Thank you for reaching out on this platform to as - How to learn to accept your feelings of guilt. I commend you for taking the first step towards your journey in healing.
I will share some details about guilt and how you might benefit from reaching out for some professional support in the form of mental health therapy as well as sharing some tips on what you can do on your own to manage some of your feelings and thoughts which may be causing you some stress.
Most people experience guilt after making a mistake or doing something they regret.
The effects of guilt are often uncomfortable. They might include sadness, sorrow, or physical discomfort. It’s not uncommon for people to be angry or frustrated with themselves. But these effects can guide people toward change.
People who have strong feelings of guilt may find themselves stuck on these feelings. Chronic or excessive guilt can be hard to overcome. If feelings of guilt have a negative effect on your life, and you are struggling to work through them alone, a compassionate counselor can offer help and support.
A therapist can help examine and sort through guilty feelings, uncover any guilt that is out of proportion to the mistake, and help the person address the guilt in a productive way. It’s also possible, in therapy, to explore ways to fix a mistake or wrong and work on preventing it in the future.
You may also want to consider couples therapy as an option at some point to address some precursors if there are any issues in your relationship.
IS GUILT A GOOD THING?
Guilt is an emotion, so rather than thinking of it as something good or something bad, it may be more helpful to consider its effects. Because guilt relates to a person’s moral code, guilt can act as a sort of check that helps someone recognize the effects of choices they’ve made. If the choice had a negative impact, they might feel regret and decide to do better in the future.
Consider a person who runs a red light. If nothing happens, they most likely feel relieved. “No one was there, and I didn’t get a ticket,” a person might think. But then they might think about other possibilities. “What if I hit another car? What if someone was crossing the street and I couldn’t stop in time?” They may begin to feel bad when considering other things that could have happened and tell themselves they’ll be more careful in the future.
In this way, guilt is linked to empathy and a feeling of responsibility for how actions affect others. It is also believed that people who were more prone to guilt were more likely to be trustworthy. When a person’s actions affected others, they were more likely to act in ways that were sensitive to the effects of their choices.
Guilt isn’t always helpful, though. When guilt results from a person’s belief that they should do more or be better at something, rather than a mistake they made, it can cause distress.
For example, a busy parent may feel guilty when they pick up pizza for dinner, leave housework undone, or speak sharply to their child when stressed. They may believe a “good” parent should be able to take care of the cooking and cleaning and never snap at their children. Even if they know it isn’t possible for them to take care of everything around the house all the time, they still might feel guilt, since their reality conflicts with their ideal of a good parent. When this kind of guilt isn’t addressed, it can have a negative impact on life.
Guilt is known to relate to mental health concerns. Shame is also known to be linked to social anxiety. Though guilt was not correlated with this issue, it’s important to note that excessive or chronic guilt can contribute to feelings of shame. Guilt can also cause people to struggle with romantic or professional relationships and day-to-day life. When not addressed, feelings of guilt can build and lead a person to feel worthless, discouraged, or hopeless.
COPING WITH GUILT
Sometimes guilt can become so strong it makes it difficult for a person to get through each day. They may struggle to connect with their loved ones, maintain a relationship, or stay focused at work or school. Over time, they may also have feelings of anxiety and depression, or struggle to recognize their own self-worth. People try to cope with guilt by rationalizing their actions or telling themselves the behavior didn’t really matter. This can help ease guilty feelings temporarily. But if guilt isn’t addressed, it’s unlikely to go away for good.
Talking over what happened with a trusted friend or loved one can help reduce guilt. Owning up to a mistake and apologizing may be enough to ease guilty feelings, in some cases.
But when feelings of guilt affect daily life or relationships. It is important to reach out for help. A therapist can’t fix your mistakes or change you. They can help you work through emotions and explore ways to create change. Therapists can also help normalize guilt. If you feel worthless or believe you are a bad person, a therapist or counselor can help you come to terms with the fact that every person makes mistakes from time to time.
THERAPY FOR GUILT
Therapy can often help people work through guilt. But the most helpful type of therapy will most likely depend on the cause of the guilt. In all cases, a therapist is likely to begin by working with the person seeking help to understand what contributes to their guilt.
Chronic guilt linked to an overly strict upbringing or other family-related factors might improve after these underlying factors are uncovered and addressed in treatment.
Treatment for post-traumatic stress may help people who experience survivor’s guilt after trauma. (You mention some details of boundary violation in your discussion).
Guilt linked to a mistake or choice may improve after the choice is addressed or the behavior is changed. For example, a person who was unfaithful in a relationship may (with a willing partner) decide to attend couples counseling and recommit to the relationship.
Feelings of guilt and shame linked to mental health issues such as anxiety may improve when the condition is treated.
People with guilt linked to abuse, assault, or other traumatic violence may struggle to accept that what happened wasn’t their fault. Trauma therapy may help a person to reframe the event, understand they did nothing wrong, and begin to heal from the trauma.
People with mental health issues may feel guilty over their actions or behavior, though they may not be able to fully help them. A person with depression can’t help feeling depressed but might feel guilty about the effects their depression has on their relationships with family and friends. Counseling can help treat both the mental health concern and help the person develop greater compassion toward themselves.
Counseling for guilt and shame typically involves the concepts of acceptance and forgiveness. It’s natural to make mistakes, and sometimes these mistakes can hurt others. Whenever possible, attempting to fix the mistake or otherwise making amends may be a good first step. Doing so can reduce feelings of guilt.
Forgiving yourself requires honesty and self-acceptance. Clearing away the veil of guilt allows us to be more connected to what it is that we are experiencing, our thoughts, and our actions in light of that experience and, thus, to be more present with our experience, our emotions, and ourselves.
I hope you are able to reach out for some professional help and guidance with your situation. A therapist will be able to support you with your stressors around your guilt. During this process, you perhaps can explore together how to navigate potential couples therapy as part of your recovery journey.
I wish you the best of luck with your next step in reaching a calm state of mind for yourself!