Coping With COPD Guilt -- Just Let It Go
Last updated: January 2019
It's not surprising that people who have COPD often have to cope with guilt feelings. Sometimes the guilt is self-inflicted, while other times, it may be coming from an external source. Have you ever had thoughts such as:
- "I brought this on myself..."
- "If only I'd stopped smoking sooner..."
- "I shouldn't complain; after all, it was my lifestyle choices that led to this..."
- "It's my own fault,.."
Or maybe those things were said to you--or at least hinted at? It's not surprising when you think about it. After all, more than 80% of COPD cases are directly related to cigarette smoking.1 And, adding fuel to the proverbial fire, 39% of people with COPD continue to smoke, even after getting the diagnosis.2
However, keep in mind that no one deserves to get sick, no matter what their choices are in life. Many health conditions, including cancer, obesity, diabetes and heart disease, have been linked at least partly to various lifestyle choices. And while it's important to take responsibility for every choice we make in life, it's not required to feel guilt or shame about the consequences.
Why It's Important to Let Go of the Guilt and Shame
Learning to live with COPD and the effects it has on your everyday life can already be challenging, especially as the disease progresses. You don't need to pile guilty feelings on top of all that.
Depression and anxiety are common in people who have COPD.3 I have to think that guilt plays a role in that. When you feel guilty, or are depressed or anxious, it can make coping with your illness even harder.
Here are some ways that guilt can have a negative impact on your ability to cope effectively with COPD:
- You may delay or avoid treatment because you think you just have to accept COPD symptoms.
- You might not be truthful when talking with your doctor about how you are feeling, for fear of being judged.
- Some people are afraid to complain about their symptoms to friends/family, so they don't have access to needed support.
- You might not adhere to your COPD treatment plan because you feel as though you don't deserve to feel better.
None of these approaches are healthy or valid, so let them go right now if they sound familiar.
How to Work Through the Guilt in a Positive Way
“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” -- Mother Theresa
It's important to move forward, not dwell on your past choices. You can't change the past, but you can choose to live your best life today. So forgive yourself and move on.
Accept that dealing with guilt, whether it comes from within or is something others are pushing at you, is part of the process of coping well with your chronic illness. Here are a few actions you can take to help you learn to cope better with guilt and COPD:
- Join a support group. There are communities (such as this site) and other groups you can join online. Or, depending on where you live, you may be able to find a local support group. It can help to share your COPD experiences with other people going through the same things.
- Talk about it. Support groups are great, but so are one on one conversations with someone you trust. This might be a counselor, your pastor or a friend or family members.
- Focus on what you can still do. Not being able to do household chores, play with your grandkids or do all of the social activities you used to enjoy can add to your guilt, but don't take that on. Instead, enjoy the things you are still able to do. Accept where you are and focus on doing your best within your abilities. Perhaps you can fold laundry while sitting, read to the grandkids instead of playing ball with them, or have friends over to your house. Strive for that quality of life.
- Get positive. As with any emotion, guilt is a choice. Even if others are trying to make you feel guilty, you can choose to not feel that way. Take positive, proactive steps to manage your COPD. Celebrate your successes. Over time, you may find that this positive approach to life becomes a habit.
Never forget: you didn't choose to have COPD. You may have chosen to start smoking, to keep smoking and/or to work at a job where you were exposed to harmful fumes or other substances. But none of that means you deserve to be sick. They say, "Hindsight is 20/20," and it's true. It's easy to see what you might have done differently looking back. Who among us doesn't wish they could have done some thing differently now, looking back? But agonizing over those past choices doesn't solve or change anything.
So, let it go, and focus on what you're doing today and going forward into the future. Live your best life!
Do you feel comfortable asking your doctor questions about your COPD?