I’ve recently lost a brother to suicide and I can’t live with the guilt.
We all knew he was feeling down after losing his job, but we didn’t know how bad he felt. I now just keep thinking back to the weeks and months before his death, wondering how I could have missed the signs. It’s going around in my head and I can’t seem to switch it off.
Please can you suggest how or if I’ll get over this terrible feeling?
It’s very common to feel guilt when someone decides to end their own life. The other common thing is to play things over and over in your head, trying to pinpoint signs of anguish that you might have missed.
That’s human. It shows empathy and compassion.
However, when it starts moving into unhealthy guilt, then we tip over into self-punishment and anxious mind churning.
It makes it hard to pass through the normal process of grief, when guilt has us stuck in a loop.
If we’re spending time thinking about ourselves and what we could have, should have, would have done, then our mind is caught processing the impossible.
If your brother had begged you for help and you refused, then you might have a need to question your actions. But in this case, he was unable to ask, or he didn’t want to ask, and he made a decision to end his life.
I’m not saying he acted in any rational way. Suicide seems far from a rational choice.
But it was the choice he made, and you had no control over that.
What you do have control over is refusing to further disturb yourself with needless, painful, misguided guilt.
HEALTHY VERSUS UNHEALTHY GUILT
Healthy guilt or regret is natural. It’s our human warning system that’s triggered to help us change our ways. It helps us to maintain social connections and live in communities. It helps keep us healthy by giving ourselves a little nagging if we mess up our lifestyle or engage in a wrongdoing towards others.
It is NOT an emotion to tolerate when we are innocent and can’t do anything to put things right.
When you find yourself in the guilt trap, then reality can be your best friend. It can really help to ground yourself in what is true and what is being created and made up by guilt thoughts.
You can try asking yourself questions such as…
- ‘Is what I’m telling myself absolutely true?’.
- ‘if I was on trial for this, what would be the irrefutable evidence that I’m to blame?’.
- ‘What is a SANE reason for continuing to punish myself for my brother’s death?’.
- ‘Does my current thinking help me grieve and heal or keep me stuck and feeling helpless?’.
- ‘If I was helping a friend in my situation, what advice would I give them?’.
Whatever you come up with, write it down. When you ‘hear’ your own beliefs reflected back on paper, you’ll see that your mind is playing tricks on you. Your inner critic has gone haywire and it’s making a big mistake.
Once you start to ask these important questions you can gain perspective and live the truth of the matter.
You don’t have to move from chronic guilt to ‘over the moon’. You might instead, want to aim for moving from unhealthy guilt, to deep sadness and disappointment that you couldn’t help him.
Regret, sadness, remorse, disappointment and healthy anger, are all normal negative responses to losing a loved one. They help us process, heal and move on.
You’re already suffering the loss of your brother. You don’t need to add more fuel to an already painful fire. This is not a time to allow your inner critic to crucify you.
Put your foot down.
Refuse to join in with this cruel inner bashing.
Get back into reality and try to be kinder to yourself. If you can make that shift, then in time, you’ll grieve, let go and start to accept what has happened.
People often think of grief as a negative thing, but really, it’s the heart and mind repairing itself.
The grief is the healing. And every human being deserves to heal from loss.
Wishing you peace.
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Linda Bebbington is a psychotherapist & life coach, specialising in beating anxiety, building relationships and overcoming blocks to success.
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