Chronic Pain – How Can We Overcome the Burden of Guilt?

Many people who live with chronic pain also live with another huge burden. That burden is guilt.

The Burden of Guilt is Damaging to Health

We struggle with the pain. We struggle with the stress of living with it. And sometimes, we struggle with all-consuming guilt, which can ultimately affect both our mental and physical health.

Guilt is a huge weight to be shackled to. We can’t carry it around. Instead, we drag it behind us, slowing down our every move. We really don’t need that in our lives. Our pain gives us more than enough to cope with.

The Burden of Guilt Uses Energy We Don’t Have

Pain is like a 4×4 gas guzzler. It wants more gas than we can afford. Our tank empties quickly. We run out. We’re stranded as we have no reserves and we need to wait before we can afford to refill. Sometimes it takes days, even weeks before we can refill that tank.

When we burden ourselves with guilt, our tank empties even faster because guilt uses an incredible amount of energy.

Our energy is such a scarce commodity. If we could ditch that guilt, it would free up energy that is already in short supply. We simply don’t have enough of it to cope with everyday life, therefore we need to try to stop wastage.

We Can’t Let Ourselves be Burdened with Guilt

It’s a difficult emotion to stop though, isn’t it?  Perhaps some of the following reasons for feeling guilty sound familiar to you:

  • You believe you are a burden to your family.
  • You don’t have the energy or capability to do everyday tasks and chores or look after your family.
  • You may be unable to work therefore unable to contribute financially to the household.
  • If you can work, you might feel that you can’t pull your weight because of your pain and lack of energy. You might also feel guilty about taking sick leave because you’d be letting other people down.
  • You feel like you need to depend on other people too much, both financially and physically.
  • You might be a student, struggling with coursework.
  • You don’t visit people or keep in touch enough or you feel that you let other people down when you need to cancel plans at the last minute due to the unpredictable nature of your pain.
  • You are always tired. You need to sleep a lot. You may have put on weight. You are unable to exercise. You feel guilty because this is not the person you want to be.
  • You might believe you’re not good enough – not good enough at what you do and not good enough at being a husband, wife, parent, child, sibling or friend because the pain affects everything in your life.
  • You just feel guilty – for no other reason than for being you.

I Feel Guilty for Being Me

A few years ago, on an old blog, I wrote those exact words – “I feel guilty for being me.”  I then shared the post with other people who suffered from trigeminal neuralgia and so many people said, ‘me too’.

But the only person who ever pointed a finger at me and made me feel guilty was myself. Nobody else has ever made me feel that way.

I don’t feel like that now. I refuse to.

Nobody should ever feel guilty for being who they are because they live with chronic pain. It’s not their fault. They didn’t ask for it. They don’t deserve it. They shouldn’t feel guilty.

If you are feeling the burden of guilt because you're living with pain or illness, it's not your fault. Picture of Scrabble letters saying Ditch the guilt

How to Overcome the Burden of Guilt

We need to rid ourselves of guilt because it’s unnecessary and it is damaging to our health and wellbeing. Besides that, we have more than enough to put up with, don’t we?

12 Tips to Help You to Ditch the Guilt

1 – Make a List

Try making a list of reasons why you feel guilty. Study each reason and ask yourself if you could do something differently. Most likely, you’ll find that you are doing the best you can therefore you have no reason to feel guilty. 

2 – Ask for Reassurance

You might think you are a burden, but your friends and family most likely don’t. Explain to them how you are feeling because it’s better to talk, rather than keep it to yourself.

3 – Ask for Help

If you are struggling to look after your children tell someone. And when people offer help, take it, without guilt. Never feel bad about getting help. You live with a chronic condition.

4 – Set Priorities

Decide what tasks and chores are most important. Everything else can wait for a better day. And again, ask for help. Don’t put yourself on a guilt trip for not cooking elaborate meals or having a toddler’s fingerprints on the windows. Those things don’t matter.

5 – See Your Doctor

People with chronic pain, can often suffer from depression and anxiety, which can lead to feelings of insecurity and guilt. Perhaps meds and/or counselling could help.

6 – Learn to Say No – Without Guilt

It takes time to learn but saying no is actually self-care. It’s your pain and you know how you’ll suffer if you do something. If it’s worth some extra pain, you might want to say yes. If it’s not worth it, say no, without guilt.

7 – Alternatives

If you can’t do something, try making alternative plans. Rather than go out for coffee with your friends, ask them to visit you. Do something that suits them and you.

8 – It’s Not My Fault

Write those words anywhere you’ll see them throughout the day – on a post-it on the fridge or make it your computer screensaver. If you keep a journal, write the phrase on every page.

9 – Realistic Goals

Set realistic goals. Small achievements are huge victories. If you miss a goal one day, don’t worry because tomorrow is another day.

10 – Be Proud of Yourself 

You live with pain every day. It’s a constant struggle, but you try your best. Be very proud.

11 – Love Yourself 

It’s ok, actually imperative, to love yourself. Spend time on yourself, be kind to yourself. Do something you love – a hobby, read, go to a spa.

12 – Advice You’d Give to a Friend

Ask yourself this question  “What advice would I give to a friend in my exact position?” The answer would probably be, “Ditch the guilt.”

Unburden Yourself

I hope you don’t live with this burden of guilt because of your chronic pain. If you do, I hope you can work on overcoming it.

I’d love to hear what you think of this post – please leave me a comment in the box below. Please follow my blog and click the share buttons. Perhaps we can encourage other chronic pain sufferers to ditch their guilt.

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45 thoughts on “Chronic Pain – How Can We Overcome the Burden of Guilt?

  1. I really enjoyed reading this. Conquering guilt is such a valuable lesson to learn – and feeling guilty is such waste of time and energy.
    Excellent suggestions to manage those feelings.

  2. Eugh, this is so spot on. I’ve felt a sometimes overwhelming sense of guilt, sometimes because I feel I’m not doing enough, other times for no reason other than that I’m sorry for being the way I am with no specific reason. Guilt can be utterly devastating. But you’re right, we didn’t ask for this, we shouldn’t apologise, we have every right to happiness without guilt. Great post! xx

    1. Yes, it is devastating and it can destroy some people. We deserve happiness. We have so much to deal with living with pain, we shouldn’t allow guilt to take away happiness.
      Thanks for commenting.

  3. Hi Shannah, I hope you are able to reassure your Mom. Some things she could work at herself, but getting your reassurance, will be a major starting point for her.
    I hope her pain isn’t too bad just now.
    Thanks for commenting.

  4. I can relate. When I was diagnosed with epilepsy and had my driving privileges revoked, I felt like a burden having to be driven around everywhere and felt a great deal of guilt about this as well. What I kept reminding myself is that if I drove in my condition, I would not only be putting my own life in danger but others’ lives as well.

  5. Kari Haywood Chairez

    I was the caregiver of someone with chronic pain for quite a while. I think, as a caregiver, we often struggle with what the other person actually needs from us. We don’t want them to feel guilty, but sometimes we need to know what is needed. In most cases, this person didn’t even have the energy to explain what they needed. It’s quite a struggle both physically and mentally!

    1. I often say that caregivers have a hard time. They don’t always get enough credit for what they do. It must be a struggle sometimes, especially if the person isn’t able to explain their needs.

  6. sjd68

    Guilt is a very difficult thing for people to deal with and it certainly is a tough emotion for many. Somewhere there has to be a balance. You should never feel as though you’re being a burden. I think some problems with guilt is caused by a lack of communication. Ask for help as you say.

    1. Mary, I have a post in my to-do list about just that. Pain comes in many forms, depression is one of them. It’s an illness, just like pain and also like pain, it’s not always understood.

  7. I don’t know any family who would consider their chronically ill loved one a burden. True family accepts you as you are and helps as much as they can. Sometimes, though, you do need to articulate your needs–they’re aren’t mind readers.

  8. rachaelthrive

    Very powerful post. I think a lot of times we tell ourselves stories and just assume others have those same perceptions.

  9. Hedy

    This is definitely a much needed post, especially with the lives that we live and the things that we undergo. I like that you offered some great tips to overcome this guilt!

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    1. Maggie Webster

      I have been living with chronic pain for the last two and a half years after a bad auto accident left me permanently injured and in constant pain. I’ve been struggling with guilt for the past few months as I’ve been getting more and more disabled. I used to be able to do everything for my husband, all the house chores, laundry, pets, grocery shopping, etc. Now I cant even get to the store to pick up a 12 pack if soda for him and I know how frustrated he gets because of it. I know its not me he’s mad at, its the situation. But its so hard not to take it personally, its so hard not to feel guilty. I cant do half of what I used to be able to. I would give anything to be able to take care of things again to take them off my husbands list. Its not fair to him.

      1. Maggie, I understand. But please do try not to put a guilt trip on yourself. This isn’t your fault. Talk to your husband so he knows how you feel. I wrote a post a few weeks ago about being proud of your achievements, no matter how big or small they are. Perhaps you could find small things you are able to do and celebrate them. I know it’s not the same, but burdening yourself with guilt over the things you can’t do will affect your health.

        1. Maggie Webster

          Thank you for your advice, I took it and showed my husband your post and let him know how I was feeling. And he said the same thing, its not my fault and we can get through this together. One day at a time. Thank you for sharing this post with the world, you are giving strength to so many. Please keep it up, we need people like you lighting the way.

          1. Hi Maggie, I am so glad that you talked to your husband. Keeping those feelings inside just seems to amplify them, doesn’t it? Sounds like you have a lovely, supportive husband. Take care of yourself.

  21. Val Bond

    I have Chronic neuropathic pain.
    I feel constantly guilty that I should exercise to keep muscle strength , but can’t motivate myself to do routine exercises. . Or go to classes or the pool when the virus Is not preventing it.
    It is a vicious circle. I know I would probably be stronger , live longer , keep more mobile if I moved and stretched more. But aches and pain plus fatigue stop me . So my slow deterioration is my fault. I know the answer is get up and do it, but something stops me

  22. Robert J Fortier

    My chronic pain journey is now entering its 3rd decade. It has intensified since my retirement in 2015 and it seems that every time we crest a hill expecting to see an oasis we see more desert. After each cresting I can see and feel my wife’s spirit being depleted a little more and her exhaustion more palpable and her resentment increasing all of which I completely understand. You see I was her caregiver during her cancer journey. It was a different journey of course and one huge difference is that my chronic pain journey has lasted 10 times as long as hers with no end in sight. The main issue is that I have started talking less about what I am actually feeling ob the emotional and physical levels and that is not healthy. We need to get out of this rut we are stuck in.

    1. Hi Robert, it’s so difficult, isn’t it. I understand that feeling of no end being in sight. Your wife probably understands more that you realise, so try to talk to her about how you are feeling. Or speak to your doctor. The longer those emotions are trapped inside, the more difficult it becomes to release them.
      Take care.

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