Photo of beach with "Let It Go" written in the sand with text overlay: Letting Go of Guilt When You Live With Chronic Pain

Letting Go of Guilt When You Live with Chronic Pain

Pain Awareness Month Logo from https://painawarenessmonth.comI 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?

Blessings,

~Terri

16 comments

  1. this is such an important topic Terri and i am very thankful that you reposted it. accepting limitations sucks! and your husband is so wise and insightful when he meantioned that you may not believe you are actually ill……..those words struck me HARD……..it’s so true. I just don’t want to believe it and i push myself to the point where i will colapse and be angry I can’t keep going.
    bless you, again, for this post, it is going to help so many people Terri!

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words Wendi! What my Hubby said struck me in the same way, and he was right. I just felt I was being weak rather than acknowledging that I am ill — the two are not the same, and I had to learn that. I also totally get the anger thing…. I get so frustrated with my body sometimes when it doesn’t cooperate it brings me to tears. In the end, though, I just remember that there are things I can do, even if I can’t do everything, and I’m learning to be content with that. Blessings to you sweet friend!

      1. Yes! and growing up in my family, weakness was a horrible thing……you just couldn’t be weak. so it makes the whole chronic illness thing quite mentally challenging 🙂 thank you again for all your wonderful posts Terri and thank you to your husband for being so insightful!

  2. I could not agree with you more about the guilt feeling. On many occasions when I have got out of my car and put the disabled sticker in the window I’ve had looks from people whom I know are thinking there nothing wrong with her. So how come I feel so guilty that I have been given this badge. If I’d got out and my foot was in plaster they wouldn’t batter an eye lid and yet when your foot is in plaster you get no pain. 🙂

    1. You’re so right about nobody judging you if you had something visibly wrong with you Bar! It’s amazing how we let what we think others must be thinking about us to make us feel guilty, isn’t it? Hope you’re doing well sweet friend. Blessings to you!

  3. This really struck a chord with me Terri. I think it’s probably the case for lots of people with an invisible illness. I looked the same on Saturday, Sunday and Monday last yet Sunday was the only day I felt pain free but I still question if I am really sick and deserve to rest. I put it down to when I was going to school and if I was too sick to go to school, nstead of just being told that’s ok I’d be made feel guilty hearing ‘I know you’d go to school if you were well enough”. Maybe it wasn’t meant to cause guilt but that was how I internalised it.

    1. I’m glad to hear this resonated with you Marie. It’s both amazing and disturbing that we can know we’re sick, and yet question whether we really are…. You make such a great point about that potentially starting in our early years, as when you were made to feel guilty (whether intentionally or not) about not going to school. That’s a really interesting point. Hope you’re doing well sweet friend. Sending hugs your way!

  4. That was really enlightening! I guess I don’t really think I’m ill; I just feel pain….and I don’t have much explanation for it. I have little patience for this and probably push myself too hard because, dammit, I’ve always believed I could do anything I made up my mind to do. I think I’ll start acknowledging out loud the truths you’ve written here and try to give myself a break. Thank you.

    1. Thank you so much Sharon! I completely get what you’re saying about pushing yourself too hard because of your belief that you could do anything you made up your mind to do…. It’s so hard to accept it when our bodies fail us, but for me at least, it was completely necessary to help me break free from the guilt I felt when I was unable to do the things I used to do. I hope you find the acknowledgment you mentioned helpful. Blessings to you!

  5. Thank you, Terri. You put things so well. Sometimes we need help to understand ourselves. If I can’t explain my situation to myself, then I certainly do need help on order to explain my situation to other people!
    You are so right about finding the things you can do. I can’t go outside and prune our hawthorn hedges, as it is too chilly for my impaired circulation. I can however clean out our cat litter trays. I can look after her dog for a poorlier friend. As long as I pace myself I can help my little household get through to the end of the day. Just as long as I don’t allow my thoughts to dwell too much on the amount of work I used to get through… that hurts, and it does make me angry. Gratitude for what I can still do is my best way through, that and not watching the news.
    Best wishes to all, Anne

    1. Thank you so much Anne! I know what you mean about not dwelling on the amount of work you used to be able to do. If we do too much of that, it’s too easy to go down that rabbit hole of anger, hurt, and disappointment. I think it’s okay to have those feelings from time to time though – we just can’t live in that space. Thank you for reading, and for taking the time to comment. Blessings to you!

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