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Guilt and grief part 2

Following on from my last post talking about guilt v's regret in grief this part of the blog will focus on different ways of dealing with any guilt you may be feeling.


It can be helpful to talk through guilt and regret with a therapist but below are some steps you can take to help yourself work on guilt you may be carrying;


o Acknowledge that to feel guilty is a normal part of grief, embrace and welcome it, because it has value. Welcoming it doesn’t mean it is going to stay, just that you see it and recognise it as part of the grief. Just sit with the discomfort that comes with the guilt, as painful and unpleasant as that can be. This doesn’t mean ruminating and holding onto it, nor does it mean avoiding it – just being with it and noticing it when it is there, being curious about what it says to you, rather than taking it at face value. Acknowledging the feeling of guilt (and thoughts associated with it) can help you to see them just as thoughts/feelings, that come and go, rather than something concrete, and stop you getting pulled into an endless cycle of guilt and recrimination. (there is a big difference between I have a feeling that… and I am….).


o Acknowledging exactly what it is that you feel guilty for, being specific and facing it directly. Considering what it is about and what the guilt means to you. Sometimes it can feel like holding onto the guilt keeps a connection with the person who has died, sometimes it can feel like you ‘should’ feel that way, working out what your guilt is about and why you are holding onto it can help work towards to releasing it.


o Talking about how you are feeling and thinking with others, be it family, friends, a support group or a therapist, can help reflect on it and maybe reframe things.


o Ask yourself if you are holding yourself to a higher standard than you would someone else, like a friend or family member. What would you tell them if they said they were feeling this way and what stops you from offering yourself the same compassion? What would enable you to forgive them and what stops you from giving that to yourself?


o Ask yourself, honestly, if your feelings of guilt are rational and logical or not. If they are not admit it to yourself. This isn’t about dismissing the feeling of guilt but just acknowledging that though you feel guilty you may not in reality be guilty (a big difference).


o Recognise the role hindsight plays in how you think and feel. You now have information you didn’t have at the time – now you can look back and see things that you couldn’t see/notice at the time because you didn’t and couldn’t of had all the information – maybe write down all the information you ACTUALLY had then v’s what you have now and notice the difference. Let yourself know you are only human and you can’t be all things to all people or predict the future (and the impact of each individual decision made).


o Balance out the guilty thoughts, acknowledge the thought then find a thought that counters it, for example if you feel you didn’t do enough, what did you do.


o Reflect on what forgiveness means to you and what it would be like to offer yourself forgiveness. Forgiveness is not about condoning or excusing what happened but accepting what happened happened, and acknowledging that holding onto the guilt is damaging you. It isn’t about forgetting but finding a way to move forward, taking the lessons learnt with you and leaving the self-punishment behind. Look at actively forgiving yourself, waiting for it to just happen all on its own isn’t realistic and rarely (if ever) happens). Make a choice to let the guilt go, and remind yourself of this each time you notice it come up again. It isn’t easy and wont magically work all at once, give yourself time and compassion.


o Recognise that you are not your behaviour, there is a massive difference between doing something wrong (intentionally or not) and being a bad person, one does not mean the other. Just because you may have done something wrong doesn’t make you a bad person, everyone makes mistakes.


o Ask yourself what were your motives in what you did? What were your intentions? Did they come from a good place? Were they based on the information you had then (remember not the information you have now with hindsight)


o If you feel like there needs to be some kind of reparation/amends made with the guilt what is it? what form will it take? Beating yourself up constantly helps no one at all so maybe there is a way of channelling that into something positive, use what you have learnt from your guilt to ‘educate others’, for example raising awareness of suicide, talking more with your family and encouraging others to do the same – use the guilt in a positive way.


o What would your loved one say to you about the way you are thinking/feeling? You can imagine them in front of you talking to you, or you can write them a letter, and then write a response, as though from them to you. Or just write a letter to them full of all you feel then burn it as a symbolic way of releasing the emotions.


o Practically you can – as mentioned above, write a letter poring out all the guilt you feel, then burn it (safely) as a symbolic way of releasing the emotion. There are also several self-forgiveness meditations out there such as https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-7OzbeGud8 or ones on Headspace (this though is a paid for app but very useful).



It is human to want to find something or someone to blame, to not do so means accepting the truth, that the universe can be unpredictable and chaotic, and that feels so big and scary. When you think you could have done something differently to change the outcome it gives the illusion of control, the idea that there is a rational order to things, there can be a strange sort of comfort in that. Holding onto guilt (and self-blame) can feed the idea that you could have controlled the outcome, and this perception of control (no matter inaccurate) is frequently more comforting than realising you have no control, however is it helpful to you and does it help you to remember the person you love in the way they would want to be remembered? If the answer is no to both of these maybe it is time to take a good look at the guilt?


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