Chronic illness diagnosis and guilt

Living with a chronic disease can often lead to feelings of guilt, but it’s important to recognize that these feelings are common and perfectly normal. Here are some reasons why individuals with chronic illnesses may experience guilt:

  1. Burden on others: People with chronic illnesses may feel guilty about the impact their condition has on their loved ones, such as needing assistance with daily tasks, financial strain, or emotional stress. They may feel like they’re a burden on their family and friends, which can lead to feelings of guilt and self-blame.
  2. Inability to fulfill roles: Chronic illnesses can affect a person’s ability to fulfil their roles and responsibilities, whether it’s at work, in relationships, or within their family. They may feel guilty for not being able to meet expectations or for having to rely on others for support.
  3. Perceived lack of productivity: Chronic illnesses can limit a person’s ability to engage in activities they once enjoyed or pursue their goals and aspirations. They may feel guilty for not being as productive or accomplished as they were before their diagnosis.
  4. Self-blame: Some individuals may blame themselves for their illness, whether it’s due to lifestyle factors, genetics, or other reasons. They may feel guilty for not taking better care of themselves or for somehow causing their condition.
  5. Comparison with others: Seeing others who appear healthy and able-bodied may trigger feelings of guilt or inadequacy in individuals with chronic illnesses. They may compare themselves to others and feel guilty for not being able to live up to societal expectations or norms.

Dealing with feelings of guilt associated with chronic illness can be challenging, but it’s important to address them in a healthy and constructive way. Here are some strategies for coping with guilt:

  1. Practice self-compassion: Be kind to yourself and recognize that having a chronic illness is not your fault. Treat yourself with the same compassion and understanding that you would offer to a loved one in a similar situation. You have an awful lot to come to terms with and it may take some time, give yourself that time and space.
  2. Seek support: Talk to trusted friends or people who understand because they have been through the same experience eg in one of the support groups at the National Aspergillosis Centre, family members, or a therapist about your feelings of guilt. Sharing your emotions with others who understand can help validate your experiences and provide comfort and reassurance.
  3. Set realistic expectations: Adjust your expectations and goals to align with your current abilities and limitations. Focus on what you can do rather than dwelling on what you can’t, and celebrate your accomplishments no matter how small. In other words to use a phrase uttered regularly in the NAC support groups – find your new normal.
  4. Practice gratitude: Cultivate a sense of gratitude for the support and resources available to you, as well as the things that bring you joy and fulfilment despite your illness. Focus on the positive aspects of your life rather than dwelling on feelings of guilt or inadequacy.
  5. Engage in self-care: Prioritize self-care activities that promote your physical, emotional, and mental well-being, such as getting enough rest, eating a balanced diet, exercising within your limits, and engaging in activities that bring you pleasure and relaxation.
  6. Challenge negative thoughts: Challenge negative thoughts and beliefs that contribute to feelings of guilt or self-blame. Replace them with more balanced and compassionate perspectives, reminding yourself that you are doing the best you can under challenging circumstances.

Remember that it’s okay to seek professional help if you’re struggling to cope with feelings of guilt or if they’re significantly impacting your quality of life. A therapist or counsellor can provide additional support and guidance tailored to your specific needs and circumstances.

NOTE You may find it useful to also read our article on grief.

Graham Atherton, National Aspergillosis Centre April 2024