Metaphors for self-care and guilt vs. regret – notes from caregiver conference keynote

Some local Bay Area organizations hosted a “Caregivers Count” conference in Campbell last Saturday.  One of the speakers was Vicki Schmall, PhD, author of “The Caregiver Helpbook.” The topics for her keynote were self-care and effective communication techniques for caregivers.  Most interesting were these items related to self-care:  metaphors for self-care; taking breaks from caregiving; care management; guilt vs. regret; and focusing on what you’ve done well as a caregiver.

Many of you will recognize this book title – “The Caregiver Helpbook.”  The book is available from Powerful Tools for Caregivers (, an Oregon-based publisher.  Brain Support Network volunteer Denise Dagan has read the Helpbook and has been providing chapter summaries to BSN.   (See for these summaries.)

Denise attended the conference.  Most of Ms. Schmall’s talk was the same information as was in the Helpbook so that information isn’t repeated below.  However, Denise has shared a few highlights focusing on self-care from Ms. Schmall’s talk.



7th Annual Caregivers Count Conference
May 6, 2017
Campbell, CA

Denise’s Highlights from

Topic:  Self care and effective communication techniques
Speaker:  Vicki Schmall, PhD, author of The Caregiver Helpbook

She used a couple metaphors for self care that I found helpful — a path and a balance scale.

1. Ask yourself which path are you on, the path to self care or not?  It’s a choice.

2. She also put up a slide of a simple balance scale with the carer on one side, and the caree on the other.  Balance takes effort.  In some cases, you can image a scale balancing 3 (or more) weights, for those situations involving a carer, caree, and other family members or obligations (like employment).

I love that she said taking breaks from caregiving was to prevent – not treat – exhaustion.  What you do on your break needs to be something that recharges and refreshes you, not chores or errands, and preferably something including social interaction.  Social interaction is hard to regain once connections to social circles are lost.  Social isolation is as detrimental to health as smoking and obesity.

It is sometimes easier to seek help if you think of yourself as a ‘care manager.’  Your job is to bring family, friends, and professionals together.  Respect the views, abilities, and limitations of non-professionals.  Give them choices for how they can help and try to tailor a person’s skills to tasks that need doing.  Many carers find it helpful to keep a list of tasks on the refrigerator and show it to anyone who asks how they can help.  Let them choose what they feel they have time, energy, and skills for.

Dr. Schmall explained that her brother couldn’t bear to have a conversation with their mother after her dementia got to a certain point, but he was excellent at dealing with the care facility’s administration, paying their mother’s bills and doing their parents’ taxes.

Know the distinction between guilt and regret.  Ask yourself, “Did I do something wrong or hurtful?” or “Do I wish I had done something differently?”
* If the answer is yes to the first, you should be feeling guilt.
* If the answer is yes to the second, you are probably feeling regret.  It is often combined with grief over a loss or change.

Be open to your caree’s changing situation.  Look ahead at the disease process and at what his/her needs will be.  Plan ahead to meet those needs and to avoid feelings of guilt, and regret, because good decisions are never made during a crisis.

Focus on what you have done well.  Don’t focus on what didn’t work out, “I should have…,” or “Why didn’t I…?”  Your self-talk creates your reality.  Negative self-talk is defeating.  Positive self talk is affirming.  Good enough is the new perfect.