How to Handle Caregiver Guilt and Other Negative Feelings

How to Handle Caregiver Guilt and Other Negative Feelings

As a caregiver, you may experience many negative feelings such as guilt, worry, and fear, to name a few. These feelings are normal and it is how we handle them that matters.

How Do You Handle (Negative) Feelings?

The late Dr. Hawkins, a psychiatrist and spiritual teacher, highlights the 3 major ways we handle negative feelings: suppression/repression, expression, and escape. Spoiler alert: none of these are advisable.

Suppression/Repression

Suppression is conscious and repression is unconscious. Another way of putting it is that we push our feelings down and out of our awareness. We do this because we don’t know what to do with our feelings. Often, people have feelings about their feelings. For example, we may feel guilty about feeling frustrated or angry.  To keep these feelings out of our awareness, we either deny them (“What, me angry?”) or project them onto others (“You are so angry all the time…”).

Suppression and repression come at a cost: irritability, mood swings, muscle tensions (especially neck and back), headaches, and insomnia to list just a few.

Expression

Expression is when we verbalize, vent, or express our feelings in body language. It is commonly believed that the expression of negative feelings frees us from our feelings. However, when we express a feeling, the feeling tends to get bigger as we are giving the feeling greater energy. There are times of course when expression is exactly what is called for, for example, when you have a history of never speaking up for yourself. However, there can be a downside to expression. When we dump our negative feelings on others, it can be experienced as an attack and result in the breakdown of communication and the relationship itself. 

Escape

Escape is about avoidance of feelings. Welcome to the world of alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, workaholism, the entertainment industry, texting, shopping, gambling, excessive exercising, etc. There really is an endless list of activities we can engage in to keep our feelings at bay. Escapism is both stressful and an ineffective way of dealing with feelings.

Just “Let It Go”

When we are upset, and are expressing this upset, people will often advise us to “just let it go.” Feeling guilty? Just let it go. Feeling resentful? Just let it go. Worried and fearful about the future? Just let it go. 

Are you feeling angry at people who tell you to “just let it go”? While the advice is sage, this is sometimes said by others simply because they are tired of hearing about our negative feelings. Also, people sometimes find it hard to manage their own feelings about the situation, so they attempt to shut down the conversation. The real problem with the advice to “just let it go” is that it is a throw away statement without a “how to” attached.

Are You Ready To “Let Go”? Do You Want To “Let Go”?

Dr. Hawkins advises us to take responsibility for our feelings and neutralize them. There are a number of ways to go about this work — we’re calling it work because letting go of your feelings will take time to learn. It will get easier with time. 

You can go to a counsellor or therapist and work with them to identify and release your negative feelings, or you can work through them yourself. There are effective techniques for releasing/letting go. The starting point is always honesty. It is not right or wrong to hold onto feelings — it is about the impact and deciding what you want. 

For caregivers, there can be many (seeming) obstacles to being at peace. We know that caregiving activities can be rewarding and meaningful, but we also know that there can be times when caregiving feels burdensome and is defined more by negative feelings such as guilt, frustration, anger, resentment, and helplessness.

So, How Exactly Do I Let Go Of My Negative Feelings?

When caregivers are advised to let go of their guilt, their resentment, or another difficult feeling, there can be frustration. It is not that you want to hold onto your troubling feeling(s), but instead that you may not know how to let go. You could read a gazillion books on letting go, releasing, or surrendering your feelings, and it will remain a concept until you actually practice it. More to the point, it will remain a concept until you do it.

All that is required of you is to be open to the process. In addition to your open mind, suspend any thinking about the process. Our thoughts are part of our resistance and when we pursue our thoughts, we endlessly occupy ourselves and move no further towards letting go or releasing.

Letting go is really about changing the way we view life experiences. We can accept them or we can resist and resent them. How we deal with what life hands us will determine how we are. It is not the experiences, but our internal processing of each experience that really matters. These releasing techniques will reveal the truth in this.

When learning to let go, it is best to start with the small irritations and annoyances you experience in life. Once you become more skilled at letting go, you can move on to more challenging, painful, and emotionally intense issues.

Here is a list of some common irritations and annoyances:

  • Waiting in line
  • Can’t find appointment card
  • Constant busy signal
  • Spilled drink
  • Internet down
  • Road construction
  • Notice of late payment due
  • Can’t find eyeglasses or car keys
  • Lousy haircut
  • The weather - too hot, too cold, too rainy, etc.

As a caregiver, there is no doubt that life will hand you ample opportunities to practice and hone the skill of letting go.

Method #1: Choose To Let Go

First of all, identify the feeling you want to let go of. You might be able to identify the feeling itself (for example, anger) or identify it through some kind of visual image (sight), something you are hearing (auditory), or a feeling in your body (kinesthetic).

Ask yourself 3 basic questions:

  1. Could I let this feeling go? (For example, “Can I let this anger go?” “Can I let this visual image go?” Can I let this tightness in my shoulders go?” “Can I let this harsh voice I am hearing go?”)
  2. Would I let it go?
  3. When?

 If your answer to question #2 is no or if you are not sure, ask yourself: “Would I rather have this feeling or would I rather be free?” It is important to be honest. When you ask yourself the question, don’t give what may seem to be the right answer. Even if you answer, “No, I won’t let this go,” you can get the release just by being honest. Do NOT get into an internal debate about this or second guess yourself. That is, don’t think about the process, just do it. Yes, like Nike.

This method helps you establish some distance from the feeling and realize that you are not at the mercy of the feeling but instead, you do have a choice. We tend to hold onto our feelings and forget that we are holding onto them.

The premise of this method is that releasing is natural and most feelings come and go easily if we do not repress them or attach to them. The questions revolve around acknowledging the feeling and allowing the feeling to flow.

Method #2: Welcome The (Unwanted) Feeling

Welcome it? Yes, welcome it. This is based on the idea that what we resist, persists. The truth is that we experience literally thousands of thoughts and feelings every day. Similar to the first method outlined above, thoughts and feelings will effortlessly flow if we do not attach to them or resist them. If you just can’t get your head around welcoming a feeling that you honestly do not want, then change the language and just allow the feeling to exist.

This method, like the first one, is incredibly simple. Simply notice the feeling and instead of resisting it, fearing it, venting it, or condemning it, just let the feeling exist. Allow it to be there. Ignore all thoughts that come up because they are there to prop up and hold onto the feeling. Thoughts, says Dr. Hawkins, are “bait to a fish; if we bite at them, we get caught.” When we give up resisting the feeling or trying to change it, the feeling will literally dissipate and we will move on to another feeling.

It is important to note here that the feeling may return. That does not mean you are doing it incorrectly, it simply means that there is more of the feeling inside you that needs to come up and be acknowledged.

It Gets Easier

The more you let go or welcome your feelings, the more aware you will become of your feelings. Eventually, you will no longer repress, suppress, or escape your feelings. You will not feel a need to escape because you will have an effective way of handling all troubling or difficult feelings. Also, the more you let go, the easier it will be to let go. It then becomes safe for you to experience all feelings more deeply. If you are having trouble recognizing or identifying your feelings initially, you can still go through the releasing process of asking yourself, “Am I willing to let go of this feeling?”

Some people misunderstand this process as one that seeks to eliminate feelings. That is not so. The point is to experience them but to not get stuck in them (hold onto them), suppress, avoid, or deny them.  None of these are advisable because they block a natural process and take a considerable mental, emotional, and physical toll.

Simple, right? Too simple? Are you having any thoughts like, “It can’t be that simple,” “It is way more complicated than that,” or “My feelings are more complicated than that.” Well, this really is a no exit technique - you should view such thoughts as resistance to letting go and apply the technique to the resistance. Our minds will make a simple process complicated and will sabotage our decision to let go of troubling or difficult feelings. If you feel unable to ignore such thoughts, apply the letting go process to the thought itself. You can let go of a thought (or any limiting belief) just as easily as you can let go of a feeling. You can also release the resistance itself: “Could I let go of this resistance?” or “Could I welcome/allow this resistance?”                 

If negative, troubling, or challenging feelings are interfering with your ability to be the kind of caregiver you want to be or are interfering with your ability to be present with your experiences and are blocking positive feelings, you are invited to practice one or both of these techniques. Do your own research and monitor whether there is an increase in energy, presence, and wellbeing.

If you want to go even deeper with this type of work, you may want to check out the following books and websites. Lester Levenson is the originator of these techniques. If you want to use these techniques as one aspect of an explicitly spiritual practice, we recommend reading Dr. Hawkins’ book.

And last but not least, go to Spotify or Apple or some other music service and listen to the words in the song Let it go from the movie Frozen. There is wisdom and inspiration in this song!

At Elizz, we provide caregiver support for you and home care services for those who depend on you.

Elizz is a Canadian company powered by SE Health, a national not-for-profit health care organization that has been caring for Canadians since 1908.

Call us at 1-855-275-3549

Learn more about our home care services or visit the services section of our website

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