Some Thoughts on Guilt

It is not uncommon for a “well partner” to feel guilty for remaining able bodied while the partner is ill. Sometimes the exhausting efforts of caring that some of us may consider “beyond the call of duty or love” the person undertakes, may represent a wish to undo the feelings of betrayal we may have for failing to protect our loved one from suffering and hardship.

It is important to understand that there are seldom single or simple motivations for thoughts, feelings, and actions, particularly in circumstances as complex and difficult as illness and disability. We have to recognize that although our feelings of guilt for another’s illness are normal, we are in no way responsible for the illness. Often despite frantic efforts to maintain our lives as they were before, it is painful for us to acknowledge that our lifestyle is different and will be different, and that there is little we can do to maintain our prior status.

In fact, our current actions might prevent us from making necessary adjustments.
There is a difference, perhaps, between “lifestyle” and “life values.” Our style of living might change, but our values need not alter. In fact, illness or disability may force us to reconsider what is most important- career, children, marriage- we have to think about that seriously. We need to reflect upon this for if we are not clear about those choices, as soon as things get rough, one or both of us might be angry or confused.

It is important to recognize that simply because we feel guilty, does not necessarily mean we have done anything wrong. Sometimes guilt is a residue of the feeling we had we had we were younger. For example, if we lived in a family where we were discouraged from a certain way of expressing ourselves and now, when we do so, we feel guilty.

It may also be that we are experiencing what is called existential guilt. That is the experience of a normal person when people they care for, known or unknown, suffer distress. We cannot take care of everybody in need, but feel we ought. It is a part of the non psychopathic essential goodness of humans. Unfortunately we do not have unlimited resources.

We cannot be at all places at all time. We cannot do it for those of us at home and we can not do it for those we care for, stranger ot friend, far away. We do what we can do and it is natural and good to feel guilty about that which we cannot, no matter how much we wish otherwise.

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