In collaboration with Keck School of Medicine

The Impact of Health-Related Guilt and Chronic Pain

Man hold his face in his hands in guilt

Millions of people who suffer from chronic pain also feel guilty about doing so. The guilt that many people who have chronic pain experience is something that has not been looked at much within the medical community, but it is something that impacts people on a daily basis. Those who have health-related guilt may suffer more as a result, becoming a factor that should be identified and addressed.

A study published in the May 2021 issue of the British Journal of Health Psychology looked at health-related guilt in relation to having chronic pain [1]. Researchers conducted a systemic review to gain an understanding of the health-related guilt that was present in those who have chronic pain. To conduct the review, they searched four major databases for papers that had been published on the topic. They ended up using data from a total of 16 studies that have touched on the topic.

Themes in Health-Related Guilt Cases

The research turned up three major themes that had been reported on in the previous research. These included the following.

  1. Management of chronic pain
  2. Diagnostic uncertainty or legitimizing pain
  3. How the person impacted others by their action or inaction.

The health-related guilt that many people with chronic pain experience is from coping with the condition and the decrease in quality of life that it often brings about.

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Guilt and Chronic Pain Management

The researchers concluded that health-related guilt is an important psychological factor that many people with chronic pain experience, and those who have more pain tend to have more guilt. They suggest that there should be more research conducted on the topic and that the issue should be addressed in helping people to manage chronic pain.

Those who have chronic pain may feel guilty because they are unable to do things they want to do. They may feel that they are letting others down, or they believe they are doing something wrong or intentional. The guilt can lead to more issues, such as depression, making it something that should be addressed.

Those who experience health-related guilt can help to avoid those feelings by engaging in a number of practices, including focusing on what you can do, looking for the positive, practicing gratitude, and forgiving yourself. By not blaming yourself and doing what you can with a good attitude, you may increase your quality of life and avoid the guilty feelings. Those who have difficulty reducing health-related guilt should speak with a therapist who can help them with therapeutic options.

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  1. British Journal of Health Psychology. Health-related guilt in chronic primary pain. May 2021.
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