Is Guilt a Natural Part of the Grieving Process?

Many people experience guilt when grieving. Sometimes feeling guilty has positive benefits, especially if it motivates you to change problematic behaviors. But sometimes the guilt lies in holding yourself overly responsible for things that are out of your control. This type of guilt can quickly become burdensome, and it may stunt the healing process.

Understanding Guilt During Grief

Guilt is a fairly normal reaction to experience during times of grief. Most people worry that they didn’t do enough, say the right thing, or make more of an effort. Persistent guilt, however, is often a sign of complicated grief.

You might notice yourself feeling guilty when:

  • you reflect on missed opportunities
  • regret a specific action you took that may have harmed the person you lost
  • you notice yourself feeling happy or healing from the loss
  • you have relief associated with the loss
  • you believe that you could have done something to change the outcome of what happened

When Does Guilt Become Maladaptive?

Guilt itself is just an emotion, and all emotions are normal and valid during grief. You should not try to change how you feel, and it often isn’t necessary to painfully analyze why a feeling might emerge.

Guilt is also part of reconciling loss. Because some types of loss can be so shocking or traumatic, guilt sometimes manifests as intrusive thoughts. For example, you might obsess over the fact that, if you had just done one thing differently, the loss wouldn’t have happened.

This pattern is often about seeking a sense of order and control. It often feels better to blame something (even if that something is yourself) than to accept the painful and random reality that comes with loss. It can be so hard to truly realize that we don’t have much control over the things that happen in our lives.

But guilt can complicate grief when you deprive yourself of self-care, self-compassion, or support. For example, some people might believe that they deserve to feel miserable. As a result, they might withdraw themselves from loved ones. They may also try to escape how they feel through substance abuse, overeating, or other compulsive habits.

How Can You Cope If You Feel Guilty?

If you feel guilt after a death, it’s important to first validate your emotions. When a loss or death occurs, most people spin through intense cycles of emotions that don’t have a defined beginning, middle, or end.

Acknowledge When You Feel Overwhelmed

Identifying your feelings as they happen in real-time can offer you a sense of perspective and help you stay present with yourself. Some people benefit from simply labeling what’s occurring, but you can also try writing them down.

Rather than fighting how you feel, try to simply practice acceptance. The more you can accept emotions as being an inevitable part of the grief process, the more you lean into truly recovering from your pain.

Connect With Like-Minded Individuals

Although grief is undoubtedly universal, it’s still a largely taboo topic, and many people struggle to really talk about it. This is why building your support system is so invaluable.

Support groups offer a wonderful place for sharing your feelings and validating one another’s experiences. Everyone in the group is experiencing their own grieving process, and many people will relate to shared feelings of guilt.

Keep Taking Care of Yourself

No matter your circumstances, you still deserve to attune to your needs. Try not to let grief encourage you to self-destruct or avoid basic self-care.

Your well-being matters, and you can move through your grief more wholeheartedly when you look after yourself. Consider that self-care needs may change over time. Try to consider what you most need during a given moment, and don’t forget to focus on the basics (sleep, nutrition, physical activity, and social support).

Channel Your Guilt

Even though guilt can feel uncomfortable, it can also be an adaptive emotion. There are many stories about people who felt guilty and then chose to harness that emotion into even stronger actions.

For example, you might decide to get involved with a certain charity associated with the cause of death. Or, you might decide to dramatically change how you live your life to better honor your loved one.

How Does Therapy Help With Grief and Guilt?

Loss can be so painful, and it’s normal to wish you could have said or done things differently during the grief process. It’s also normal to experience a full continuum of emotion after an important loss occurs.

Therapy offers you a safe place to process these complex feelings. Some of the work may also include learning how to implement self-care or considering what you might need to do to forgive yourself for any potential mistakes.

Regardless of your circumstances, I am here for you. Therapy provides a genuine, supportive relationship where we can focus on your healing process. Please contact me today to schedule a consultation.

4601 Spicewood Springs Road Building 3, Suite 200
Austin, TX 78759
(512) 988-3363

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