Letting Go of Guilt

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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (16)
  • Kelly
    4 years ago

    I love this article and the link to the self-compassion website. Thank you SO much! I’m coping with an employer who has advised me that I really need to work on how I deal with stress so that I can control my headaches and my sick days. My migraines are hormonal and I’ve had them since age 12. I’ve tried prescription medications, herbal remedies, acupuncture, yoga, meditation and I exercise daily. I’ve lost friends, have missed out on countless social activities and was even sick on my wedding day. The guilt is overwhelming. The feeling of letting others down is just phenomenal. It is hard to be perceived as someone who is bringing on this pain as a result of a personal deficiency. The pain and vomiting is excruciating, however the guilt is just as debilitating. I want to be a “whole” person – migraines make me feel inadequate and inferior in so many ways. I am so looking forward to exploring the self-compassion site as I believe that will be beneficial to my situation.

  • Jodi
    5 years ago

    I am dealing with this just this week. On Saturday I started with mild vertigo & a mild migraine. We were visiting with family I hadn’t seen in over a year & I was very un-involved with the conversation making me seem un-sociable. Then Monday I had no headache but my vertigo had increased to the point I did not feel comfortable driving so I called into work. Also had a head ache on & off all day. Today I was still feeling crummy – having difficulty finding words & focusing, but went to work anyway. One of my co-workers noticed that I was still not myself. But missing work, not part of family gathering – I feel guilty. And then I think that adds more stress & anxiety & creates further depression. It is a never ending cycle:(

  • craig
    5 years ago

    Kerrie, Thanks so very much for another great article. I have not reached the status of no guilt, but I am going to work on it, especially after reading your article and so many of the great posts below. Actually, all of the posts were great, with the exception of the commenters who called the article silly or whatever word was used. I usually comment about the information that you post Kerrie, but this time, I just wanted to say a big THANK YOU to you for sharing your time and offering ideas and information to we migraine sufferers. Between your words of advice and the great gals and guys who comment, I feel that after reading, I come away from here feeling better. I used to feel so alone in my world of suffering with migraines. I am soon to be 58 years old. Since junior high school, I have had many, many migraines. I felt like I was the only one who could not go shopping on Saturday or go to the movies on Saturday night, because as my friends would say, “because of a headache?” And, even in today’s modern world, there are many people who do not understand the meaning of “a migraine headache”. So, I THANK YOU KERRIE FOR THE GREAT JOB YOU ARE DOING AND PLEASE DON’T EVER STOP. WE APPRECIATE YOU.

  • bluesguy
    5 years ago

    Being someone who worked in the Mental health field for over 23 years, and Practiced at a Community Psychiatric hospital, (both at at the crisis department and outpatient department, providing suicide prevention, counseling, hospitalization, and family support, etc…), I would like to let you all know that Guilt, and severe thoughts of guilt that stay in one’s awareness is a sign of Depression, and possibly Severe Major Depression. Severe and persisting guilt is one of the signs that we look for in suicidal individuals. I just thought the people who write these blogs should have all of the facts. Not everyone can use mindful meditation to help heal themselves. It simply isn’t that concrete. I hope this helps. My best to you all.

  • Janet
    5 years ago

    Thank you blues guy….I agree with you 100%…guilt from migraines does exactly what you say???depresses???I tried suicide and and grateful!I wasn’t successful???for the help I needed….out a very close friend I met in a migraine clinic to suicide because her husband could stand her migraines and divorced her. Migraine disease leaves us with a pile of feelings…ones somehow people think we need to validate,…I’m sorry. I don’t think so. I can only do my best to educate myself. When my family and extended family won’t read the articles and links I send about migraine disease and “blow” me off…then it’s one more straw on my back….it’s overwhelming and I…at 58 years old now ..suffering since I was 10 yrs old choose not to explain any more. I’ve lost friendships over the years and relationship with siblings because they’re tired of migraine. They couldn’t live a week of my life…but that’s not the topic ….back to guilt. It’s real and for me…I feel guilt destroys a huge part of me because I ruin enough for a husband who has stood by me…we had a rough patch…a long one..10 years…but 13 years of chronic daily migraine will push any relationship to its limit….he still doesn’t understand that when I’m up and around talking and walking ..that does not mean my pain level disappeared or is even tolerable…at some point you withdraw..and then sometimes explode…I’m thankful he comes to all appointments with me now since he is fully retired. He’s learning more and more…but he’s been with me 38 years ..married 33..all with migraine…guess he’s sick of them too. I’m doing the best I can….but some days I can’t say I will work my life with migraine…in my life…migraine dictates what I’m capable of…all the positive thinking in the world won’t change what my head will feel. If some are relieved through meditation ..great …I’ve tried prayer…living through the pain…so many thoughtful suggestions I’ve read here at migraine.com….however sometimes migraine has a mind all it’s own.

    Blessings
    Janet

  • Janet
    5 years ago

    One more thing..guilt…yes I experience that…but God frees you from it…I don’t think any of the posts are stupid…they just reflect our thoughts in our own set of circumstances…free yourself from guilt is really hard…I feel migraines spoil everything for me and those lives I touch….

    Let’s not lash out at one another…but listen to how we feel. Collectively we cannot possibly feel the same things.

    Blessings
    Janet

  • Janet
    5 years ago

    Having the wisdom and courage to know that we are not in charge is more than half the battle …

    Blessings
    Janet

  • marlenerossman
    5 years ago

    “People with cancer DEFINITELY have guilt?” I have had cancer TWICE and you know what, girlfriend, I have absolutely no guilt. That is the LAST thing I felt when I was told TWICE that I had cancer. The only thing I felt was panic that I would die. Oh, an jazzy, my cancers were not self caused.

    What makes you the expert on cancer and guilt? Have you had cancer. When and if you do, I promise that you will not feel guilty.

  • jazzymom
    5 years ago

    In response to marlenerossman comment…

    “Would you say “letting go of cancer guilt?” This is the least helpful, stupidest post I have read in a long time.”

    I disagree that this is a “stupid” post. People with cancer DEFINITELY have guilt…especially since ALOT of cancers ARE self caused. Guilt is a really funny/strange thing too. My mother told me about a woman who felt guilty that her baby was born deaf because the woman had been out walking when she was pregnant and was hit by a car that lost control. She felt if she had stayed home and rested instead, her baby would have been fine. Guilt is usually a result of feeling responsible, even if it’s nonsense. Self esteem plays into that heavily. My guess is that marlenerossman does not suffer from low self esteem and so can’t understand that those of us who do have poor self esteem view our problems and issues as weaknesses and blame ourselves for them. If you re-read the posts that agree with Kerrie, you will see A LOT of underlying self esteem issues there. This post was very useful for them and it’s unkind of others to dismiss it’s value, just because they don’t see it or need it themselves.

    For those of us out there with self esteem issues making us feel bad about feeling bad, remember that the Bible says “Love thy neighbor as thyself”. It’s good advice, even if you don’t have a belief in it’s origins. We often only do 1/2 of that sentence…we think of others and try to be forgiving and compassionate, but forget to do it EQUALLY to ourselves. We should love ourselves JUST AS MUCH as others. Never talk/think to yourself ANYTHING you wouldn’t say to another person!

  • Leslie Coutsouridis
    5 years ago

    Amen to that. I find myself apologizing to God when I put myself down, because He made me the way I am for a reason and in His own image.
    So be kind to yourself, accept things as they are,(even with your grueling ongoing efforts to feel better!)and work on the self esteem that tells you that you need to take care of YOURSELF first because you have chronic pain.
    The toughest thing for me was trying to accept seeing my kids growing up with shortcomings because their Mom lived on the couch.
    My life has changed over the years to accept that I have few social events, but I have many friends who love me and I am so grateful for everything good in my life.

  • Dyanne
    5 years ago

    Thanks for this article explaining just how to be “good” to myself (and free of any guilt)in the face of a condition that is not of my choosing. I am afraid, ashamed, and choose not to discuss my migraine events with my friends, though some of them try and make me feel they get my suffering; but I don’t truly believe they do. The last thing I want to do is to create a pity party kind of thing for myself. So, I remain quiet and sometimes one will say, “Are you in pain because I can see it on your face!” I think from reading this article, I will learn how to be loving, kind and compassionate to me in the face of any indifference. After all, if I had my way, I would not wish this on my worst enemy!!

  • bluesguy
    5 years ago

    Thank you for sharing this fantastic article. I have felt so diminished as a significant other, as a professional, as a money earner, as a man, as a friend, as a brother, and as a son for the past six or seven years, that my self esteem has dropped incredibly low. Much of this is due to guilt, and for letting down all of these people in my life. I also feel sadness for letting myself down. I truly believe that anyone who suffers from chronic migraines must at times suffer from the related guilt and sadness that comes with it. Few know the isolation that this illness can cause. Living with the isolation and the pain is difficult enough. But guilt is a stain not easily erased. Thanks for the hope!

  • migraine-guy
    5 years ago

    this is a great article and raises some challenging points., i think its very difficult to isolate the physiological from the psychological experience of migraine. If you can reach this place perhaps the practice of self compassion is possible, but only fir brief moments.

  • Luna
    5 years ago

    Kerrie, Thank you. Very timely. Not only are we our best critics but some people really know how to take advantage of us.

  • Kathy
    5 years ago

    Marlene – It seems like you may not suffer from guilt but you do suffer from bitterness and angry which is just as normal as suffering from guilt. Try to be kind to those around you. Everyone has their own cross to bare.

  • marlenerossman
    5 years ago

    Guilt is the absolute last thing I feel about my migraine disease. I feel singled out for suffering miserably with it.
    I have extremely debilitating migraines and am quite shocked that anyone who suffers this way feels guilt.

    Would you say “letting go of cancer guilt?” This is the least helpful, stupidest post I have read in a long time.

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