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Taking Care of Yourself While Taking Care of Others
Working through the Process of Guilt, Forgiveness and Reconciliation

By Lenn Harris Milam

On an almost daily basis, I hear people discussing, lamenting, or wringing their hands over assuming the daunting task of being the primary or one of the primary caregivers of aging parents or relatives. While feelings associated with being a caregiver may vary, a consistently shared feeling is that of guilt.

Guilt is the feeling we experience when we transgress or believe that we have transgressed some moral value or guideline that is important to maintaining who we are. Often the assigned value is one that has been scripted for us by our faith (i.e., "Honor thy Father and Mother") or family ("I saw my mother take care of her parents") systems.The feeling of guilt is bothersome and burdensome. So, how do we overcome our guilt?

I am beginning to believe that the alleviation of guilt is a three-step process. First, there is the acknowledgment of the feeling of guilt. It is necessary that we understand the source of our feeling so that we can begin to edit some of the messages we have about values.

Secondly, we can consciously make the decision to adjust our behavior and attitudes so that we might start the journey towards forgiveness. In the process of forgiveness between the caregiver and care recipient, healing sets up the possibility of restoration, with the goal being acceptance through reconciliation. The brokenness that might have been a part of the caregiver and care recipient relationship often worsens as roles and responsibilities change. Reconciliation signals an important shift in this ever-changing and challenging relationship between those giving and receiving care.

Finally, the hope is that this process of acknowledgment, adjustment and acceptance is taking place in an atmosphere of neutrality between care recipient and caregiver. Sometimes this is the case, most times it is not. Regardless, it is important that we find or create opportunities to not be held captive by our feelings of guilt.

Lenn Harris Milam is a counselor at the Samaritan Counseling Centers
Find out more about pastoral counseling.

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