Guilt…. It’s a feeling defined in the dictionary as ‘the fact of having committed a specified or implied offence or crime’ or ‘making someone feel guilty in order to induce them to do something.’ One of these definitions resonates more with siblings than the other, but where does the guilt from come? Does it come from someone externally making you feel guilty? Or is it intrinsic? Do siblings make themselves feel guilty? And what is there to feel guilty about? All valid questions and all questions the National Adult Sibling Support Group attempted to answer in their meeting this month.
Through our discussions we came up with the following reasons why siblings may experience guilt:
Guilty about the distance (physically) between them and their sibling.
There’s a real mix in the group of people who have stayed close to the family home and those who have moved away, some across countries. So, the guilt about not being closer, not being able to just pop round but also the guilt of living close by and still not doing those things are all very real for many siblings.
Guilty about creating a life away from being a sibling.
Building a career, going to Uni, travelling the world, creating a family unit of your own. But is having a life of your own something you should feel guilty about? Would you feel guilt about this if you weren’t a sibling? Would your sibling want you to feel guilty about these things?
Guilty about the distribution of care amongst other siblings, if there are others.
This can also become resentment, why is it me that has picked up the gauntlet of caring for my disabled sibling? Why don’t my other siblings do as much as me? Why don’t they do anything? What do they think would happen if I decided to stop doing it all one day?
Guilty about the sibling’s disability. Am I to blame? Why wasn’t it me?
How can I possibly enjoy doing all these things that my sibling will never get to experience? Did I miss any signs growing up that could have got them identified or helped earlier? Would that have changed the trajectory of their life?
Guilty about wondering ‘Am I doing enough?’ but also, ‘Am I doing too much?’.
It’s about finding the balance between supporting your parents and sibling while also keeping a sense of self.
Guilty about talking about your sibling at the support groups.
I should be able to cope with this, I shouldn’t need to ask for help so why do I? It feels selfish that we complain and moan when what we go through can seem trivial compared to our sibling. It feels wrong to moan. But, says who? Who says we have to be happy and grateful about what we go through? Is that something put on us by others? Or is it something we pressure ourselves to feel?
Guilty about the limits you impose on others.
Your partner wasn’t born into this situation like you were, but it affects them and their dreams just the same. But remember, they weren’t born into it, they CHOSE it. They knew what they were signing up for and they chose you.
Guilty about asking for help yourself when you are struggling.
You know how tough your parents have it, so you don’t want to add to their worries by sharing your own struggles. So, you bottle it up, you put on the brave sibling act and you crack on. But eventually the mask will fall, and who will be there? Who can you turn to? Creating a circle close to you is so important and most parents will want you to go to them, regardless of what worries they have about your sibling. You are both their children.
Guilty about not showing up fully in other areas of your life.
By giving so much of ourselves to being a sibling how can we give our best to our friendships? Our work? Our partners? It’s literally not possible to be your best self in all those places. For us, what even is our best self? Do we even know? It’s about realising and accepting that what we give is ‘good enough’. We will not tear ourselves down trying to be perfect in every aspect of our life. We will be good enough and that is all anyone can ask or expect of us.
Guilty about your sibling not being able to be the best version of themselves due to the limitations of their disability.
How is it fair that they can never get that chance? But what if they do have that chance? Yes, they have limitations, but within those they have the potential to be ‘good enough’, just as we do and surely that makes them the best version of themselves within the limitations?
Guilty about the difficulty our parents had raising a disabled child.
How did they do it? I could never have done it. I should have done more. I should have complained less. All valid, but… they did it. No, it wasn’t easy, but they did it and you were there every step of the way. As yourself, could they have done it without me?
Guilty about the different experiences we as members of the support group have.
Hearing the stories of everyone in the group you start to question more whether you could have done more, whether you really had it as hard as you think you did, whether you really need the support if others have it so much tougher. Each of our stories are unique, each of our stories have their own difficulties and each of our stories are a valid need for support. We are the one safe space to share these experiences and have these difficult discussions without any fear of judgement or resentment. We are your people. We hear you. We understand you.
Guilty for feeling guilty!
It’s a never-ending cycle that we as siblings have to learn to live with and manage before our guilt manages us!
It can take a long time to realise that the emotion you are experiencing is guilt, it can manifest itself as anger, irritation, indifference. Guilt is nothing to feel guilty about. When you notice it in yourself, recognise it, acknowledge it, accept it and move on from it. We have it hard enough in this life without making ourselves feel guilty for feeling guilty about how hard we find it. Give yourself a break!
To join the National adult sibling support group (or any of our support groups), click here.