Guilt is a challenging emotion. On the one hand, like most big emotions, it can be dealt with quite effectively by sharing. But on the other hand, the very nature of guilt means we are less likely to be inclined to share how we feel.
So how do you tackle guilt? Because it probably will feature at some stage in the dementia journey. It’s a normal and natural emotion to feel - either as someone living with dementia, or as a carer. Rest assured, if guilt has plagued you, or pops up from time to time, you’re not alone. Feeling guilty is really just an emotional response to loving and caring – both emotions to celebrate. So, before we delve further into guilt, and the part it plays in living with dementia, let’s first just call out the fact that feeling guilty happens because you care - and that’s something to feel proud of.
In the first part of this two-part blog, we are going to focus on those living with dementia, and the feelings of guilt they may experience. In part two, we will look at carer guilt.
Feeling guilty, as someone living with dementia
On several occasions we have talked about the impact of a dementia diagnosis on whole families- not just individuals. Whilst it can be helpful to think about this ripple effect and recognise that everyone involved will need support to come to terms with the changes ahead, it can also be damaging when this thinking is taken to the extreme.
Through supporting our customers living with dementia and their families, our Wayfinding team frequently hear about ongoing tussles with guilty feelings. As someone living with dementia, especially in the earlier stages, the maelstrom of change that occurs can lead to guilt- for a number of reasons:
You may feel like a “burden” to your loved ones caring for you.
Perhaps you’re no longer able to work and feel guilty about the financial impact on the family
Perhaps you’ve had to stop driving and feel guilty about being driven where you need to go
You might be feeling guilty about the worry your diagnosis has caused loved ones
On a dementia journey, no feeling or emotion is off limits. You’re entitled to process your diagnosis in whatever way feels right to you. However, feeling guilty is often misplaced and unnecessary- when dwelt upon for too long, it can also be damaging.
How to cope with feelings of guilt
Guilt sits alongside its cousin grief on the emotional spectrum. Processing loss and the changes that come with any dementia diagnosis can cause these feelings to become confused or exaggerated. Here are some suggestions for ways to unravel these emotions- and through doing so, minimise their impact on your life:
If you are comfortable doing so, talk to the people you love about how you are feeling.
Contact our Wayfinding team for advice and support from professionals, and know you’re not alone in these feelings.
Ask your loved ones to help you look into technology that can help you stay independent for longer. Our Smart Zone is full of examples for people at any stage in their dementia journey.
Talking and sharing, whichever way you choose to do it, are brilliant methods for handling unhelpful and potentially damaging thought loops- which have a tendency to spiral out of control if not aired. Recognise that you are only human, and that guilt, anger or resentment are normal responses. Whilst you may be unable to prevent these feelings, you can acknowledge the impact they have on you and most importantly remember to be kind to yourself.
Our Wayfinding team offer one to one support for individuals and families on the dementia journey. Reaching out for support is step one in gaining control of your life and learning to live positively and well.