Addressing Your Feelings: How To Deal With Guilt
Most of us have experienced feelings of guilt at one point or another, whether it’s over something small or something larger. When guilt is appropriate, it can move us to make amends for the wrongs we have done to others or motivate us to do something better in the future. However, if guilt becomes excessive, it can have very negative effects and can be connected to mental health conditions such as depression.
In this article, we will explore several different types of guilt, the negative effects of excessive guilt, and ways to effectively address guilt.
Common Types Of Guilt
There are several reasons why you may feel guilty at times, and these can range from person to person and situation to situation. We’ll explore a few common examples below:
A feeling of guilt can often originate from the thought that you have harmed someone, whether that may or may not be the case. Individuals who have frequent feelings of guilt may often have thoughts that assign themselves excessive responsibility, and they may feel guilty for someone’s hurt if they see it as their fault. Sometimes, these thoughts could be accurate, but at times, these thoughts may assign excessive responsibility without any true connection to the events or actions.
Another situation of guilt can involve blaming yourself for things that go wrong in your life or for not reaching your goals. Once you get into the loop of self-blame, it can be easy to slip into a near-constant state of guilt.
One specific type of guilt is related to something you did wrong, which could include actions involving someone else or when you do something that goes against your own values or ethics. For instance, you might be trying to quit a habit, such as smoking or gossiping, and feel guilty when you smoke or gossip. When not excessive, this guilt can be useful because it can help you to make changes in your actions, and you have the chance to make amends to those who you may have wronged.
Another type of guilt can involve your thoughts, rather than your actions. Perhaps you are thinking of doing something wrong, and you feel guilty for even having the thought. Acknowledging those thoughts, vowing not to act on them, and then working to reduce them with conscious efforts can help to reduce your feelings of guilt.
Something You Didn't Do
While some forms of guilt result from our thoughts and actions, there are also forms of guilt that focus more on what we didn't do or what we could have done differently in any given situation. For example, there may be times when you feel guilty for not doing enough for someone. If you have a family and friends who is ill, you might feel guilty for not being able to be there for them as much as you would like due to other obligations. If you are dealing with this type of guilt, try to separate your desire and ability to help from your guilt.
The Problem With Guilt
While there are many types of guilt and some of them can even be useful, any type of guilt can become unhealthy if it becomes excessive or is allowed to fester. Feeling remorse at times can be common, but if you spend excessive amounts of time stewing in guilt, it may have harmful effects or be a sign of something deeper going on.
Excessive Guilt And Mental Illness
When you deal with excessive or inappropriate guilt, you could be exhibiting a symptom of depression. Excessive guilt can also be associated with childhood trauma or even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Therefore, if you are exhibiting signs of excessive guilt, it could be a sign of a deeper concern that you might want to address with the help of a trained mental health professional.
Unhealthy Guilt Can Impact Self-Acceptance And Relationships With Others
Carrying unhealthy guilt can give you a warped sense of yourself and create a feeling of low self-worth, which can negatively impact your emotional well-being over time. This kind of guilt can be insidious and self-destructive. This guilt may also lead to anger and resentment toward yourself and others. When guilt becomes consuming, it may negatively impact your relationships with others because you are focused on yourself and your negative feelings, rather than considering how you are interacting with others in the present moment.
Ways To Effectively Address Guilt
If you find yourself frequently feeling guilty, there are healthy ways to deal with the guilt instead of feeling paralyzed by it. Included below are a few strategies to try:
Sometimes, our incorrect perception of a situation can be creating excessive levels of guilt. If this may be the case for you, try to first look for evidence that you aren't doing enough or that you have done something wrong, and see what the facts say. Consider asking others to give their point of view to help you adjust your viewpoint.
To combat those feelings of guilt, take time to deliberately focus on your positive traits and actions. Consider giving yourself a dose of self-gratitude on a daily basis by listing out some of these positive examples. This habit can help you to put your thoughts and actions in perspective and help you give yourself credit for positive things, rather than focusing solely on your perceived mistakes.
Forgive And Accept Yourself
Nobody is perfect, and we all make mistakes at times. Try to recognize this and forgive yourself for past mistakes, accepting the reality that we are all human. This self-acceptance can positively affect your emotional well-being.
Address Your Thought Patterns
There can be a tendency to think in black and white instead of recognizing the “grey areas” in many situations, and this can be especially common for individuals with depression. If you look at the various aspects of a situation, rather than simplifying it into one extreme or the other, you might be able to see the nuances of the situation and give yourself more grace, rather than only seeing reasons for guilt.
Seek Help Through Therapy
Working through guilt on your own can be challenging, and sometimes, there may be further concerns underneath your guilt that you’d like to address. For instance, you could be holding onto feelings of anger, hurt, resentment, or even low self-worth, or you may have found that your excessive guilt is connected to a mental health condition. By working with an in-person or online therapist, you can address those feelings and learn ways to cope with them effectively.
If you’re considering online therapy for addressing the excessive guilt you’ve been experiencing or its underlying causes, studies have shown that online therapy can be just as effective as face-to-face therapy for a range of concerns. For example, a literature review of 64 articles containing 14 studies on online therapy as compared to traditional therapy found the effectiveness to be comparable. Participants in the studies experienced a range of mental health conditions and received a range of therapeutic treatments.
Individuals experiencing excessive guilt may feel overwhelmed at times and the thought of seeking help may feel intimidating. With online therapy through BetterHelp, you can speak with a licensed therapist from the comfort of your home or wherever there's an internet connection and at a time that works for you, which may feel easier for some people.
Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar concerns.
“In the last 7 months or so, Lois has really helped me in reshaping my perspectives on my relationships and my involvement in them. I have seen a great deal of personal growth occur through her attention and guidance. I have been able to understand where my struggles had come from and deal with difficult ideas like blame and guilt. I'm very grateful for her time and attention and I'm confident that my personal relationships will be stronger and healthier as a result of working with Lois.”
“This therapist took me from a place where I was broken mentally and showed me how to put myself back together again without any sort of shame. I don't think people really have an understanding of just how important therapy is in transforming your entire life, until you have a good therapist. Just to be clear, not all therapists are good therapists, but you'll know one when you work with one! For anyone reading this I hope you find one that works for you.”
While some amount of guilt can be useful at times, when guilt becomes excessive, it can have very negative effects. There are many different types of guilt, but there are also many ways to address it. If you are experiencing high levels of guilt, you may consider trying some of the strategies above. If you would like more personalized help in addressing guilt, you can speak with an online therapist for support.
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