How to get rid of feelings of guilt over the deceased?

Feelings of guilt over a deceased loved one: how to deal with it?

When a loved one dies, there is often a feeling of guilt: did not give, did not say, did not do, and now there is nothing to fix. Is this guilt always fair, or is there something else behind it?

The death of a loved one is associated not only with a sense of grief, but also with the experience of guilt.

When a loved one passes away, it seems that you are to blame: tired of the difficult care and painful last days, something was not given, did not take to another hospital, did not buy another medicine, stayed alive when he died.

Why does it arise and how justified? Psychologist, Director of Christian Psychological Service “Candle”, Doctor of Biological Sciences Alexandra Imasheva answers.

How and why guilt arises

Feelings of guilt at the loss of a loved one always arise. It is a normal reaction to the death of a loved one. Almost everyone who experiences loss experiences a feeling of guilt over the deceased.

This feeling can take many forms: guilt for the relief experienced, the end of a terrible, difficult period of illness of a loved one (it turns out, the person thinks that his death was the payment for my release, and I am glad of it). More often there is guilt for something that seems not to have been done or not to have been done completely (the wrong doctor was called, the wrong treatment).

There may be guilt for injustice that was done (or allegedly done) to the deceased while he or she was alive: you rarely visited him or her, made few phone calls, took poor care, and now there is nothing you can do about it.

There is even guilt for the fact that your neighbor died and you are still alive, “but he was better than me.

Sometimes guilt comes second, for example, first there is anger at the deceased – why did you leave me! – or at God (fate) – why did God take him away?! – and then immediately comes guilt: how could I think so, what a scoundrel I am. Guilt will find something to cling to.

It is extremely rare that guilt does have some basis in fact. For example, if our neighbor was very sick and didn’t want to be treated, and we went along with him because we didn’t want to bother with him. And then he died, and we feel guilty.

Or if his illness imposed restrictions on him (such as eating) and we ignored them and fed him everything, which led to a worsening of his illness and death.

Or if he suffered greatly from your quarrel and wanted to make peace, and you refused him, and it greatly marred his last days and hours.

In such rare cases of justified guilt, confession and repentance for the believer or a psychologist for the atheist will help.

But usually the guilt that almost inevitably comes after the death of a loved one is completely irrational.

It is also experienced by psychologists, who know very well the mechanism of this feeling and its unreasonableness. “I understand everything,” says the psychologist, “I know why it happens, I can lay it out, but I still feel guilty after mom’s death: I put her in the wrong hospital, I brought the wrong medicine. And after all, my mother was 89 years old, and she survived three heart attacks. Irrational guilt clings to any of the possible causes listed above and begins to gnaw at the person.

So why does it arise?

Death is a huge, out-of-control and completely unknowable event. It is as if we are looking into an impenetrable abyss.

When we experience the death of a neighbor, first we feel that there is nothing we can do, nothing we can prevent, and second, we inevitably realize that the same thing awaits us.

Our psyche finds itself in a very difficult situation of complete loss of control over what is happening, of absolute helplessness and experiencing complete uncertainty. An existential fear arises, bringing us back to some primary meanings: who I am and why I live, if my life too will inevitably end.

This leads us to an enormous, all-consuming horror that is simply unbearable: if you let it go, it will drive you crazy. How is it possible that I will be gone!

The horror of meeting death “face to face” is so strong that it is easier for us to experience unpleasant feelings of guilt or anger, just to cover this fear with them.

Mental defense mechanisms operate beyond our desire and awareness: first, shock and denial “turn on” and make us “not see” death, then anger and guilt erupt.

Feelings of guilt and anger over the death of a loved one are the psyche’s response to its own helplessness, its inability to “control” the death

Feeling of guilt in this case is a compensatory feeling, which is designed, at least in an illusory form, to return us the possibility of control over what is happening. It is easier for us to feel guilty about not getting the right medicine (an action we can take control of!) and thus not preventing death (the illusion of controlling death!) than to admit frankly to ourselves that we could not help in any way to prevent the person from dying.

In other cases, guilt is a form of experiencing the irreversibility of what has happened and realizing that nothing can be changed. It is again a loss of control over what is happening, which is unbearable for us. For example, if when my mother-in-law was alive we fought with her, but we knew that in principle we could reconcile, then after her death this possibility is gone forever. Gone from our control. And this loss of power over reality is experienced as guilt over unrealized opportunities.

Exactly for the same reason a feeling of anger arises at the death of a neighbor. This is the psyche’s response to its own complete helplessness, its furious protest.

And anger can “cling” to anything that seems adequate to our psyche: anger at the deceased (how could he leave me!?), anger at God (how could He take him!?), anger at doctors (why didn’t they save him?!). But in the end, these are all just reactions of our psyche to our utter helplessness in the face of death.

Of course, it is much easier for believers to experience both the death of a neighbor and the thought of their own mortality. In the mind of a believer, death is not the end and disappearance, but a transition to another form of existence, so there remains hope for a meeting with those who have gone, for reconciliation with them, and, very importantly, faith that even death will not make you completely disappear.

How to recover from the death of a neighbor

In modern culture there is a tendency to get rid of negative feelings as quickly as possible.

Long suffering, long grief is not welcomed by society, such a person is looked down upon and every effort is made to “pull” him out of this state.

They use hatched consolations such as “don’t cry”, “do something else”, “take your mind off something”, “pull yourself together”, “it is time for you to calm down” and other pseudo-positive recipes that do not work.

They do not help, but irritate or make you feel even more guilty – because with their suffering you strain others. A person tries to “skip over” their grief as quickly as possible, does not experience it fully and only drives it deep inside.

But our grief at the loss of a loved one is payment for our love for him or her. And the stronger the love, the deeper will be the grief, so do not be ashamed of it, consider yourself weak, to go along with those who believe that it is time to stop suffering. Grieving takes time: to survive the grief of the death of a loved one, you need at least a year.

Psychologists speak of the “work of grief” – the loss must be accepted, lived through and experienced. After this, in a normal situation, grief turns into light sadness and bright memories. If a year and a half passes, and it does not get easier, then it is unhealthy experience of grief, and requires the help of a specialist – a psychologist or psychotherapist.

How quickly the heavy grief will pass, it also depends on our relationship with the deceased.

If the relationship was good, healthy, then the grief will be easier, if they were something complicated, and grieving will be more difficult.

We will see all the time that nothing can be undone, and this irreversibility will put additional pressure on us.

But we have to live up to it. In the beginning, after the initial shock of the loss, there will be many negative feelings – anger, guilt, longing, and loneliness. Guilt, which takes many forms, may arise right in the first days after the death of a loved one and remain until the end of grieving. Feeling guilt over the deceased is a natural part of experiencing grief, and experiencing grief is the only way to return to normal life.

Live through the grief.

– No matter how bad things get, it’s important to remind yourself that grief will pass. But this does not mean that we will not forget the person, become indifferent to him, but the sharp sorrow will be replaced by a peaceful sorrow.

You can write yourself on a piece of paper or card three statements and carry them around, take them out and reread, or stick them on the fridge so they are always before your eyes:

  • My feelings are normal.
  • I’ll get better.
  • I can handle it as others have done before me.

– If guilt is related to the relief experienced after the death of a seriously ill, tormented person, you should tell yourself that it was objectively a heavy burden, and the relief after the burden is lifted is a normal, natural feeling. There is no dislike for the deceased, no egoism, but an ordinary, uncontrollable reaction of the psyche to the release. This relief does not cancel the grief of death, nor does it diminish our love for the departed. And there is no need to punish ourselves for it.

– It is important to observe the rituals associated with death. It is not for nothing that they have been consecrated for centuries. The first thing that can alleviate the distress of loved ones is to take care of the funeral, funeral, cemetery, coffin, wreaths, flowers. Arranging a wake, gathering for nine and forty days are all things that really help to get through the grief. After all, by doing all these things, we show our concern for the deceased.

At a wake, we share our grief and love for the deceased with others, we talk and listen to others speak warm, good words about him, and we feel better.

A wake is a very compressed process of grief. It often happens that they begin with tears, even sobs, and end in a much more positive mood. It’s as if a whole year is lived in a few hours.

– Don’t banish memories of the deceased. Don’t try to “block them out” with other thoughts or distract yourself if they come. Don’t deliberately bring up these memories, especially if they are painful to you, but if they come up, dive into them and live them out.

– Cry. Tears are not too accepted in our culture, even if it is to cry for the deceased. One of the most trivial “consolations” is the entreaty of “don’t cry, calm down, drink some valerian.” In fact, tears are a natural painkiller (when a person cries, the body produces substances that calm the nervous system), and a way to express and thereby “let out” mental pain and sadness.

When a grieving person cries, it is not a sign of weakness, but a sign that the grief experience is moving in the right direction.

– Talk about the person who died and your experiences. If memories of your deceased loved one, their last days and other distressing things come up, you need to find someone to talk to about it.

It is common after a loss to want to talk about a loved one who has passed away, especially if their death was tragic and sudden. Often you want to share your feelings, talk about your worries. Do not be afraid to call a friend or girlfriend, honestly say: It’s very hard for me, I keep remembering the deceased, let’s talk to you about him.

Recommendation to friends and relatives of the grieving person: do not close from such conversations, and participate in them, so that the person does not feel trapped in his grief.

Patiently listen to everything he tells you. In a state of grief, especially in the first days after the loss, the grieving person may be verbose and repeat the same thing, do not rush him. Or he may become silent – then just stay with him. Offer the grieving person practical help in making funeral or memorial arrangements. If they feel guilty about something they didn’t have time to do or say, or about the relief they experienced after the death of a seriously ill person, explain to them that this is understandable, natural and understandable.

– Try not to shut yourself away, no matter how much you might want to. Grief is a process that is better experienced with people. Even if you don’t want to talk, it is better to have them by your side. Communicating with those who have recently experienced a similar loss helps a lot.

– After some time (during the first year), be sure to sort out and give away the belongings of the deceased. It is not necessary to build a “temple” of the deceased person at home, to leave his room untouched, as if he were still alive. This will only prolong the experience of grief. Of course, getting rid of things dear to the deceased is very hard, feeling as if with your own hands finally give him and the memory of him. Usually, the tears are flowing – let them flow. But during the first year, you have to do it.

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How to get rid of feelings of guilt over the deceased?

Feeling guilty about the death of a loved one. How to stop blaming yourself?

Anyone who has buried a relative, in addition to the intense grief and pain of loss, also experiences feelings of guilt for the death of a loved one. The first thing that comes to mind is my fault, I have failed, I did not have time, I was upset, I offended, etc.

If the trouble has happened recently, it is a natural reaction. But if guilt, accompanied by excruciating feelings, gnawing for a long time, it is important to know how to get rid of it.

What guilt is.

First of all, guilt is a feeling that comes over a person with great force after the loss that befell him. In essence, it is a remorse because of some act, which seems to him the cause of the bad consequences for the deceased and for other people.

Second, it is a pattern of behavior that we recognize to be wrong, but in spite of that, we allow it to happen again and again.

Finally, third, guilt is also an admission of one’s mistakes. Take the word “apology.” It grows out of the word “guilt. A person begins to look at everything he has lived with the deceased with different eyes. And he admits that he has done many things wrong, and that is why guilt is eating away at his soul.

What can be done?

To admit your mistakes first on the inner level, before yourself, and start to correct them. It is helpful to admit mistakes to someone else as well. That’s why people go to church and apologize publicly. After all, it’s one thing when you’ve accepted the guilt yourself, and it’s another thing when someone else has heard it.

Why do I feel guilty after the death of a loved one?

Where does this feeling, which can sometimes drive anyone to despair, come from? It doesn’t leave anyone unscathed. After all, we do not always call and visit our loved ones, not often confess them in love and good feelings, do not do what he expected during the life of the deceased from us, etc.

So in different situations we start to blame ourselves in different ways:

  • Mom blames herself, because she did not protect her child, and now he is gone, and she lives;
  • the child bemoans that he was rude to his parent, did not pay attention, did not come to visit, did not comply with the requests, upsetting;
  • spouses blame themselves, because they were not attentive, were rude, cheated, or soon after the death of the husband or wife found another soulmate;
  • the suicide victim’s family cannot forgive themselves for not noticing his strange behavior, not paying attention to his suffering, and not helping him when he was in such need of support;
  • relatives of a loved one with an incurable disease also blame themselves heavily, because they were reluctant to care for him, irritated by his requests, tried to shirk this duty and felt relieved after the sufferer’s departure.

And yet there are other situations in which we feel guilt after the death of a loved one. These include when:

  1. giving harmful advice, such as suggesting an abortion, unnecessary surgery, committing harmful acts and crimes, and advising divorce;
  2. Firing an employee who has nothing to provide for his or her family;
  3. giving a subordinate a scolding after which the subordinate could not survive a heart attack;
  4. condemn someone, censure them publicly, without watching our rhetoric;
  5. not lending money for medical treatment, living expenses, or other needs.

A person can experience a strong emotional crisis and mental breakdown for not being with a loved one in the last moments of life, not calling him a priest for confession, greedy to give for treatment, etc.

How to admit your mistakes

Many people believe that guilt, like pain, will subside with time. And they prefer to live with it for the rest of their lives. No, it won’t. The remorse will only flare up with even greater force. Until there is an understanding and acceptance of some important points.

First, we must accept the fact of death. After all, we will all be gone, but life will go on after us. That is, it is important to deal with all periods of loss and grief.

To do this it is necessary to live the situation – to say goodbye to the deceased, to bury him/her with dignity and not to dwell on grief, to let go (you can’t return the past), to start living the old life, proving your love to your beloved by your deeds.

You need to analyze your mistakes, and they happen to everyone. Understand them internally, on the first level, recognize: yes, it’s true, my behavior in that situation was wrong. And this is the right step.

It’s good to share your confession with someone who won’t judge and won’t start spreading it left and right. It is an admission of a mistake on the second level.

You can visit a psychologist. A good specialist, once sorted out, will quickly begin to help get rid of intrusive thoughts that haunt the person.

It also happens that it takes 2-4 sessions to answer the question of “how not to blame yourself for the death of a loved one. Sometimes even an ordinary Skype or messenger conversation is enough.

Believers go to church. And not just to put candles or order a requisition. It is very salutary at such times to talk to a priest. This can be a confidential conversation with him or confession. It is enough to be very honest about what worries you, what is wrong in your soul and what was done wrong during the life of the deceased.

Prayer at home, asking God to give you the ability to see your mistake and admit your guilt, helps a lot.

How to correct mistakes in front of a person who is no longer there

Why do people feel guilty? Because they don’t admit their mistakes. Or they admit them, but extinguish the burning feeling of guilt (which, by the way, is necessary because we learn through it) and do not correct them.

It is important not only to admit one’s mistakes, but also to begin to correct them.

And what if you have admitted it, but the loved one is no longer with us and there is no one to apologize to? You can say words of apology to the deceased for the mistakes made in relation to him or her. To do it mentally, as if communicating with him. But it is not necessary. And then eradicate them in yourself and do not allow that with others.

Finally, there are other people around you. And you may be making the same mistakes towards them. Acknowledge them. Apologize. Stop making them.

So the formula goes something like this. Guilt, guilt after the death of a loved one is an unacknowledged mistake. The apology and correction that followed the acknowledgment of mistakes is the best thing that can happen to the soul of the living person and the deceased person.

But what if there is no guilt and you are blamed? False or imposed guilt.

Could it be that I don’t feel guilty, but everyone around me claims my guilt?

Alas, people can impose their mistakes on a person. But it’s not his problem. Or a deceased loved one may have blamed for something. But it’s false, and not about you.

The living can falsely blame themselves. Like, I didn’t make it or he wouldn’t have died, I yelled yesterday and didn’t apologize, didn’t call, and he needed me.

There are many reasons to blame yourself. But there is no point in blaming yourself for the death of an elderly parent – everyone, and not just dad and mom or grandparents, dies.

Therefore, if there is no guilt inside, i.e., remorse, then there is no guilt. And to try to impose it on yourself, to torment yourself without end? Don’t blame yourself. The game is not worth the candle.

Instead of a summary.

One day each of us will go to Eternity. So that the living do not suffer from feelings of guilt and understatement, as if tangled in a tangle, they do not need to engage in self-betrayal and self-pity.

First, it is important to accept the fact of death; second, to admit mistakes and correct them; third, to stop blaming oneself and to go on living, proving one’s love for the deceased by good deeds and actions.

If feelings of guilt arise, justified or not? Choose any of the options described above. After all, the dead don’t need anything. (And certainly not our wailing over imaginary or not imaginary guilt.) Except our good memories and constant prayers for their repose…

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