Illness makes people feel guilty

Illness can make people feel guilty.

It’s not only the person who has the illness who feels guilty, but people around them too.

I’ve listed below some of the ways people feel guilty, but a bigger problem arises when people feel so guilty that they cannot bear to feel it at all.

Too much guilt makes people say : ‘It’s not my fault!  I didn’t do it!  You did! He did! She did! They did!’  The fear is that the guilt is so bad that the only recompense would be giving up their whole life.

When they feel challenged, these people may try to make someone else feel guilty instead.

When someone feels so guilty that they cannot bear it, the only way to get them to acknowledge it and to apologise may be to find a way to reduce their guilt.  ‘It’s not your fault I’m ill.’  or ‘I know you did X, but other people played a part too.’  This can be very difficult if the person is too terrified of feeling their own guilt.  They may not be able to listen at all.

Children may cover their ears when you try to start talking about ‘mummy’s illness’, or ‘the time I went to hospital’.   They can be too frightened they are going to hear something which will turn their world upside down – and that you are going to say it was all their fault and they need to be severely punished.

Adults have their own ways of covering their ears, which might include the pub or the football on the telly, or taking flowers to the church or visiting mum.

People who are ill can feel guilty

  • about being ill
  • about not being able to look after other people, (like their children, partners, parents or friends)
  • about taking up other people’s time
  • about not being a good friend, parent, lover, child….
  • about being angry that other people are healthy and they are ill
  • about wanting to ‘pass on’ their illness to someone they’re angry with, or jealous of, or just don’t like..
  • about failing to look after their own health before
  • about not being as good or healthy as they thought they were
  • about hating being ill
  • about liking any advantage that illness might bring
  • about wanting to be loved just the same, now they are ill
  • about not wanting sex now they are ill
  • about not wanting to touch someone now they are ill
  • about not wanting to be touched

People who live with or care about someone who is ill can feel guilty

  • about not being as ill as the other person
  • about being healthy when someone else is ill
  • about not wanting to ‘take it on themselves’ when they think they should
  •  about turning away from someone they once loved, because they are now ill and not the same person any more
  •  about thinking  bad thoughts about people who are ill
  • about not wanting to touch someone now they are ill
  • about not wanting to be touched
  • about wanting sex, although their partner is ill
  • about feeling happy when someone they should care about is ill

Both can feel guilty about

  • about not being positive, when being positive is supposed to make people better
  •  about feeling negative, when feeling negative is supposed to make people worse
  •  about not being ‘over it’ yet, when they feel they should be
  •  about thinking about the time before the illness
  •  about feeling useless because of the illness
  •  about feeling someone else is useless  because they are ill
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About thetroublewithillness

I've been a counsellor for people with physical illnesses for a long time now, and learnt a lot about what it's like living with your own or someone else's illness. I want to pass some of this on.
This entry was posted in carers, emotions related to illness, grieving processes, health, identification, illness, talking about feelings and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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