Illness & Guilt

Having practiced medicine for almost forty years, I am well aware that persons diagnosed with a serious illness must also deal with guilt.  While some of that guilt may arise from the comments of family, friends or health care providers, most of it is self-imposed.

Facing the emotional, physical and financial trials of their illness, many patients blame themselves for poor lifestyle choices or a lack of preventive health care that might have contributed to their plight.  They also regret the inconvenience, stress and economic hardships that family members, friends and employers must endure.  Some even feel guilty about the costs and work assumed by their insurance company, physicians, therapists and other health care workers.

After all, we humans often attribute illness to personal weakness.  In reality, it is the result of a complex mix of genetic, behavioral and environmental factors; bad luck plays a significant role in most cases.  The commitment to undertake what is often a difficult course of treatment is impaired by the presence of guilt and the success of that treatment will depend, in part, on the patient's ability to maintain a positive attitude.  Too often, physicians and family members do not recognize the emotional impact of guilt, a complication that might undermine the many therapeutic tools of modern medicine.