When Grievers Play the “Blame Game” and When Guilt Goes with Grief
Updated: Jan 27
By Jill S. Cohen, NYC family grief counselor
The BIG B for many grievers is BLAME. And playing the” blame game” is not a fun game to play. It’s a game that can consume you forever if you allow it to. And moreover, the value of playing is low, since it will not bring back your loved one.
I’ll first tell you that there are way more people who have guilt and blame accompanying them through their journey than those who don’t. So, if you’re reading this, you are not alone.
Blaming others may lead you down the road of long, drawn-out lawsuits that only exacerbate your grieving. Blaming yourself can be catastrophic, and holding on to a lot of blame, as with anger, will be counterproductive to living your life, and will create negative and depleted energy. Blame can be a lifelong feeling, and if you’re going to hold on to blame and guilt, you’ll have to find ways to manage it.
Where do the BIG BLAME and the GIGANTIC GUILT feelings come from after a death and why? Mainly, especially if it is an untimely death, a surprise death, or even a terminal illness, people -- by human nature -- feel compelled to find a reason for things. After all, something unusual can’t just happen on its own, right? And if you can control the situation, you find ways to explain away the situation to try to understand it.
How often do you hear this after a death? “He always ate the wrong kind of foods. I should have watched his diet more carefully. They shouldn’t have vacationed in that country with its history of monsoons. If a 20-something died on an athletic field, maybe someone should have paid more attention to him, made water more readily available, canceled a practice in extreme heat?” Does this ring a bell? Basically, the more random or out of order the loss is, the more judgment surrounds the death.
We cannot justify how someone who was very healthy and physically fit could die in their 30s, or how a perfectly healthy child can drop dead from what seemed like a head cold, or how someone could be alive at breakfast time, and be gone by dinnertime. And shouldn’t smart parents able to prevent accidents that cause death? The answer is: there is not always a reason for a death that is directly related to another person, place or thing. Sometimes, it’s just that random. And even hyper-focused attention to the person or the situation would not have made a difference in the end result.
So, going on the assumption that there MUST be a reason for the death, we find ways to explain the death and often, the blame goes on the surviving loved one or even, others outside the immediate circle.
HOW TO HANDLE GUILT AND BLAME? Whatsyourgrief.com has a few ideas that I am sharing here with you:
Acknowledge that GUILT is a normal grief emotion. Don’t let others minimize the validity of your grief experience.
Consider what your guilt is all about and try to think about whether it is rational, irrational, or is it about control?
Talk it over with others. Talking about guilt can help you reflect on your grief.
Examine those thoughts. Check out whether or not our guilt thoughts are consuming you. Try to be aware of whether or not they are dragging you down big time. In order to adjust your thinking, you have to know what your guilt thoughts are and notice them when they arise.
If your guilt thoughts are irrational, admit it. It takes a little of the burden off if you acknowledge that you may not actually be guilty. Being honest with yourself about your guilt is important, and accepting that guilt and grief is sometimes irrational can be helpful.
Find positive thoughts to balance your guilt thoughts. This is an often-used technique called “thought-stopping.” When you notice a negative thought taking over, make a conscious effort to stop the thought and replace it.
Forgive yourself. Forgiveness can mean accepting that we may have done something we regret, but finding a new attitude and perspective toward ourselves in relation to that action. It doesn’t mean we forget, but means we find a way to move forward.
Figure out what you learned. Dealing with grief and guilt teaches us something. We can learn and grow from almost any emotion, so try to think of what your guilt thoughts have taught you.
Do something with your guilt. Whether your guilt is rational or irrational, you can use your guilt to help others. Educate others so they can avoid the mistakes you feel guilty about, raising awareness about causes of death or simply encouraging others to talk with their family about end of life wishes, you can use your guilt experiences to help others.
Consider what your loved one would tell you. Put yourself in a space in which you can really focus on thinking about your loved one. Imagine telling them how you are feeling – your regrets, your guilt, all of it. Then imagine what your loved one would tell you.
Try a little thought-stopping the next time the guilt thought comes into your mind. For example, instead of: I feel guilty that I didn’t do a particular thing the right way, stop. Try: I really did quite a lot of things the right way.
For more informative posts and articles on how to deal with grief, visit www.jillgriefcounselor.com and click our latest posts on the Blogs tab. If you want to see if you or someone you know would benefit from grief counseling, go HERE to download a free resource.