Guilt: The Greatest Emotional Challenge for Thyroid Patients
Average Read Time: 4 minutes
Out of all of the many complex emotional issues that you can experience when you live with chronic thyroid illness, the one that is the most universal and the most damaging is guilt. This complex (and often misunderstood) emotion has a way of eroding your relationships and undermining your health and confidence when left unchecked.
So, why do so many of us who live with chronic illness also carry around a huge load of guilt?
Here’s the answer: When you get right down to it, most people feel either consciously or unconsciously that somehow, their illness is all their fault.
It was the choices they made or didn’t make. It was the things they ate, or the relationships they were in, or how hard they pushed themselves, or the signals they ignored from their body until it was too late.
Why We Blame Ourselves
It becomes easy to believe that you are to blame for your illness when it seems that no one truly understands how you feel, when others judge you because “you don’t look sick”, and when doctors gaslight you and tell you things like, “It’s all in your head.”
We begin to wonder, ”Are they right?”
With that spark of self-doubt comes self-judgment because you start thinking that, maybe, you are not really that sick at all. Maybe you are just lazy, unmotivated, or lacking in will power. Maybe you just need to, “power through”.
You look at other people with chronic illness and when you compare yourself to how much better they seem to be doing than you, the guilt and self-blame becomes even worse.
But this is only one layer of the guilt of chronic illness. The greatest source of guilt is that you feel like you are constantly letting everyone else down.
Self-Doubt and Self-Judgment
The hard reality is that you are not the person you used to be before your chronic illness. You can’t do the things that you used to do, and your friendships start falling by the wayside because your friends get tired of you constantly canceling.
Your boss gets impatient with your needs and requests, and you start to feel guilty about not pulling your weight at work. Your partner has to step up and take on more of the responsibility at home and you feel guilty watching them do it because you think you should be doing more. As a result of the guilt you feel, you may begin to distance yourself from them, which puts even more strain on the relationship.
For parents, you might feel too sick to play with your children or attend school events to support them, so you feel guilty that all they are going to remember when they grow up is you always being sick.
As the medical expenses begin to pile up and you become too sick to work full time (or even work at all), the guilt increases even more. You may feel like a burden, and when you feel like a burden, it feels like you are dragging everyone else down with you.
UP NEXT: MY LIFE AS A GO-KART: WHEN YOUR THYROID CHANGES HOW YOU LIVE
Toxic Guilt vs. Guilt as Messenger
As someone who lives with a chronic illness, I know how easy it is for guilt to become your emotional default. You start apologizing for things that are not your fault. “I’m sorry,” becomes a phrase that you repeat several times a day.
You can easily end up stuck in a state of toxic guilt that doesn’t help you, your relationships, your health, or anything else in your life — and this is not the way that guilt is supposed to work emotionally.
Like anger, resentment, and grief, guilt serves a purpose. It is a signal from the mind and emotions that is transmitted into the body that something needs to be faced and dealt with. Guilt is a messenger that we need to pay attention to. Guilt lets us know when we are out of alignment with ourselves or when we feel that we have done something actually wrong.
Unfortunately, most people do not understand how to use guilt as the messenger that it is.
Instead, they become trapped in toxic guilt mode, which leads to stress, which creates inflammation, which creates more pain, misery and flares.
Chronic illness is one of those cosmic car accidents in life that can hit anyone at any time, through no fault of their own.
Coping with Guilt
There is a way to understand and deal with guilt appropriately. Once you do this, you will feel so much more empowered, confident, and relieved…all of which is going to help you feel much better.
The very first thing that you need to understand is that chronic illness is not your fault. You didn’t create it, you certainly don’t deserve it, and you don’t need to keep feeling guilty about having it.
Chronic illness is one of those cosmic car accidents in life that can hit anyone at any time, through no fault of their own. It is happening in rapidly increasing numbers throughout the world as more and more autoimmune diseases are identified.
There is nothing you did that caused it. It takes decades of different triggers — emotional, social, physical, and environmental — to create the conditions that lead your immune system to begin to attack your body.
There is nothing that you could have done differently to stop it from happening. The “how” of chronic illness is something that you will probably never know, but now that you have a chronic illness, it becomes something that you need to accept and manage as best you can.
If your illness was happening to someone else, someone that you love, would you blame them and shame them for being sick?
How to Diffuse Guilt or Use It
When you realize your illness is not your fault, the guilt attached to your illness becomes a useless emotion. Remember: The purpose of guilt is to let you know when you have done something against your own personal moral or ethical code.
If you have actually done something wrong, then guilt is the perfect emotional signal to help you take responsibility, own your actions, and apologize as best you can. That is all you can do when you feel that you have done something wrong.
If you feel persistent guilt around your illness, try putting yourself in other people’s shoes: If your illness was happening to someone else, someone that you love, would you blame them and shame them for being sick, or would you do your best to adapt to this new challenge in your lives together?
When you become chronically ill, it is something that happens to your whole family, something that everyone in your life needs to adapt to and accept in exactly the same way they would need to if you had been in an accident that created a visible, physical disability.
There are so many emotions that you might feel with chronic illness, but toxic guilt doesn’t need to be one of them. Chronic illness changes every single aspect of your life. Try to remind yourself that you are doing the best you can in every moment. That is all you can do, and it is absolutely enough.