Understanding Why You Are Wracked With Guilt

By Nicola Kirkpatrick

Updated December 17, 2018

Reviewer Kelly Kampf

A degree of guilt can be fairly healthy. Guilt is officially defined as "a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc." However, habitual feelings of guilt are also indicative of some further, more deep-seated issue which needs to be addressed. Harley Therapy states that from an evolutionary perspective, guilt existed as a means of stopping people from partaking in conduct which would alienate those who were closest to them. Moreover, never experiencing guilt can be indicative of even worse clinical issues such as narcissism, psychopathy, or sociopathy.

Source: medium.com

Ongoing emotions of guilt are often referred to as a guilt complex. Some of the most common symptoms of a guilt complex are as follows: shame, projecting blame onto others, self-blame, fretting over angering others, and otherwise taking accountability for the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of other individuals. The preceding symptoms are not healthy by any means; someone who is constantly wracked with guilt must, therefore, do some soul searching and truly uncover the root of their emotions.

Understanding Guilt

Before one can truly understand why they are wracked with guilt, they must first understand guilt. Believe it or not, a thorough comprehension of this particular emotion can be quite insightful and solve many problems. Thankfully, Psychology Today has some helpful answers and information.

First and foremost, guilt's inception is purely mental. This means that people experience this emotion when they believe they have engendered harm or are otherwise responsible for someone else's suffering or misfortune. These feelings can exist regardless of whether or not the person is right or wrong. These troublesome thoughts later prompt the feeling which human beings refer to as guilt.

Various Causes Of Guilt

A person's desire to understand why they are wracked with guilt is completed fair and intelligible. After all, addressing guilty feelings is a virtually impossible feat if someone is unable to unearth the source of their guilt.

Additional reports from Psychology Today affirm that the five most common reasons behind an individual's guilt are as follows: their behavior, something they want to do but have not (yet) followed through on, their own perceived behavior, failing to help another person to a certain degree, and surviving a situation which others didn't make it out of. There are associated factors and circumstances which accompany the preceding, common causes of guilt. Furthermore, each case comes with an applicable solution which can be carried out, thus freeing the afflicted person from their bothersome emotions of guilt.

Guilt Due To One's Behavior

Seeing as this reason made the top of the list, a person's conduct and decisions are one of the most recurrent reasons of being wracked with guilt. More often than not, the conduct above either hurt someone placed someone in harm's way, or otherwise breached a moral, ethic, or even legal boundaries. Some frequent examples include one feeling guilty for cheating on a significant other, causing a car accident, or even murdering someone.

Source: commons.wikimedia.org

While guilt can be discomforting and unsettling, understanding that it also represents humanity is also very important. By definition, guilt is, in part, the recognition of wrongdoing coupled with the desire to fix it. As previously stated, individuals who never feel guilty, even when they have behaved irresponsibly or otherwise done something wrong are likely suffering from varying degrees of narcissism, psychopathy, or sociopathy.

However, the mere emotion of guilt is not enough. Therefore, a person who is experiencing guilt must take it upon themselves to accept responsibility for their conduct and then see to it that a repeat never occurs. More often than not, this means different things for different people and scenarios. For instance, someone who was unfaithful to their significant other may need to accept responsibility by coming clean to their partner and asking for forgiveness. Likewise, an individual who caused a car accident or murdered someone may have to pay the piper by turning themselves into the police.

Guilt Due To An Unfulfilled Desire

Unfulfilled thoughts, cravings, or desires can also prompt feelings of guilt. This may come as a surprise to certain individuals who generally regard guilt as a feeling which is engendered by prior actions. Needless to say, that is not always the case. Many individuals feel guilty for things that they have not done, yet want to do; these feelings of guilt come into being because the bothered person feels as though their unfulfilled desires may be indicative of a darker, more forbidden side of themselves.

Now, someone who is wracked with guilt due to unfulfilled desires has a series of options. They can either bottle up their thoughts, deny their existence altogether, or acknowledge their existence, thus committing to the high road. While the first two options are the most common choices regarding unfulfilled desires, they are not as effective. Bottling up taboo cravings or pretending that they simply don't exist can seriously backfire. Instead, people should choose to come to terms with their desires and determine if there is a way to be more honest with themselves about. The latter option, unlike the former two, is healthy and eventually leads to revolution.

Guilt Due To Perceived Conduct

Believe it or not, there are occasions where people experience guilt because of something which they believed was of their own doing or otherwise caused by them. At its worst, being wracked by this form of guilt can be indicative of delusion or other mental health symptoms associated with mental illness. However, false memories or unclear recollections can also be the reasons behind guilt due to perceived conduct.

At the end of the day, the only true way to stop being wracked by this cause of guilt is to understand that no wrongdoing or crime was committed. Blaming oneself for perceived wrongs or false interpretations is not healthy nor is it conducive to a positive and successful life. People who find themselves to be suffering from false memories or unclear recollections would do well to either seek counsel from their loved ones or reach out to licensed professionals, such as the ones with BetterHelp.

Guilt Due To Failure To Help Another Person

Many individuals find themselves wracked with guilt because they couldn't help a person whom they truly loved and cared for. The person can be a romantic partner, parent, child, relative, friend, or coworker. When someone truly cares for another individual who seems to be in trouble or distressed, the desire to be of aid is only humane. However, not everyone can be saved. Some people can be helped while others cannot. This is not indicative of any shortcomings or flaws of the person who tried to be of assistance.

In essence, the best way to overcome this particular cause of guilt is by understanding that you did everything you could. An old saying affirms that one cannot help others until they first help themselves. In layman's terms, attempting to be of aid to another individual should not come at the detriment of one's health or well-being. When someone has done all that they could, they should be at peace with themselves, even if the person they wanted to help was not able to be saved. Some things are simply out of one's control.

Source: wisegeek.com

Guilt Due To One's Survival

This particular version of guilt is often referred to by professionals and specialists as survivors guilt. Unfortunately, being wracked by this type of guilt is most common after tragedies have occurred, such as loss due to natural disasters, man-made disasters, war, etc. While survivor's guilt can be eased with the passing of time, sometimes professional guidance or counseling can be of aid to suffering individuals.

Survivor's guilt isn't only caused by tragedies or losses, though. In less common scenarios, this variation of guilt can be brought into inception as a result of becoming more successful, wealthy, or accomplished than family members or friends. The best way to overcome this feeling is to remember that each person makes their own decisions. Ultimately, decisions determine destinies. This means that someone who works hard and makes themselves available and open to certain opportunities is unlikely to have the same results as people who didn't work as hard or have access to beneficial opportunities.

Understand that success and achievements are not negative. Moreover, realize that those who truly love and care for you will be proud (and not resentful) of your accomplishments.

A Final Word

Experiencing guilt from time to time is normal, especially if someone has committed a sin or otherwise breached their moral code. However, being ceaselessly wracked with guilt should certainly be addressed. There are countless negative offshoots which accompany unresolved emotional issues.

Since BetterHelp's inception, the specialty of our profession has been to provide assistance and guidance to people who may be struggling or otherwise going through the ups and downs of life. The reality is that no individual can do it all by themselves; everyone needs help sometimes.

For this reason alone, BetterHelp will always exist as an option for those in need of aide. You can contact us at any time for any reason by clicking here.


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