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Coping With COPD Guilt — Just Let It Go

Coping With COPD Guilt — Just Let It Go

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.

In Summary

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!

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

  1. What Causes COPD. American Lung Association. https://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/copd/symptoms-causes-risk-factors/what-causes-copd.html. Accessed January 17, 2019.
  2. Smoking and COPD | Overviews of Diseases/Conditions | Tips From Former Smokers | CDC. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/diseases/copd.html. Accessed January 17, 2019.
  3. Stage KB, Middelboe T, Stage TB, Sorensen CH. Depression in COPD - management and quality of life considerations. International Journal of COPD. 2006;1(3):315-320. doi:10.2147/copd.2006.1.3.315
  4. Strang S, Farrell M, Larsson L-O, et al. Experience of Guilt and Strategies for Coping with Guilt in Patients with Severe Copd: A Qualitative Interview Study. Journal of Palliative Care. 2014;30(2):108-115. doi:10.1177/082585971403000206

Comments

  • rhealy6260
    3 months ago

    This was a very good article. No I did not smoke but had lung issue and now is COPD. I am reading COPD for Dummies and is very good. Guilt yes as you have to grieve your old life and move on to your new life. Anxiety is one issue I am working with along with depression. I am glad I have this site as a tool.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    3 months ago

    Hi rhealy6260 and thanks for your post. We’re glad, too, that you found this site, and are able to use it as a tool to help you deal with this condition. Please know you are always welcome here. Wishing you the best, Leon (site moderator)

  • buckybuck
    3 months ago

    It is a fine article with one exception. I believe that one is entitled to his/her feelings no matter what they are. If you feel guilty because you knowingly led a lifestyle that led to your emphysema, then you own that feeling. You can get help dealing with it; you’re not alone! But please don’t tell people they shouldn’t feel a certain way! Thanks!

  • Kathi MacNaughton author
    3 months ago

    I would never suggest any feeling is not legitimate. I think we are saying the same thing, basically. What I’m suggesting is that it’s not healthy to wallow in your guilt. Instead, learn to deal with the consequences of any possible past lifestyle choices and then move on in a positive, coping way.

  • fmelissinos
    3 months ago

    Thank you for writing this article. It is spot on.

  • Kathi MacNaughton author
    3 months ago

    You’re welcome! I’m glad you found it to be helpful.

  • cats9
    3 months ago

    My biggest complaint is I have never smoked and have COPD. I get so tired of people giving me the side eye, even new doctors.

  • rhealy6260
    3 months ago

    I have not smoked either. You have it due to a prior illness. You will do good stay positive. I am trying to get on Lung Transplant list for two. Going through test now.

  • luvmylife1948
    3 months ago

    I can understand the anger of doctors not checking correctly to avoid patients problems. A lot of the stress we have these days is from GP’s not acting in their patients best interests and this boils down mostly to money. Not having funding. So who can we direct our anger on. Best thing to do is give yourself permission to be angry and then move forward. don’t stay in anger or it will take you down. If you can prevent problems research this out. I sat in a cigarette filled room for 28yrs as my husband was a heavy smoker. Hence my COPD. I also did a lot of sanding of wood (husband being a carpenter). I did not wear a mask till later on so contributed to my bronchitis. My husband worked with asbestos and it killed him 7yrs ago. Cutting asbestos the fibres enter the lungs and there is no cure. No health and safety 40yrs. ago and no way of knowing the dangers then of asbestos. We have to do all we can to help ourselves and then let go of the guilt of the past when we didn’t know any better. Keeping a positive attitude is what is going to help us all.

  • jsimerly9
    3 months ago

    I have stage 3 emphysema and chronic bronchitis and am on oxygen my COPD was caused by work-related substances I spent 30 years in the fiberglass boat industry and Auto Body industry and did not wear proper protection like I should have and I am now paying the price but when you are young you do not think about these things of wearing proper protection so I encourage anyone in the fiberglass and Auto Body industry to wear proper respiratory equipment I do not have any regrets other than not wearing proper safety equipment I made a good living all those years I do not want to die but I am not afraid to die because that is the only thing mandatory in life is death so I hope everyone with my condition has a long and great life and I wish everyone the best

  • rhealy6260
    3 months ago

    This was great advice. Yes we all die but enjoy your time as you have it.

  • Allyson.Ellis moderator
    3 months ago

    jsimerly9, thank you for sharing your experience with the community! Factory work and inhaling the irritants produced therein is indeed a common factor for developing COPD. I thought this article might be of interest to you or another person who might be reading your comment: https://copd.net/living/causes-besides-cigarettes/ You have a wonderful attitude in living with COPD. I appreciate you being part of the community! Wishing you a peaceful day. ~Allyson (COPD.net team)

  • Goofy
    3 months ago

    Is COPD really incurable? If a patient avoids all lung irritants and breathes pure oxygen through a cannula, why does the damage to the lungs continue? Or does it?

  • rhealy6260
    3 months ago

    The damage is done, however your pulmonary rehab and exercise are a major tool from keeping it getting worse.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    3 months ago

    Hi Goofy and thanks for your post here. Although COPD is not curable, it is treatable. And, it is fairly well known that the progression of the disease can be slowed down. I thought any of these first three articles might provide you with some additional insight for your concern: https://copd.net/?s=progression.
    We appreciate your input on this very real concern of yours.
    All the best, Leon (site moderator)

  • blegarza
    3 months ago

    Coping with COPD Guilt- NOT, It is suspected (waiting for test results) that I have alpha 1 antitrypsin, I in no way feel guilt, I am angry right now that the doctors disregarded my complaints of at least the last 7 years of cough and shortness of breath and the connection to so many direct relatives with COPD, Emphysema, lung cancer. Had this been determined then I could have taken greater steps for my health and life and now in just one day, I woke up and can’t breath, wheeze and cough till I throw up. Guilt no-Anger yes.

  • rhealy6260
    3 months ago

    I also was mad at my doctor I have seen for 15 years. He measured oxygen level knew it was low and did nothing

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    3 months ago

    Hi again, rhealy6260, and thanks for this post. I’m sorry to hear your physician made you angry today. Did you speak with him? What did you do to get past this low oxygen level? Please let us hear back from you. Leon (site moderator)

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    3 months ago

    Hi blegarza and thanks for your post. We hear you, too! It’s a shame the physicians providing your care missed out on an earlier diagnosis, as early detection can result in early treatment. I’m sorry you’re feeling angry now, though. How do you plan on managing your condition now that you are aware. Do you have a physician (now) who you can rely on?
    Please let us hear back from you.
    Leon (site moderator)

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