Don’t get me wrong, feeling guilty a little bit every now and then is good for the soul and a strong sign that you are not a sociopath or a narcissist.
However, if you walk around with a self-imposed burden on the shoulders, unable to shake the feeling of guilt from your mind, then you have an unhealthy pattern.
But before we talk about how to overcome guilt and go to sleep with a clear conscience, it is important we address a few questions like what is guilt? Where does guilt come from? Why do I always hold on to guilt?
What is Guilt?
Guilt is that feeling you get when your choices – actions, thoughts, motivations – cause a clash between external expectations of society and your internal convictions and definitions.
Here is a simple way to look at it: you feel guilty when you believe you have acted unfairly toward someone or society.
Know that feeling guilty is entirely possible even in cases where there is no actual fault you have committed. In other words, guilt could flow from a problem that exists only in your head.
Guilty people are always on the defensive, castigating their actions and using words like:
- Oh, I wish I had not said that – she probably hates me now!
- It’s my fault everybody is uncomfortable if only I was not so talkative.
- My house is such a mess, why can’t I just get it together and be more organized?!
- I ate that piece of cake last night, and I feel so bloated and everyone surely thinks I am fat.
Now, as earlier mentioned, a little guilt here and there is probably not a bad thing. In fact, evolutionary psychology suggests guilt is our brain’s way of veering into attitudes that would leave us ostracized or sent away from the tribe.
A problem only arises when you find you are constantly feeling guilty and go through life apologizing for your existence.
How You Can Know You Have a Guilt Problem
Do any of these scenarios ring true in your life? You-
- Fret over whether or not you have upset others, even random strangers on the street or people you don’t even like.
- Always analyze whether your or not your interactions could have gone better or if you could have done things better.
- Instantly start blaming yourself if others get into a bad mood. You think it must somehow be your fault.
- Shy away from being direct and forthcoming about your opinions and preferences.
- Keep criticizing yourself in terms of “should have” and “could have”.
- Take one small detail about your day that did not go well and criticize yourself intensely for it.
- Blame others or project your insecurities on them as a defense mechanism against guilt.
- Quickly and often move from guilt to shame, where we not only feeling horrible about our actions but also for who we are.
These are just a few of the many ways in which the persistent feeling of guilt may be distorting your life. If you incessantly find yourself eager to please others, or berate yourself for perceived failings in that regard then you have a guilt problem.
Why Do I Always Feel Guilty?
I remember when I used to wallow in guilt all the time. I had just woken up to the fact that I was such a people pleaser and was yet to get used to checking in with myself in order to do what was right for me.
So basically what would happen at that time was someone would ask for something which I felt was against my own good and I would say “No”. Or somebody would do something that went against my personal values and I would stand up for myself. But instead of basking in the warm glow of my newfound self-awareness, I would start feeling guilty.
I would feel as if I had wronged that person or was being unfair to them and I would feel very aweful about that.
It only got worse if the person in question got upset with my action or registered shock that I had finally grown a spine (It takes a while for people to adjust to the fact that you are no longer going to bend over for them.). The more emotional they got, the guiltier I felt.
I felt guilty all the time because I did not have the tools needed to make me comfortable with honoring my needs first rather than being caretaking others at my expense.
I Used Guilt to Feel Good About Myself
I held on to my guilt because it was a form of consolation that I was still a “nice person”. One capable of feeling bad when they were “unfair” to other people. I nurtured my guilt, and would not let it go for that reason.
For me, feeling guilty was a life raft I could hold on to in the sea of uncertainty in which I found myself in at that time.
I held onto the guilt because I still wanted to be accepted by my peers and wanted to be regarded as an “upstanding member” of the group.
I only stopped clinging on to guilt on a perpetual basis after listening to a subliminal meditation that I created for myself in order to re-orientate my brain to be okay with looking out for myself.
That allowed me to start looking at guilt like a messenger trying to point me to blockages in my subconscious rather than a pillar to lean on.
If you find yourself preoccupied with feelings of guilt, it is likely you are under the burden of sabotaging paradigms. These force you to see the world from a standpoint of “I hurt people” or “I am being unfair to people”.
People usually get conditioned to think in such negative terms during childhood. For example, people who grew up in religious households may perceive guilt as a factor that makes you socially acceptable.
Also, growing up with a parent who uses guilt as a way to mold or control a child’s behavior could end up leaving that child codependent as an adult. It’s a situation where a person derives their sense of value from being accepted by others or by the group around them.
How to Quit the Habit of Feeling Guilty
Immersing yourself in guilt can sometimes become so overwhelming that you think there is no possible way in which you can redeem yourself. But that is not really the case. You can stop the burden of guilt by following these tips:
Appreciate Yourself and All that You Do
Guilt highlights all what you supposedly didn’t do right, so you can counter this by making it a point to jot down all the things you did right at the end of the day. Doing this will help you focus on your accomplishments rather than your perceived shortcomings.
Be Mindful of the Emotions Underneath the Guilt
Your guilt is actually a pointer to underlying patterns that exist in your unconscious. By being mindful of our emotions we can learn to tell the difference between when we dwell on guilt for doing something genuinely wrong and when we are guilty because you are eager to appear as a good person and want to be approved by others.
It is in this regard where the soothing meditation can really be of help because it untangle those barriers which are the true causes for your endless sense of guilt.
Imagine How You Would See Things If Roles Were Reversed
Sometimes, the unreasonable reactions of others may leave you feeling guilty over nothing. Or maybe we get too harsh on ourselves for no reason.
Reversing the roles and forcing yourself to view your actions from the point of view of another will settle the debate on whether you are truly being unfair or not.
The road from guilt will take some time, but soon after you begin you can expect to start seeing some changes.
Before long, you will realize you don’t have to live on anyone’s terms, and will no longer see the need to keep feeling you have to apologize for who you are. Subsequently, you will learn to feel utterly ok with your choices, decisions, and opinions, which are all valid.