Taking a Break from Caregiving without Taking the Guilt

A family caregiver recently asked me:

I appreciate that it's good to take time away from caregiving. I do schedule time away from my caree, but feel guilty for doing so even though I know I want and need the time away. I wonder: Is feeling guilty related to self-esteem?

What a great question.

The short answer: Yes.

Lets break it down.

Here's the good about your guilt: Your ability to feel guilty shows your great capacity to feel for another. You can appreciate another's pain or sadness or loneliness; you can put yourself in another's shoes. Your caring is a good virtue.

It can become a problem, though, if you seem to care more for others than you do for yourself or if your guilt seems to get in the way of you living your life (when you can, given the constraints of caregiving).

Here's the definition of guilt:

The fact or state of having committed an offense, crime, violation, or wrong, esp. against moral or penal law; culpability:

  1. He admitted his guilt. Feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.
  2. Conduct involving the commission of such crimes, wrongs, etc.: to live a life of guilt.

Consider the first definition: A feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.


Let's say you're taking a break you want to take, you've put back-up care in place, you've provided solutions to all anticipated problems, and you've created a phone tree of persons who can be contacted in case of an emergency.

But, when you leave, you still feel guilty. What offense could you have committed?

It could be you feel guilty because you will enjoy a life outside of caregiving when your caree cannot really enjoy a life outside of a disease process (or frailty or permanent injury). Your offense, truly, may be that you are healthy enough to enjoy an activity, a vacation, an experience.

Is that really an offense worthy of that awful feeling of guilt?

So, what could keep you in a place where thoughts such as, "I don't deserve to have this time away because I don't deserve to have a healthy life?" Yep, a lack of confidence. So, when a caree says, I don't know how you can feel good about leaving me here while you traipse around the city, you'll think, Oh, he's right. I don't deserve this time away.

Seems kinda nutty, doesnt it?

If you come from a place of confidence, you may be able to say, I am taking this break because I deserve time for me. I work hard. I deserve a break.

And, when your caree says, A good daughter would stay here with her mother in her time of need, you can say, I am a good daughter. I'll be back tonight about 10 p.m. Ill stop by your room to say Good Night.

When our self-esteem takes a dip, we leave more room for others to fill it with their own baggage. When were not feeling good about ourselves, we open the door for others to plunk down their own luggage of self-doubt in our room. Their own dirty laundry insecurities and lack of confidence spills over and adds to our own.


  • When we're low, we often allow others to dictate how we feel.
  • When we're full, we own our own emotions.

Believe in your own goodness. Believe that you make good decisions about your own needs and wants. It's okay if others can't be happy for you or support you.

That's their choice. You choose otherwise.

Please note: You'll have times during your caregiving experience when others will encourage you to take a break, and you know it's not the time to take a break, because of your caree's decline or sudden change in condition.