Being a seasoned, licensed psychotherapist did not prevent me from feeling the heavy burden of guilt, the rage, the unending sadness following my beloved cat, Simba’s passing. I found myself stuck in an obsessive loop of what if’s and the negative. I have heard it countless times myself from being on the other side of the couch, it is common to blame oneself and say I should have ______________ after the death of a loved one. The brain loves to focus on regret after a loss of any kind.
Guilt as a gift
Guilt is a gift that shows us that we have crossed a boundary and hurt another being. It signals us to go back and assess our behavior in order to make amends. Guilt allows us to be compassionate and caring towards other people. For these reasons, you do not want to block or repress guilt feelings.
A normal part of grief or loss
“Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them.”
― Leo Tolstoy
Guilt is a natural part of the grieving process, don’t beat yourself up when it happens to you. Perhaps there are lessons you could learn, maybe not. Many times you have given all you could and it still is not enough. This is a reflection of the imperfect world that we live in rather than a human failing on your part. When you experience a loss of any kind, fixating upon thoughts of guilt only hurts yourself.
It is important for empaths to remember that when you grieve, you are vulnerable to any and all negative thoughts from yourself and others. When others project their negativity onto you, it is not personal but rather a reflection of where they are in their growth/healing. Please work to not take what others say to heart, remember to set boundaries and protect those precious healing energies of yours.
Guilt as a burden
As an empath, you often feel responsible for events and actions that are not yours to own. You feel the world’s suffering by witnessing wars and abuses of power. Closer to home, you feel responsible when relationships end or change. You have a deep desire to want to heal or fix things.
I classically took on too much responsibility in my younger years; whether it was accepting blame about abuse done towards me, feeling that I didn’t give enough when a relationship shifted or working too much. I changed these dynamics by setting boundaries and protecting my energies. This is why I am passionate about helping other empaths find freedom from guilt.
Empaths can get stuck in the pain and suffering of those we love even after the normal grieving process. If you are struggling and can not move forward, reach out for professional help. What I had to re-remember is not to give the guilt too much focus after the initial 3 weeks. Also, coping with a pet’s death can be more intense than a human’s because of their dependence on us and ability to give unconditional love.
A little bit about Simba
Simba was a true fighter. He was given a terminal diagnosis over three and a half years ago, to live a few weeks to a month. We pulled out all the stops in the healing arena; steroid treatments, flower essences, reiki healings, prayer etc. Simba was stoic and gave it his all. It was hard to believe that he had a tumor on his voice box when he was racing through our yard climbing trees with glee and meowing. He taught us to live our life with every ounce of joy.
We became accustomed to miracles as he had numerous setbacks over these three years and bounced back to the astonishment of everyone. I wrote a story about him which was published in I love Cats, winter 2015, entitled An Unexpected Gift, detailing many parts of our healing journey with him. Today, he is with me in spirit as I write these words.
- Increased self -care– Slow down, be gentle with yourself. Say no to projects or activities that do not support your healing and use your protective boundaries.
- Empathic supports– People who are not supportive prior to your loss do not magically become supportive. Seek out empathic friends and an empathic psychotherapist to discuss guilt feelings whether they are from loss or being an empath.
- Be aware- Remember it is normal to experience guilt as it is part of the grief process. Read about and learn what the normal stages of grieving are. Remember your empathic qualities and honor/protect them. As an empath, you are more susceptible to feeling guilt due to your sensitivity and caring nature. People who are sociopaths do not experience guilt.
- Make a list of what happened, just the facts- Leave the judgments behind. No should have’s, could have’s or would have’s on this list. When these words appear cross them out. Take on only the responsibility that is yours. These are your areas of growth, learn from them and then you are free to let it all go.
- Forgive yourself, forgive others, forgive the Divine- Behind guilt and anger is blame. Anger, a normal process of loss, is useful because it gives you the energy to do the work of grief. It is hard work! Long-term anger, as in long term guilt, will harm your physical body and spirit.
More about Lisa Hutchison: As a licensed mental health counselor with over 14 years of experience, Lisa offers therapy sessions in person and by phone to empathic helpers and artists. She understands grief and loss from her own personal experiences and years of therapy training, offering you the space to express your inner thoughts and feelings while showing you specific ways to get unstuck. Get 8 Simple Things That Reelase CHaos from Your Life Now FREE at http://www.lisahutchison.net