Managing feelings of resentment and guilt, as an unpaid carer
With thanks to the team at Crossroads Care Surrey, for writing this great piece of content about the emotional impact that caring can have. Letting us know that guilt and resentment are natural feelings. And how we can help ourselves when we spot them.
For many of us, caring starts out as positive support for a loved one. However, caring often comes with some trade-offs. For example, we may have to give up paid work, have less time to prioritise ourselves or share our own home.
The compromise to our lives plus the additional responsibility and workload that caring brings, can lead to additional stress, which if left unchecked, may adversely affect our relationships with the people we care for. This can lead to feelings of guilt and resentment, neither of which are going to make our lives as carers any easier.
It’s important to be mindful of the emotional impact of caring and the value of keeping our relationships with our loved ones positive.
Why do we get feelings of resentment and guilt?
It’s easy to say that we’d do anything for our family, and indeed, most of us would. But that’s about action. What about how we feel?
For a while, we might be able to sacrifice nights out to put our mother or father to bed, or never eat our favourite food because we care for a son or daughter with a special diet. But over time, these sacrifices may get frustrating as we spend less time on ourselves and can impact our emotional health.
This is because, when we do things over a prolonged time, they can start to feel like a sense of duty, and in turn make us feel like we’ve lost our own sense of identity. This is the impact of caring. Hence, continually putting someone else's needs ahead of our own, can lead to feelings of resentment and guilt.
We don’t necessarily even have to say it out loud – just thinking about how restful it would be not to have a caring responsibility can make us feel like we are bad people or like we are ungrateful for having those we care for in our lives.
Why feelings of resentment and guilt are helpful
While not all feelings may ‘feel’ nice, all feelings are in fact helpful. Emotions are linked to our thoughts and therefore tell us something valuable about what is going on in our lives. So it’s important to pay attention to them.
Once we’ve acknowledged the feeling, and recognise it’s unbeneficial for us - like guilt or resentment - we can often then work out what is triggering the feeling. And if we know what’s triggering the feeling, we then have the opportunity to change and improve things.
Feelings of resentment or guilt are an indicator that something needs attention. Probably ourselves! In a caring scenario, they’re often an indicator that our own needs have been ignored for too long and perhaps we're in need of a replenishment.
The trouble with guilt and resentment
Left unchecked, negative emotions such as guilt and resentment can lead to poor outcomes for ourselves and our cared-for.
We may see a shift in how we talk to the person we care for or our thoughts about them. Perhaps we’ve noticed a shift in how we feel towards them, every time they call our name or phone us.
It’s vital we notice these signals. They are important indicators that we need some help. If left unchecked, these feelings can grow and in extreme cases we can sadly see neglect or even abuse of either the carer or the cared for.
It’s not a competition
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” - Roosevelt
Carers who want a break are not bad people. We are simply people who have been under pressure for a long time. We are human beings: we cannot do everything. We all have different limits – we might meet other carers who have been cheerfully carrying on for longer than we have, but that doesn’t mean that our emotional needs are not valid. If caring is showing its darker side, and negativity is starting to affect us, it is important to address it.
Being a carer is a vital role and one that can be incredibly rewarding. Recognising our feelings and looking after our emotional health enable us to continue caring. In turn, our relationships with the people we care for can develop in a positive way. And we can maintain our own identities while fulfilling our responsibilities to others.
Where can we get help?
Life should be a balance of give and take. As carers we may give a lot, but we are allowed to be receivers of support too. The give and take of our lives might not be with the same people – we might give a lot to our loved ones, but we might receive support from our network of friends, colleagues and health care professionals.
Carers need to be proactive in order to get the right support. This isn’t always easy, but there are things we can do:
Register as a carer with our GP.
Request a Carers Assessment - either from our GP or local Carers’ Centre.
Learn to prioritise our own wellbeing.
Contact our local Carers’ Centre.
Book a confidential call with the carer support team at Mobilise.
Take Mobilise’s mini Carers Assessment checker, which gives us a great list of support to get us started.
Help can come in many forms. And a good starting point can be simply admitting how we feel to someone trusted. Mobilise offer free, confidential support calls with their team - each of them are unpaid carers themselves, and able to offer an understanding and non-judgemental ear.
Getting our feelings out is a great opportunity to start making sense of things and to slowly start understanding what needs we have and how we can get them met.
Remember that asking for help is a strength, not a weakness, and with the right support in place, we can start to reduce any negative feelings we might have about caring.