibling and you get along, this dynamic will at some point raise its head.

L:  And for only children out there, you may have other family members who interfere in your decisions, albeit well meaning.

M:  So Liz, what can caregivers do to not take these comments so personally, to heart? What are some strategies for how we can think about, teach ourselves to respond?

L:  (laughing). BREATHE.  While that may seem overly simple, there is truth in this recommendation.  For example, what we are saying is “don’t immediately respond.”  Turn off the computer, take a breath and then respond.  These situations are often contentious enough without pouring kerosene on them.

M:  Another strategy is to choose a family member who is or could be an ally.  When my Mom was ill,  my brother and I joined forces to ensure she received what she wanted.  My Dad intervened, in a well intentioned way, and insisted she have no visitors.  My Mom, a fun loving, gregarious person relished having visitors.  So my brother took Dad shopping while I entertained Mom’s visitors.  Strategically working with a family member can be so helpful.  In this instance, we felt accomplishment, not shame or guilt, because had honored both our parents.

L:  While these two strategies sound simple,  practicing both will qualitatively help relationships with your loved one and family members.

M:  Thanks Liz for taking the time to talk about these difficult feelings and issues caregivers experience.

Margery Pabst Steinmetz is the Founder of and regularly broadcasts “Caregivers Speak” supported by a partner website,

Liz Kitchens is the Founder of and is the lead guest blogger for

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