Why Do We Feel Guilty?In Western culture, we pride ourselves on our ability to work hard and be independent. We like to own our own cars and houses and generally don't depend on neighbors, friends, and family as much as people do in other cultures. When we are ill or we need help, we tend to feel as though we are not living up to the high ideals that we set for ourselves.
IBD is notoriously unpredictable. Not only do people who have IBD not know when a flare-up of their disease is going to hit, they also do not know what treatment is going to be successful at stopping the inflammation. A treatment plan that has worked in the past may stop being effective, which forces the patient and their physicians to move on to the next treatment option. A new treatment plan brings with it a significant amount of uncertainty about efficacy as well as potential side effects.
All of this constant change and readjustment is difficult for the person who has IBD, of course, but it also affects everyone around them. Spouses, children, caregivers, co-workers and other friends and family may need to pick up the slack while the person who has IBD works on improving their health. Loved ones often don't mean to cause stress, but the increased pressures they are facing may leave the person with IBD feeling guilt over being sick. Feeling fatigued and unable to take part in daily activities is common during a flare-up or during recovery from surgery, and watching someone else struggle under the burden of extra responsibilities can lead to self-reproach.
Dealing With Your Feelings of GuiltFeelings of guilt over being ill are common, and there's not going to be a way to eradicate them completely. However, it is important to deal with emotions like guilt, in order to avoid further negative affects on health. Thinking about the situation rationally and dealing with feelings of guilt head-on may prove helpful.
- Recognize when guilt is not productive. There is such a thing as "healthy" guilt -- doing something truly wrong should elicit feelings of guilt. Being sick through no fault of your own, however, is not a healthy reason for feeling guilt. We don't know the exact cause of IBD, but it's likely from a complex interplay of genetics and environment. No one can choose their genes, and we are all exposed to environmental causes of disease simply by going about our daily business. You didn't bring the IBD on yourself, so you should try to let go of the guilt that you may have done something wrong.
- Make changes to your thought process. If the tables were turned, and it was your loved one who was ill instead of you, would you want them feeling guilt? Would you become the caregiver when necessary in order to give them the best chance at better health? Putting yourself in the place of your friends and loved ones may help you to get some perspective surrounding your feelings of guilt. You may be taking more responsibility for others' feelings than you need to.
- Have an honest conversation. If you feel guilty about not being able to do the shopping, or are worried about using up all of your sick time at work, bring it up with the people who are affected by your illness. Do the people around you feel resentful about your illness? They might be upset from time to time too, but that resentment is also a feeling that needs to be recognized and aired out in the open in order to get rid of it. You will probably be surprised at how much better you both feel after clearing the air about the negative feelings you are having about the IBD.
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- Forgive yourself for having IBD. This may sound ridiculous, but forgiving yourself is an important part of dealing with your illness and the problems it causes. Having IBD is not something that you can change. If you can't change a thing, all you can do is change how you react to it. Forgive yourself the little things that you'd like to do but are unable to when you're not feeling well. Taking care of yourself is the best way to getting back to your regular routine, and participating in your life in the way you have when your IBD is in remission.
- Seek help when you need it. Chronic illness, such as IBD, tends to be associated with higher rates of depression. If you find your thoughts spiraling out of control, and your feelings of guilt overwhelm you, it's time to seek outside help. That help can take many forms, from getting help with child care, errands, and household chores, to talking with a mental health professional or a family counselor. The same is true for those around you -- if your loved ones feel overwhelmed, it is time to find outside help. Your gastroenterologist or internist can help you find a professional that has experience in treating people who have IBD.