Coping With Guilt after a Loss

Dr. Bob Baugher is a psychologist and death education instructor at Highline Community College in Seattle, Washington. He’s featured on the Association for Death Education and Counseling’s (ADEC’s) webisode talking about the many ways you can cope with guilt following a loss. After several years of working with the bereaved and helping them address guilt, Dr. Baugher has come up with seven key ways to help. The first is to identify your guilt self-talk. If you say something or think it long enough, you can make it come to life. That’s true of guilt, and it’s common with the bereaved.

Saying, “I should have” can be dangerous. Next, understand that guilt is a feeling. To feel guilty is a normal response. Third, continue with your guilt self-talk if you like, but choose a future date (a loved one’s birthday?) where you’ll consciously get rid of this talk. Fourth, create a list of everything you did wrong and everything you did right with this person. Fifth, ask yourself: What would it take for me to begin to forgive myself?

Guilt-Ridden

Sixth, let go of some aspect of the guilt. You might want to perform a ritual, like writing it down and burning it. You might choose to disclose your feeling to a support group. Finally, talk with your deceased loved one. You can ask, “What do you think about all the guilt I’ve been carrying?” Listen for an answer to come—because it will. Few bereaved people truly think their passed loved one wants them to be unhappy, or even blames them.

These are just a few strategies for coping with guilt. Try one or try them all, but also try out your own methods. Relieving yourself of guilt and finding joy again is what your loved one would want for you.

 

Bob Baugher

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Bob Baugher, Ph.D., is a Psychology Instructor at Highline Community College in Des Moines, Washington where he teaches courses in Psychology and Death Education. As a trainer for LivingWorks he has trained more than 1,000 people in suicide intervention. He has given more than 600 workshops on grief and loss across the U.S. including England, South Africa, and Namibia. As a professional advisor to the South King County Chapter of The Compassionate Friends, Bob has been invited to speak at many of the TCF national conferences during the past 20 years. He earned a certificate in Thanatology from the Association for Death Education and Counseling and in the 1990s he was a clinician with University of Washington School of Nursing Parent Bereavement Project. Bob has written several articles and seven books on the bereavement process. Reach him at b_kbaugher@yahoo.com. Dr. Baugher appeared on the radio show "Healing the Grieving Heart" with Dr. Gloria & Dr. Heidi Horsley to discuss Coping with Anger and Guilt After a Loss.

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  • Linda 'Twiggy' says:

    Dear Dr. Baugher,

    My name is Linda aka Twiggy and I’m a single bereaved mother of my only two son’s, James and Christian.
    I attended the TCF 40th Annual Conference – where we met. Perhaps you’ll remember me as the lady in the elevator joking with you and your wife: “Did he give you his credit cards?”. Which was a joke between you and her during the workshop you provided.

    Must say, I was very impressed by your workshop. I was expecting something…boring. Yet you had that room’s attention as no other could had done. Specially when the the word ‘anger’ is involved.

    Just wanted to thank you again.

    Kind regards
    Linda ‘Twiggy’ Merced
    James & Christian Santos’s Mom