Feelings of guilt during coronavirus

Many people have told me they feel guilty during this current global pandemic. The guilt comes in different shapes and sizes, and from people of all backgrounds. Who would have thought that something like coronavirus could bring many unusual guilt-related symptoms? At the top of the list is 'survivor's guilt' and we will look at this later in this article.


One of the reasons for guilt during the coronavirus is the feeling that no matter how hard you try, you believe that you may infect another person or that someone will infect you and you will pass it on.

This can lead to high anxiety as well as guilt. The feeling of guilt has been described physically as the stomach-turning over, heart beating faster and a change in breathing. Stomach upsets and sleep issues as well as headaches and moodiness. Negative, intrusive thoughts are common which seem to bully you. 'What ifs' are manifested with many scenarios. The need to be perfect is prevalent. The worry about your family, your job, the virus itself and the news bulletins, can be profound. You want so much to be in control and do all you can but still, the guilt and anxiety persist.

This current situation is not your fault and it is not something you can control. You can take practical steps to ensure you keep safe and do what is asked by our authority figures and that is about it right now.

Acceptance is a good starting point to help overcome guilt. Accepting that this strange, invasive pandemic is all around us and here to stay for the time being. Accept that it will pass. There will be an end to it and we will, as a society, and individually, get through it. As the virus is invisible it is not in your control to know who is a carrier and what surfaces the virus is on. We do not have testing for every single person and we do not have a vaccine - yet. For that reason, it may be wise to accept this fact. In truth, 'facts' are what we need; not fake news, gossip or hearsay.

You may feel guilty because you cannot see your elderly relatives or your children because they are staying with others. Your guilt may be because you have had to furlough or even let go of valuable staff members. Perhaps you are in the medical profession and you have had to give awful news to a worried relative.

How are your relationships? Are you at breaking point, living with people you don't get on with? How hard it must be if you were in the process of separating then are forced to live in the same house? Sadly you may have lost someone close to you from this dreadful disease or for another reason during this time and were not able to see them or say goodbye.

Survivor's Guilt

Many medics will be suffering with what can be a debilitating mental difficulty - survivor's guilt. It has traits of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and symptoms like flashbacks, headaches and awful feelings of guilt weighing people down and leading to depression. Anyone can feel this type of guilt. Perhaps you are in the heartbreaking position of someone close to you losing their life from the virus and you have survived. This will be compacted as you may not have been able to see your loved one in the final hours or days. Counselling is highly recommended for this affliction. It is not your fault and life will return, in time, to some form of normality. There are therapists who are expert in this type of trauma.

The likelihood is, is that in almost every household there will be some form of guilt arising. What else can you do to lessen this burden after acceptance? You can reframe negative situations and do your best to find a positive outcome. Here are some suggestions:

Living in a toxic household - there will be some desperate situations out there and in those cases, there are support groups you can contact such as Refuge and The Survivors Trust, or the NSPCC for children. In extreme cases, a call to the police may, of course, be necessary.

For general relationship difficulties there could be a solution - even if it's temporary. Try calling a truce. Sit down, write or text the person and suggest that for now, during the crisis the disagreements need to be put aside. For the next few weeks you will respect each other. Give each other the space you need. Avoid shouting and passive aggression. Take turns. With one-hour daily exercise allowed, each member of the household can go out. Make that time count for the person who is exercising and for the ones in the household. Every human being deserves an equal amount of time, space, respect and understanding, from babies to great grandparents, lodgers and friends - whoever lives in the household.

To overcome guilt try giving yourself a break. You can only do what you can do. It can be average. It does not have to be perfect. 'Self-love' is a popular phrase and can go to an extreme. Self-care is essential. As the virus affects the lungs and breathing then this metaphor is very apt at present: you need to put your own oxygen mask on first before you put on someone else's. If you worry and misuse your imagination to come up with unlikely and horrible scenarios, or if you wrack yourself with guilt, this won't help yourself or others.

Be resilient. Yes; there's that word. Make the decision that you will come through this. Focus on some positive words to help you feel more in control. Here are some other words and phrases that mean the same or similar: strength, flexible, adapt, tough, stiff upper lip, fortitude, adversity and self-restraint. This crisis can be the making of you. You can come out of it a better person with more to offer and hence more to receive.

Guilt is a negative and unhelpful emotion and so many of us are feeling it. Let us at least turn the volume down a bit on those bully guilt thoughts. Maybe give yourself permission to 'feel' guilty for ten minutes each day. The rest of the time can be filled with taking action.

Doing what you can to help yourself and others. Ditch the guilt. Consider pride. What have you done that is something you can feel good about yourself? Make a list of these things. When you do you will see that at other times you were responsible, trusted, needed and worthy. Set yourself small, achievable goals to move forward, starting from now. Normality will return and when it does it would be good to feel like you're ready for it.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Frome BA11 & Reigate RH2
Written by Sally Nilsson, HG.Dip.P,, Hyp. Cert. CS. MNCS (Accred) Psychotherapist
Frome BA11 & Reigate RH2

I am a Human Givens Psychotherapist, Counsellor and Hypnotherapist. I'm also a published author and Public Speaker and I am committed to breaking taboos on mental health in our communities and promoting good mental health as we support our physical health.

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