Letting Go of Guilt
Guilt isn’t technically a migraine symptom, but, from talking with migraineurs, it seems just as prevalent as sensitivity to sound and nausea. For some of us, the mental and emotional weight of guilt is even more troubling than some physical symptoms of migraine.
Rationally, most of us know we shouldn’t feel guilty when we have to cancel plans or are late with a work project due to migraine – migraine isn’t our fault and we’ve done nothing wrong. But rationality doesn’t take the hurt out of feeling like we let others down or disappointed our loved ones. In fact, over-rationalizing often leads to us denying and invalidating what we're going through.
That's definitely how it was for me. Guilt was a constant companion in my most of years with chronic migraine. Loved ones and doctors told me time after time that I wasn’t to blame and shouldn’t feel guilty, but all that did was add another “should” to my list of things I was doing wrong.
I tried all sorts of ways to banish the guilt without success. What finally did work was an unintended outcome of practicing self-compassion and of learning to be kind to myself.
Self-compassion and self-kindness. Huh, those are tough for people who are so familiar with their inner critic that they can’t imagine its absence. I was one of them. Notice I say “was.” By learning self-compassion techniques, I’ve stopped criticizing myself constantly and feeling guilty for anything migraine-related. I still wish I could do things that I have to skip because of a migraine and I’m sorry when my loved ones are disappointed, but I don’t blame myself.
Interested in exploring self-compassion yourself? Self-Compassion.org is a great place to start. The website was put together by Professor Kristin Neff, whose career is focused on researching and teaching self-compassion. There’s a quiz to test your self-compassion, free guided meditations and self-compassion exercises, videos explaining what self-compassion is, blog posts that answer common questions and lots more.
Once you get the foundation, you can explore the many books and audio recordings that teach self-compassion. Professor Neff’s “Self-Compassion Step by Step,” an audiobook that’s essentially a self-compassion workshop, is very good, though you may find other teachers and writing styles appeal to you more. If you’re interested in Buddhism, self-compassion is taught in the concept of loving-kindness (or lovingkindness).
Like with learning to play an instrument, learning self-compassion isn’t intuitive or automatic for most people. With time and practice, you’ll slowly become aware that you’re incorporating the lessons into your life and releasing the blame and guilt.
Does it seem impossible that you could learn self-compassion and reduce the feeling of guilt? I didn’t believe it was even remotely possible for me… and then I did it. And was happy to find that practicing self-compassion makes coping with nearly every aspect of migraine easier for me. It takes some work and dedication, but the fruits of that labor are sweet.
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