I originally wrote this post a couple of years ago, but since September is Pain Awareness Month, I thought it would be a good time to update and republish it. Many of us who live with chronic pain also struggle with a great deal of guilt –the guilt of not being able to do the things we feel we “should” do, of not being able to make plans or keep commitments, and so many other things….. The truth is, we may never be able to completely overcome our feelings of guilt, but we can learn to deal constructively with and move past them.
“You’re a warrior Baby.”
My eyes filled with tears once again as my husband said this to me. I sure didn’t feel like a warrior; I felt utterly defeated, with a heavy mantle of guilt laid squarely across my shoulders.”If I am a warrior, I sure am a wimpy one” I replied.
It had been a hard day and I was an emotional mess.
The day started with waking up to a full-on fibromyalgia flare and an almost overwhelming feeling of grief for my dear friend and her children, who were burying their husband/father that day. After the funeral our Sunday School class was providing lunch for the family. Normally I would have helped set up, serve, and clean up, but with my pain levels where they were, there was no way I could help do any of that. I had to leave right after the service. As if that weren’t enough, that evening, my husband had to facilitate the class we normally facilitate together because I wasn’t able to go. The guilt of having failed to do two things in one day was almost unbearable. Mentally, I knew I shouldn’t feel guilty because I can’t help being ill, but emotionally, I just kept beating myself up. I kept wondering if I should have just “sucked it up” and done it anyway. I wondered if I was just being a wimp. It’s hard to be objective about things when you’re so emotionally invested.
The next day I was able to look at things a little more objectively and as my husband and I talked about my feelings of guilt, he said something to me that kind of shocked me. He said, “I’m not sure you believe you’re sick. If you had the flu or a broken arm or something, you wouldn’t be feeling so guilty about not being able to do things. What makes this different for you?” He made a good point, and although I assured him that I do know I’m sick, sometimes I wonder if I’m just being wimpy about my pain and that I don’t hurt as much as I think I do. In my mind I know that’s not true, but sometimes I have trouble getting the truth through to my heart.
The truth is you can’t take responsibility for something you can’t control. You just have to let go of those feelings of guilt and concentrate on things that serve you better.
These are some things that might help:
- Acknowledge your feelings. Trying to stuff them down or hide them only allows them to grow in your mind and make things seem worse than they really are. Dealing with negative thoughts and feelings can keep them from growing in importance.
- Realize that you’re not choosing not do do something; your body is choosing it for you. When it comes to chronic pain, our bodies don’t care if we’ve made plans or not; they’re just going to do what they’re going to do. Just because our illness is invisible doesn’t make it any less debilitating from time to time.
- Find other things that you can do. Pain may prevent us from doing some of the things we used to do, but we can find other ways to help out or support those we love.
- Be kind to yourself. Give yourself some grace – if you wouldn’t say it to your best friend, don’t say it to yourself. How we talk to ourselves matters! As I talked about in T.H.I.N.K. Before You Speak – to Yourself, “negative thoughts can damage our self-worth, impact our emotional health, and result in chronic stress,” and we all know the impact stress can have on our illnesses.
Feeling guilty about things you can’t control only keeps you from moving forward and doing the things you are able to do. If you struggle with this also, I encourage you to let it go!
Do you ever experience guilt because of your chronic pain? If so, what have you found helpful for dealing with these feelings?