The feeling of guilt arises when someone regrets an attitude he has taken or when he does not accept his defects, errors, weaknesses and even his insignificance as a human being.
This feeling touches more strongly people who have a kind of delusion of greatness and want to be perfect. After all, they will put more pressure on themselves and will find it difficult to admit their mistakes.
Do you know how to deal with guilt? We have prepared a post in which, together, we will discuss this. Stay with us and check it out!
What is guilt?
There is a very interesting survey by a scholar named Lewis (1971) who says that the feeling of guilt is when we judge ourselves negatively when we believe that we cannot live up to our own or imposed by society .
Do you know when we go through a situation and, when we regret it for any reason, we want to run away because we are ashamed?
Other times, instead of seeing the feeling of shame – or with him – that feeling of anger at himself and / or the situation appears, along with thoughts like: “Why did I do this?”.
Like the different emotions we feel, guilt has an adaptive function , that is, it is characteristic of human nature. There is a region in our brain called the Limbic System that is responsible for all our moral judgments and also for the feeling of guilt and shame.
It is when we feel that mix of worry and remorse that makes us rethink about our actions after they have been taken.
Psychopaths, for example – who are also known as sociopaths – do not feel remorse for having done something bad for another because they lack empathy.
There is research that shows that there is a certain dysfunction in the limbic region of these people that the feeling of guilt is not activated.
On the contrary, they consider themselves to be their own judges , disregarding the other’s judgment or feeling of shame for any action they have taken.
So if you feel guilty about something you did or did not do, think on the bright side: you are in the group of most human beings! Know that those who feel guilty have greater capacity for empathy and connection with each other .
Considering human beings with a healthy psychological development, it is natural that we have these feelings, often followed by remorse, anger and shame, as they direct us towards our own personal evolution.
And it is also important that they stay with us as long as necessary so that they can serve us as an apprenticeship.
Researcher Brené Brown (2012) describes that guilt is considered healthy when it moves us towards positive thoughts and behaviors .
With it, we can create new alternatives and ways to get out of that uncomfortable situation that has already happened – and in most cases, we have no control because it is in the past.
This kind of healthy reflection prepares us for new routes and we prevent us from taking the same attitudes that again bring the feeling of guilt. It is the feeling of “lessons learned” and “life that goes on”.
On the other hand, guilt becomes worrisome when thoughts and behaviors are directed in a way that seems to get nowhere but self – destruction .
When making a mistake, instead of thinking “I’m sorry, I made a mistake”, toxic guilt leads us to say “I’m sorry, I’m a mistake ” (Brown, 2012). That’s where the red alert appears …
When does Guilt become worrying?
Guilt becomes worrying only when it gives us the feeling that we are paralyzed . It is as if the person who repents turns all his thoughts towards a constant ideal of negativity .
Thoughts like, “How stupid I was!” or “You will never be able to change at all” are some examples of self-depreciation that, if fixed only on them, will not bring any kind of reflection or benefit for a personal evolution.
Rather than pushing the person forward, these thoughts prevent him from accepting any positive considerations about himself.
Of course, to a greater or lesser extent, at some point in our lives, we already feel guilty that way. The point is to police ourselves so as not to be in a cycle that leaves us static and still generates a lot of anguish and a lot of suffering.
There are some studies that investigate the reasons why some people are unable to see a “light at the end of the tunnel” to get out of this “paralyzing sensation”.
One of the possible factors is the great fear of feeling vulnerable . The vulnerability further increases the chance of the uncomfortable feeling of shame arising.
That is why continually brooding over a situation that has passed is a way for human beings to protect themselves from once again experiencing that same sensation.
Lewis (1971) comments that individuals who continually mull over the past are afraid of being out of control. They follow the idea of “I can never go wrong” as a life imperative – sometimes unconsciously.
It is as if the feeling of “being vulnerable” brought a huge void and for that, the illusion of reaching impossible expectations – imaginary or unreal is created.
One of them, for example, is the constant search to reach the ideal of “perfection” and, for that, it needs to be “always right”. Now, life is formed by a series of events that we cannot control!
And good! However, for these people the self-critical dialogue is so strong that in order to escape from guilt, they seek to find a justification for the error anywhere (either in the other or in the situation itself), but they will never be able to admit to themselves that they were wrong.
In some cases, this form of self-deprecation can be so strong that it can even cause self-harm.
Anger about yourself, for example, can cause a person to ingest large amounts of alcohol or drugs as a way of easing the feeling of vulnerability and lack of control over life.
Still others may develop emotional illnesses such as depression. In these cases, people who have this guilt, continually think “I am a failure” and not “I made a mistake this time, but I will police myself so that in the next few I do not make the same mistake”.
This kind of mindset towards harmful perfectionism is highly linked to inner pain. They suffer and that is a fact.
We know that we have all experienced a situation that we suffer from because we regret something we did or did not do.
The difference between each of us is in the way we deal with that feeling. And this way of dealing is learned and constructed throughout our lives: from our childhood to the present day.
How does the feeling of guilt arise?
Many researchers have studied how guilt arises in us. Some follow a dynamic line while others tend to be more behavioral.
Regardless of the theory, it is known that the development of guilt begins in our childhood from the relationships we have built over time with our parents / caregivers, teachers, friends, among others.
Each of these relationships shapes the way a child will learn and interpret each action he takes in the world.
Those behaviors that a girl develops and does not meet the expectations of an adult, for example, can be interpreted with repressions and ugly faces.
The way in which each child deals with the feeling of anxiety in situations like this, causes their personality to be developed, as well as guilt.
Imagine a situation in which a 5-year-old boy accidentally spills the milk on the living room rug. There are two ways for the mother to react.
The first is to look at the child and, even if tired or upset, the mother says: “What an ugly thing, but don’t worry, it happens!
We will clean together, but next time try to be more careful! ”. The second way is for the mother, angry and very tired, to speak to the child: “How clumsy you are! It’s the same thing every time and it seems like you don’t pay attention! ”.
Note that in the first example, the mother demonstrates that the situation is wrong, but gives the child a certain security.
With that, the boy is more likely to understand that he made a mistake and will reflect so that the next times he will be a little more careful with milk.
In the second example, the mother is tired and cannot separate her anger from the situation. If at various times she remains with the same reaction, the child is more likely to understand that he is really a clumsy.
Of course, this is just one example that illustrates the way guilt develops in us and the way we will deal with it in different situations in the world.
Remember that several other events throughout our lives will shape the way we face and view the situations that affect us.
There is not a single fact that results in the way we deal with guilt, but a series of events that, in a complex and interconnected way, form the way we face and see how we are today and how to face situations.
How to deal with Guilt?
Before answering these questions, let’s go to a concept of a theory of Psychology called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
The more we engage in certain thoughts, the greater the chance that they will remain in our routine. There is a lot of research proving that thoughts become habits.
Although we can often think that certain thoughts are part of our personality, it is known that we have the competence to change our thoughts and, as a result, our habits.
Our brain has a great capacity for “flexibility or plasticity”, that is, the more we engage in new thoughts and behaviors, the greater the force of creating new connections in the brain.
As a result, we are more likely to change our thoughts and this will influence the way we view the world.
Breaking with the worrying and paralyzing cycle of guilt requires a willingness to be open to a constant exercise of self-reflection and a certain amount of optimism – even if it is small at the moment.
Beginning to change your own thoughts and behavior in the face of guilt contributes to the development of emotional intelligence.
Overcoming this cycle, in addition to promoting better self-esteem and capacity for expression, increases our ability to empathize with others and with ourselves.
Thus, it reduces vulnerability, anger and ultimately helps us to live a more satisfying life. With that in mind, here are some tips on how to deal with guilt.
Observe your thoughts and how you react to them
Before you start, you need to understand what happens. When the guilt comes up, stop and watch: how do you react to that feeling? What thoughts come to your mind?
What situations arouse this feeling of guilt? If you prefer, make a list with two columns. In the first, put your thoughts and in the second, your behaviors and reactions.
Before you start thinking about alternatives, develop the ability to carefully observe how that unpleasant feeling appears.
Even when the guilt does not appear, repair your thoughts in the face of different situations for 2 minutes / day.
Over time, this exercise will help you to know and study emotional conflicts, helping to investigate why you feel that way.
Understand that you are an imperfect being
To begin to deal with this feeling, it is necessary, first of all, to identify and assume the feeling of greatness and to understand that life is not completely under our control: there is no problem in making mistakes.
Thus, it is necessary to understand that human beings are beings that, by nature, are imperfect. Mistakes inevitably happen, and it is up to us to understand why we were wrong and try not to make the same mistakes.
Get to know the source of the feeling
As a form of self-knowledge, it is important to know the source of the feeling of guilt. To do this, ask yourself questions: what makes me feel guilty?
What are the times when this happens?
Answer these questions by making a list, in which the guilt experienced by you will be listed one by one. This can help you to know and study the emotional conflicts generated by the feeling of guilt and to start investigating why you feel that way in certain situations.
Understand the difference between responsibility and blame
It is also necessary to understand the difference between responsibility and guilt, as both are very different and thus have different consequences.
Responsibility is to recognize that you are responsible for your actions, while guilt is the feeling that comes from the fact that someone wants things to always happen as they want.
That is, you will always be responsible for your actions, however, it is not up to you to blame yourself if something you did will go wrong.
Develop greater compassion for yourself
It’s easy to say, but hard to do … is it? Begin to develop an internal dialogue in order to begin to accept more of your own humanity, that is, recognize that, like all humans, you have flaws and weaknesses. Naturally, you make mistakes and suffer from them. Think that you are not alone.
We all feel the same. Developing compassion as an antidote to guilt requires patience and commitment.
Expand your vocabulary with yourself
It may seem a little strange at first, but one way to start thinking about something different is to start expanding and cultivating a group of new words of self-acceptance. In the internal dialogue, you can say to yourself, “I’m sorry about your pain” or “It’s okay to feel what you feel now”.
When we are open to our own sensitivity dialogue with ourselves, we recognize and accept the hurts caused by traumatic situations that happened in the past, for example. It is necessary to recognize that you acted according to your possibilities in that situation.
Seek help from a specialized professional
In some cases, it is very difficult to see and escape the paralyzing cycle of guilt. Seeing new ways out can sometimes seem impossible. The psychologist, a specialized professional, can give you the appropriate guidance to help you follow a path of self-reflection and act on the problem.
Write a new story
From an internal dialogue of self-acceptance, over time, you will forgive yourself for your feelings, thoughts or your self-harming actions.
Understanding that something bad has happened in the past and starting to create a new story from today is an alternative that you may want to follow.
It is not forgetting what happened, on the contrary: it is recognizing the error and learning from the situation. Take a blank piece of paper and start writing a new story.
Don’t keep the feeling of guilt
The feeling of guilt is very strong and should never be kept inside. That’s because he is solely responsible for causing emotional illness . The consequences can be severe and include: depression , treating others poorly, continually finding fault with everything, drug addiction and isolation .
Faced with this, the feeling of guilt, when identified, must be treated in the best possible way in order not to cause further harm to the person.
How to deal with guilt?
The best way to deal with the feeling of guilt, to prevent it from extending and impairing your quality of life is through consultation with a psychologist.
This is because, with the help of a specialized person, you will have the appropriate guidance and advice to better understand yourself and deal with this dangerous feeling once and for all.
With these tips, you will certainly be able to better interpret the causes and consequences of the feeling of guilt, as well as identify the way to act in the face of this problem.
Did you like our text? Do you suffer or know someone who suffers from guilt? So why don’t you leave us a comment? We want to hear what you have to say!