Research on family caregiving has focused on the quantitative as opposed to the qualitative investigation of the impact of caregiving on the health and psychological well-being of family carers. In this study, interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA) was used to explore the subjective experience, needs and appraisals from the perspectives of family carers of older adults. Six family carers were recruited from a carer support group; one male and five female primary carers to an elderly family member with age or disease-related impairment. Two super-ordinate themes emerged from the analysis of interview transcripts. The first was labelled ‘feeling helpless to being wise’. The second, ‘perceptions of support’. The latter related to family carers' personal coping processes and self-constructions as carers, and to family carers' perceptions of support and predominant challenges of support seeking. Findings pointed to an evolving self-construction and explanatory framework for the tasks of caring among family carers at different points along a caring trajectory, with evidence of positive reappraisal processes. The findings also support IPA as a viable methodology for supplementing the quantitative coping literature on family caregiving and emphasise the importance of understanding the elements of ‘support’ from the perspective of being a family carer.