Taking control of diabetes & letting go of guilt

Life with diabetes is closely connected with the word “control. When diagnosed with diabetes there is usually a sense of being “out of control” and talk around you from mostly well meaning people, that you need to “take control”. There can be many reasons why it is hard to get, maintain, or hold onto, control – not just of diabetes but a range of things in life.

Much of the talk about control in diabetes relates to the practical management –  ”eat healthy, exercise, don’t smoke, don’t drink, cut down salt, sleep well, take your medication/insulin and check your blood glucose”.

But not a lot is said about how to do these things?

  • What choices do you have and what impact might these choices have?
  • What about the rest of your life?
  • How can you make these changes when you actually have a life?

The practical tasks of diabetes sit on the background of the emotions, thoughts, feelings, worries and anxieties you may have about diabetes and about the rest of your life.

feet happy

Often the way we think about things, including diabetes, can distract us from being “present” and getting on with life – if we hold on too tightly to our thoughts and problems it is really hard to see what is happening around us. Nobody wants diabetes, let’s face it – there are many times we experience pain and negative or unwanted thoughts and feelings about it, but being able to “hang” with our diabetes, sit it on our laps in a sense, enables us to get on with life – including the tasks required in diabetes care. This can help to maintain a sense of control.

being a parent

If you are a parent or loved one, you will also have a role to play in the “control” of diabetes in yours and your child’s lives. Many thoughts and feelings will fill you up when your child is diagnosed with diabetes and these thoughts and feelings can bring pain.

Parents later have to let go of control in their children’s lives as they grow up and this can be especially tough for parents of children with diabetes who can struggle with who has control of various parts of their young person’s life and their diabetes.

If we could switch off this pain with a magic button, you would never have to feel it again, but you would also never care again about your child – what would you choose? Most people say they would choose to keep the pain, as with caring comes pain – that is part of being human.

mum and bub happy

control and guilt

Control is something that can have both positive and negative meanings. Sometimes things like “guilt” get wrapped up in this, for example when it seems things are not in control. People who live with problems such as Eating Disorders tell us that they try to gain control of their lives by controlling food, their weight, or both.

Uncomfortable thoughts, experiences, worries, feelings and so on, can take over our every waking moment and things like controlling food, exercise, use of drugs or alcohol – these are all ways we try to avoid these painful thoughts and feelings. This type of control is destructive to both the person and their loved ones, as well as their diabetes.

In the short term you may have some relief, but in the longer term, this increases the negative and painful thoughts and feelings and a vicious cycle is set in motion. If you constantly try NOT to think about something it tends to have the opposite effect! Learning to “accept” or hang with these things is more helpful.


There is no question that feeling a sense of control over your life gives you a sense of wellbeing and of peace in your life. People need to feel in control and we need to be able to find ways to control diabetes as far as is possible.

Guilt is often present in diabetes – guilt about getting diabetes; about passing it on to  your child; about your child going away to camp, or not having sleep overs when they have diabetes, or leaving them with a sitter for the first time; about being overweight and “causing it” yourself; about eating or not eating something; checking or not checking blood glucose; taking or not taking medication and insulin – and the list goes on.

letting go of guilt

Guilt is unhelpful and often based on unfounded facts – it is better to be gentler on yourself and see that you are first and foremost a human being and somewhere lower down on the list, you are a person with diabetes or loved one of someone with diabetes; and/or you made the best decision you could at the time, then move on.

If the decision was not one you want to repeat – learn from it – and make sure you have the knowledge and support to make a different choice next time.

This is especially true with things like food choices, insulin doses, BGL’s and exercise choices. If it is more a scary but important decision being hampered by guilt, such as learning to leave your child with someone else, make sure you have support so you can take these important steps without the guilt.



Helen Edwards 

Founder and Director Diabetes Counselling Online, person with type 1 diabetes for 35 years,mum of 3 and blogger at www.recycledinteriors.org


  1. helwild on January 8, 2014 at 4:03 pm

    Hear Hear. Well said.

  2. Sue on January 10, 2014 at 5:26 pm

    Helen, I have to disagree with you about control, I believe it is the root of myriad problems for PWDs.

    “But not a lot is said about how to do these things?” That is the problem with control discourse – it assumes that doing the right things will mean perfect results, without letting the person know that reality is not that simple, things will go wrong, but no information is provided on how to handle those situations. That’s where judgment, blame and guilt come in. And they underlie a lot of diabetes distress.

    “Often the way we think about things, including diabetes, can distract us from being “present” and getting on with life “ Control discourse in my experience is usually accompanied by blame, and HCP’s withholding information that would empower the person to take responsibility for their wellbeing. Control gets in the way of managing our wellbeing because it causes so much fear and anxiety through it’s association with judgment, guilt and blame, none of which is helpful. It just gives us a lot of issues to work through!

    Parents of PWD’s need to know that control incites rebellion and many adolescent PWDs have caused themselves problems/complications through rebellion. In a sense, control as a manifestation of fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Better to begin teaching the child to take responsibility for managing their diabetes as early as possible in an age appropriate way. When personal responsibility is established before adolescence it is much less likely to be rebelled against.

    Control discourse is also associated (through blame) with being “good” or “bad”, and bgls being “good” or “bad”. We all know how destructive that language is.

    Guilt is tightly tangled up with ‘control’. Your 1st paragraph under ‘letting go of guilt’ is spot on, and the definition of management discourse. Management discourse gives us the information to make management decisions on the fly, without judgment, guilt or blame.

    Control scenario:
    HCP: you had a spike here
    PWD: yeah, I don’t know why
    HCP: (assumes person ate something ‘naughty’) “You need to stick to the diet”
    PWD: (feels helpless, thinks, ‘but I didn’t…’)
    PWD: next time an inexplicable spike happens, feels judged, blames, guilty, helpless. Knows the HCP will not believe them. Trust is eroded.

    Management scenario:
    HCP: you had a spike here
    PWD: yeah, I don’t know why
    HCP: how were you feeling?
    PWD: I was angry …
    HCP: That will do it. (Instructs PWD how to manage this situation)
    PWD: (feels heard, supported, has just learned something about managing their diabetes; can manage it better next time.)