NOTE:  This is a guest post written by a former teacher who left  work due to serious health problems and is currently building her own business as a copy editor.

Recently I came across an article in The Guardian,   “Top five regrets of the dying.”    In it, the author describes “regrets people have at the end of life”, as noted by a palliative care nurse.

As someone who lives with a difficult chronic illness, I found one point in the article to be particularly frustrating:

“Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result (of suppressing their feelings in order to keep peace with others).”  I have several problems with this statement.

1.  The author uses the term “relating to”, rather than “caused by”, denoting a correlation between bitterness and resentment and illness, rather than causation. Although she’s not saying that these feelings create illness, the implication is there .

2.  The statement promotes the idea in healthy people that by continuing to do the “right thing” (e.g., not harbor negative emotions), they can avoid illness. It seems to me that this creates a sense of false control that most likely will lead to even greater distress if serious illness or injury does occur.

3.   Additionally, this idea blames the unhealthy for being unable to manage their emotions more successfully.  This implies that chronically ill people cause their disease and failure to improve is their fault. Where’s the science to support this? Also, in my experience, this kind of blaming  is counterproductive for someone who is struggling to improve her health.

4. Finally, what illnesses does she think are related to bitterness and resentment? Is she including all illnesses? Does she limit it,  such as this is true for heart conditions or autoimmune diseases? Is she including the child or infant with cancer? Furthermore, while anger, for example, has been shown to play a role in the development of cardiovascular disease, I haven’t seen a scientific study that cites feelings as the root cause of an illness.

My personal experience has been contrary to the above cited quote. When I became ill, at age 29, I was extremely happy in all areas of my life. Everything was coming together for me. I enjoyed a teaching career, my friends, my family, and my hobbies. If I was experiencing bitterness and resentment, it’s news to me. Even now, looking back, I don’t see it.

I volunteered in a children’s hospital where I spent time with a two year old girl with leukemia. While reading books and singing songs to distract her from the IV medication dripping into a central line in her chest, I did not wonder if she was reaping what she sewed. I believed then, and still do, that her illness was caused by multiple factors, all beyond her control and having nothing to do with her emotional state. Had I thought otherwise, it would have been  difficult to give her the support she needed.

When I was a teacher, I was trying to educate a group of third graders about their classmate with a neuropsychiatric disorder.  I explained that their body might not always work in the same way as it does today. Trying not to scare them, I used the analogy of getting old, something they could relate to but was far away. My goal, aside from ensuring that this child be accepted by his classmates, was to help the students understand his condition. I wanted them to know that the disorder he lived with did not indicate a character flaw nor was it his fault. For the most part, they seemed to understand this, and I hoped that they would carry this attitude with them into adulthood.

I stumbled on this  article online where it had been ‘shared’  among friends.  I was struck that the author’s words seemed to remind them, the “healthy” people, how important it is to appreciate each day. That’s a good thing. But this is a lesson that those of us who live with debilitating chronic medical condition live with on a daily basis.  Experience teaches us to appreciate even the smallest accomplishments.

My message to people who enjoy good health: Any one of us is vulnerable to disease or a life-altering injury that can turn our world upside down. There is no point in fearing this possibility. Please appreciate what you can do, take care of yourself as best you can, and live your life to the fullest while enjoying your full health.

But please,  do not create what you believe to be  a feasible scenario in which ill people have only themselves to blame. When the time comes that illness befalls you, as it almost inevitably will, you will not want our judgment. You will want our wisdom.





16 Responses to “Are you the cause of your chronic illness?”  

  1. 1 Patti

    What a great response to a misguided article! The original article’s title caught my eye and got my dander up. I was very pleased to see your thoughtful and logical response to it. How many of us – and those around us – slip into thinking that illness is due to our own emotional scenarios? I agree with your response from beginning to end.

  2. 2 Amy

    This makes me angry. I am so tired of ‘studies’ or individuals who believe that illness befalls one person due to what that person has done or didn’t do with his/her life. It’s the same with the foods we eat – tomatoes cause cancer; tomatoes prevent cancer, and so on. True, illness can be brought on by a compromised immune system due to chronic stress but those stressors are usually outside the control of the one who becomes ill.

  3. 3 Debra

    Twenty-five hundred years ago the Buddha taught that sickness, old age, and dying are part of life for all living beings. Hello! Nothing has changed about that! Except now, our culture blames people for getting sick and old and for dying “early.”

  4. 4 Mel

    I actually see the words “caused by” as implying a root cause, whereas the words “related to” to me don’t necessarily mean it’s the root cause, but that it just can contribute (in a negative way) to one’s health overall. But that said, I can see how it’s perceived they are implying that holding onto resentment and bitterness can result in illness by how the author worded that….and perhaps that is what they themselves believe based on their experiences with talking to their patients.

    And while I don’t fully agree with that, I do know that stress can lower one’s immune system – and a lowered immune system can open the door to some illnesses, so it can play a role for some, but not all. There are many variables and factors that play a role in various health issues, from DNA and genetics, to lifestyle, and food and the environment (chemicals, toxins etc.) that can contribute to one developing this or that illness, of which our emotions have little to do with.

    But fearing this possibility that our emotions could cause illness, or feeling that we are to blame for our illnesses due to our emotions only adds to the stress and serves no one well, so I am glad you are bringing this to light in response to that article.

    I totally agree that one should not look at negative emotions as something that should be avoided else they could get sick…instead, look to ways that you can process and move through them for the sake of your own well-being in general. It’s ok to feel emotions, but it’s not healthy to hold on to negativity or anger and bitterness, so learning to let go in healthy ways is always best….whether you have an illness or not.

  5. 5 Rosalind

    (from A.B., the writer)
    Thank you for your kind comment, Patti. I think you’re right, it is common for people to slip into thinking their illness has been caused by their emotions (or for other people in their lives to do the same) This kind of thinking is just not helpful for someone who is learning to navigate their way through a difficult health situation. And is that extra burden really necessary? As we know, there can be so many different factors that contribute to illness.

  6. 6 Rosalind

    (from A.B., the writer)
    I completely understand your anger, Amy. Illness is not so selective, as some people with good health might like to believe. You can still do things “right” and get sick due to other factors that are out of your control (a great example is a child with a serious illness…they can’t control environmental stressors, and therefore the state of their immune system) Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  7. 7 Rosalind

    (from A.B., the writer)
    Debra, you make a great point! Our culture seems to have a negative attitude towards dealing with things that are “part of life”. The tendency towards blame, and the fear of aging is not helpful. It is not conducive to being present in, and appreciative of, your life. Thank you for your thoughts.

  8. 8 Rosalind

    (from A.B., the writer)
    Very true. A lowered immune system can open the door to some illnesses. But, like you say, there are many factors that contribute to the development of health issues. Once an illness has developed, I think there is no benefit in putting blame on someone, or labeling a specific negative emotion as a cause. As you say very well, blame doesn’t serve anyone well. Definitely a good point to learn ways to process negative emotions for the sake of your own well-being. And for those of us who have or work with children, helping them develop effective coping skills so that they can better manage negative stressors and emotions into adulthood. Thank you for your very thoughtful comments, Mel!

  9. 9 Our body relies on B12

    Outstanding web site. An abundance of helpful information and facts right here. Now i am delivering that to several associates ans in addition discussing in delightful. Not to mention, thanks a lot on your sebaceous!

  10. 10 Sandy

    Thank you.

    It’s an awful and pervasive view, I think that’s why I’ve been banned from reading any more ‘self-help’ (self blame!) books.

  11. 11 Rosalind

    (from A.B., the writer)
    Yes. The blame is not necessary and not helpful. Thank you for your comment, Sandy.

  12. 12 James Reese

    Hello I am wondering if any of you have had an experience like my wife and myself have had. I put a short My Story on my website about what we did and how we succeeded with a very serious health crisis. It took world wide research and many years to win. If you have had something similar I would be interested in hearing about it. My site is Its nice to hear from those who have been down the path and won. Thanks Jim

  13. 13 Lorre

    Blaming someone who has been hit by an illness is like blaming someone who has been hit by a car. Not everything in life can be avoided by just doing the right thing.

  14. 14 Rosalind

    (from A.B., the writer)
    I agree, Lorre. The blame doesn’t make much sense. Thanks for your comment.

  15. 15 Dell

    Good day! This is my first visit to your blog!
    We are a team of volunteers and starting a new initiative in a community in the same niche.
    Your blog provided us beneficial information to work on. You have done a wonderful job!

  16. 16 Robyn

    Thank you for this article. I am glad someone wrote directly about this. I read the Gaurdian article earlier today and the exact same sentence that you addressed here caused me to cringe. I was actually thinking about writing the author about it. As someone who was diagnosed in their early twenties with a chronic illness (I’m 29 now), I dealt with people spouting Louise Hayes metephor bullsh** for years that was more victim blaming than anything. Now I know better thankfully and kindly put them in their place. All the things you mention here I agree with. I’m happy to know there are others who see this crazy “bad feelings cause illness” argument for what it is and are speaking out about how dumb and hurtful it is.

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