Putting a family member in a nursing home can be a heart-wrenching decision. A loved one may be loath to leave their own home, and moving them somewhere new and strange can cause feelings of guilt and anxiety.
It can be helpful to think through your emotions and any underlying issues that may be influencing your thoughts. People who place a loved one in a nursing home respond to this life change differently for a variety of reasons. It is important to realize why you are reacting the way you are. A counselor can help facilitate this understanding.
Feelings of guilt and stress
Guilt is common among adult children who choose to move their parents into a nursing home. On an intellectual level, they understand that they may not have the time for their career, caring for their own children, and caring for an elderly parent, or they realize that distance makes such care unrealistic. Their parent may require more advanced medical monitoring than the child can provide. The parent may need help performing intimate activities, but to have them done by their children would insult their dignity.
People choose nursing home care for all of these logical reasons but can still feel guilty about their choice, especially if their parent is resistant. Sometimes it is not enough to know you have made the right decision. Feelings of guilt can persist even when a person understands that they had valid reasons for seeking out residential elder care.
It is also normal to feel relieved when a loved one enters a nursing home. Caring for people who need help caring for themselves is physically exhausting and emotionally draining. It takes time away from other important activities and away from leisure time. Just because you feel relieved that you have turned over care to a professional team does not mean that you don’t care about or empathize with your family member entering the facility. Yet many people feel guilty that they are relieved they are no longer caregivers.
On the other hand, some people feel guilty because their brothers and sisters shouldered more of the responsibility while the parent was still in their own home.
These types of guilt can also compound feelings of stress. In these situations, people are dealing with the logistics of a move, meeting new caregivers and doctors, and spending money. They are also coming to terms with the end of their loved one’s life. All of these are stressful topics. It can be helpful to talk to a skilled counselor who can talk through feelings of guilt, prepare for loss, and develop strategies for managing stress.
Addressing underlying shame
Sometimes we say that people feel guilt over what they’ve done but shame over who they are.
For example, a person who feels guilty would say, “I feel bad about putting my father in a nursing home.”
A person with shame would say, “I put my father in a nursing home. I’m such a bad daughter.”
Shame is a more insidious and destructive feeling than guilt, because people with shame do not feel as if their actions are wrong, but that they themselves are bad or undeserving people.
If you know someone who expresses feelings of shame, encourage them to talk to a professional counselor. Actions can be morally wrong, but human beings are not.
Shame is an indicator of low self-esteem and can be related to mental health conditions from depression to substance abuse disorder to eating disorders. However, it also manifests in people who don’t have a diagnosis.
Anyone can benefit from learning strategies to examine their own thinking. In therapy, clients discover how to notice when they are being unfair to themselves and turn around their thought patterns to replace self-effacing feelings to self-affirming ones.
Unresolved issues with the loved one going into care
Sometimes people feel guilty or ashamed as a mask for some other emotion they are reluctant to face because it would tear open old wounds.
Putting a loved one into a nursing home can start an unconscious countdown — we know there may be little time to have a coherent conversation. If the older person can answer a lingering question, offer an apology, accept an apology, or say something you need to hear, time may be running out.
Every relationship is unique, but if you are struggling with guilt, it may be worth asking yourself if you really feel guilty about the decision to put your family member in a nursing home. Is there something else going on in the relationship?
There is a unique type of counseling called family of origin therapy. It helps clients process their relationships with their parents, siblings, and anyone else they grew up with. You and your counselor may find that incorporating some family of origin therapy may be a helpful way of understanding your guilt.
Maybe you’d like some closure by talking to your parent about something that happened in the past and asking for their forgiveness. Perhaps there’s just something you’ve never understood, but they may have the answers to help you see things clearly.
Dredging up past actions — yours and others’ — can be tricky. It can be helpful to talk to a therapist and decide for yourself what needs to be said, how it should be framed, who needs to say it, and when they should say it.
Contact the MindSol Wellness Center in Sarasota, FL for guilt counseling
Our staff of experienced therapists can help clients work through their feelings of guilt from putting a parent in a nursing home. We can offer some advice for noticing unhealthy patterns of thinking and shifting to more empowering ones.
We also assist clients who want to understand the deeper underlying causes of their guilt and shame. We do not require a mental health diagnosis to initiate treatment. Contact our office today at (941) 256-3725 to schedule an appointment.