How to Flip-Think Your 'Spoonie Guilt' with These Two Words| The Health Sessions

How to Flip-Think Your ‘Spoonie Guilt’ with These Two Words

When you live with limitations, you’ll inevitably disappoint yourself or others because you can’t live up to (your own) expectations.

Canceling a meeting at the last minute due to a crippling flare-up, not being able to do your ‘fair share’ around the house or having to say ‘no’ to your kids when they want to play with you, the list of things people with chronic illness can feel guilty about is long and diverse.

And even though it’s not your fault you can’t do things because you’re too sick, that doesn’t mean you don’t beat yourself up over letting people down.

But instead of apologizing all the time, there’s a way to express your ‘spoonie guilt’ in a more positive way: by saying ‘thank you’ instead of ‘I’m sorry’.


Why You Should Say ‘Thank You’ Instead of ‘I’m Sorry’

Let’s say you were supposed to meet your friend for dinner, but you’re simply in no condition to leave the house tonight. Of course you want to apologize and make it up to them, and you should.

But instead of extensively saying you’re sorry, you could also express your remorse in a different way. Instead of repeating “I’m so sorry for letting you down”, say “Thank you for being so understanding”.

Flip-think your guilt, disappointment and focus on what you can’t do by emphasizing what you’re grateful for. So instead of feeling bad for not being able to do chores by yourself, say “Thank you for your help“. Instead of saying “Sorry for being so down and anxious today“, say “Thank you for being a great listener“.

Of course saying you’re sorry is the correct response when you’ve done something wrong or when someone’s been hurt. But being chronically ill is not your fault, nor is it within your control.

Showing your appreciation for others, on the other hand, has a positive impact on your relationships. More than that, reframing your feelings of guilt in more positive wording affects how you see yourself: as someone with supportive friends and family instead of a spoonie with limitations.

So the next time you feel guilty about being chronically ill, choose your words wisely.


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  • Darla

    Dr.Jen the Zen one, first off you rock! Since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 4 years ago and 2 years ago double pneumonia that left me with heart failure with 28% left undamaged it has seriously limited my mobility energy patience and unfortunately my positive attitude. 52 years on this planet, I lived a happy-go-lucky , look on the bright side, things will be better tomorrow, or crack a silly joke and get over it type of life. Now for the first time in my life I find myself having to work at being positive. Anger and resentment and even the dreaded ” poor little me” mindset is trying to set up permanent residence. And tonight I find your blog and it gives me hope I just want to say “Thank you”

    • I’m touched by your kind words Darla, thank you. It’s perfectly normal that you’re resentful and feel sorry for yourself. You’ve had a lot to deal with. Not just experiencing horrible symptoms on a daily basis, but also having to adjust the plans you had for your future and your sense of identity. To me, positivity in the face of adversity is not about having an irrealistic rose-colored view of life. But I do believe that trying to find the good in little things each day can help make the bad ones more bearable. It’s a challenge, but your insightful comment tells me that you’re up for it 😉 Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help. Good luck, be gentle with yourself and take care Darla!