Guilt Answers

How to forgive oneself for past mistakes or feeling like they should have done things differently

Hello, Thank you for submitting the question and reaching out. First, I want to address the standards. You have to ask yourself what are those standards you have set for yourself. I would recommend going back and looking at those standards to see where you see them now and how they fit in your life. Looking at how to forgive oneself.  Asking yourself what you need to forgive yourself for is the first step.  Different experiences from our past can potentially leave an impact on the way we perceive and behave today.  In response to things that we have experienced we then learn how to behave in ways that protect us from more pain.  However, you have to use the resources you have at hand. You have to make the most of them. First, if you are feeling guilty, try to understand and remember that you have done the best you can with what is available to you.  You will know when the time is right, and it sounds like you are ready to forgive yourself.  Time and growth will allow you a perspective you didn't have when you may have made the mistake.  However, knowing that you want to forgive yourself means that you may have learned a lesson.  While you are allowed to feel guilty and afraid.  Those feelings actually allow you to make aware of past mistakes. Moving forward you have to accept guilt as an emotion.  Every emotion means something to us.  The guilt can help you move forward and learn from what you may have made a mistake in.  Secondly,  you have to make sure you are healed from the mistake and allowing yourself to heal from that.  When you feel like you are able to forgive yourself, it is opening a wound up.  You have to allow this wound to heal. Also you have to be self compassionate towards yourself. You can do this by doing things for yourself.  Challenging negative thoughts, journaling about your emotions, past mistakes are also very healthy. Nurturing yourself through self care is important, doing things for yourself, giving yourself positive affirmations or words of encouragement.  You also have to remind yourself you are doing the best you can do. Asking for forgiveness may not be easy, but confronting the situation, working through it and taking care of yourself is extremely important to be successful in forgiving yourself fully.
Answered on 11/15/2022

Need help with living in the past

Termination of a relationship can be very challenging especially when ongoing connections stay in place. Moving on and letting go of the past is a challenge that many people face especially in regards to relationships.  Emotions of the past  Guilt, grief and regret are just a few of the negative feelings that can be connected with the past that contribute to feelings of sadness and depression. Since we can not change the past it is easy to get caught up in these emotions because we focus on the desire to do something else based on what ifs and possibilities that can not be proven or disproven.  So there is little to no resolve in the possibility of change because we do not know nor can we predict the true outcome of these changes. Forward thinking Trying to project the future whether it is based on reality of the past or speculation can increase anxiety. Being anxious about what may be or what might have been can contribute to overwhelming feelings of anger and/or resentment. Having a daughter to raise together, while worrying about how past decisions can affect future outcomes, can lead to distractive self-fulfilling prophecies for you or others who are involved. Living in the present  Focusing on the here and now is the key to happiness. Making choices that are based on the best possible future for you and your family can allow you to release and forgive yourself for feelings of guilt, grief, and anxiety. Understanding your mistakes and forgiving yourself for making them will put you in line to forgive others and also for others to forgive you. Take responsibility for your past actions with integrity and you will see a change in your ability to let go and make better choices.  When those around you see you  acknowledging Your responsibility, expressing your regret while taking control of your next steps while respecting the position that you have put yourself in. They will begin to respect you too. This will allow room for growth within the new relationship of coparenting. It will help to remove resentment and anxiety and encourage growth, development, love, and mutual respect for one another. When making decisions in the present consider asking yourself how can I make this moment better.  
Answered on 10/26/2022

Living with guilt

Hi Caper. Thank you for reaching out for advice. You're going through a meaningful loss. For both you and your mother. Whenever we are going through a loss, it's essential that we take time to grieve. Pets are just as much family as any human member, and I respect the magnitude of the feelings you must be having. If there is capacity for forgiveness between you and your mother, it may be helpful to explore that. Sometimes it can be very difficult to forgive ourselves without the help of someone else saying "it's okay, I'm sad about it, but I don't blame you". If you were my client I would definitely want to explore your relationship with your mother to know more about how she may react to the news and give support to you in the process of telling her what happened. I'm very sorry for your loss. People do make mistakes and accidents do happen. It certainly does not make you a bad person or a person who cannot learn, heal, forgive and be forgiven. I hope this helps.  Take care and please, consider meeting with a therapist more regularly if possible. These are heavy feelings and complex problems that we often do not have direct solutions or answers to, but are definitely approached more effectively when we have support, understanding, and reminders that we are not irredeemable or bad at our core.  This may be a useful time to connect with any system of belief/faith/worldview that allows you to connect with a source of forgiveness. If you do not have one, this may be a good occasion to explore new ideas and new points of view on topics of loss, grief, and guilt.  Throughout my experience as a therapist, I've seen people go from a place of overwhelming guilt to a place of acceptance over time. Usually the key component of moving forward is to humanize yourself. So much of this may sound easier said than done, and I'd agree that it is, but by no means is it impossible. Your family relationships and your relationship to yourself is worth the step you are taking to seek consultation and do the difficult work that comes with acceptance and forgiveness.  Take care,  Kavin 
Answered on 10/26/2022

What can help make constantly being anxious about pleasing those around me?

When we love others we want to see them happy and at times we can forget about our own happiness. Remembering that your wants and needs are just as important as those you love is very important. Also remembering that you can only be as good to others as you are to yourself.  Feeling guilty for not adhering to the wants and needs of others especially those close to you can be challenging. As human beings we are biologically structured to do things based upon satisfying our internal needs and wants. However, conflict can occur when we don’t. When we are unable to do so negative feelings result. Not aligning your actions to your values and can challenge your internal desires and create feelings of resentment, anger, frustration and more. Therefore, identifying your values and taking action to align your behaviors to that which you value can prove to increase your sense of happiness and well-being.  Identifying your values can be challenging and can be a bit more challenging than it sounds. Starting with asking yourself, "What makes me happy?"  and "Why does it make me happy." Additionally, exploring your need to make people happy beyond simply loving them could assist you. At times we can have fear in nontraditional forms. Fear of being disliked or fear of rejection for not being or doing what others want or need can illicit a need to do virtually anything to please others. As you begin to confront this fear you should begin to believe that others will love you regardless of what you do for them and your confidence will grow, allowing you to begin to set reasonable expectations for yourself and others.  Exploring your associated fears could also be beneficial. If you find yourself fearful of the response from others, learning to become more aware of your fear of rejection and how that fear is connected with past experiences or other fears can be key. Another approach is to positively and realistically assess your relationships and learn that no mater what you do, your family will love you regardless.
Answered on 10/23/2022

Why do I struggle so badly with taking care of a dying relative?

Hi Jean, Honoring and acknowledging the feelings and parts of yourself that are protective is an important part of our being emotionally healthy. It is much like receiving validation when we witness something or do something that we later have acknowledged and "Witnessed" by another human. In this case, it sounds like the wounded part of yourself recognizes, based on your experience, that your grandmother was not a good person to you and this "Part" is trying to make sure you are reminded of that. So, that part of you that is hanging onto those feelings is perhaps waiting for that validation and that recognition that your grandmother did leave wounds. I would suggest an exercise to recognize and remind yourself (actually speaking to that protective part of yourself), that you are going to be okay and that she can no longer cause harm to you. You can do this by writing a letter from your older self to your younger self, so that the part of you that is sending signals to be careful, be aware, can stop having to waive that warning flag so much. You can let that protector part of yourself know that you are well aware of what is going on now and that your grandmother will not be on this earth much longer. At the same time, you can choose whether or not you want to continue the visits with her. Can you bring someone with you that knows the history? Is it possible to have a genuine conversation with your grandmother so that perhaps she can free herself of guilt, if she is in that space; and that you can speak the truth to her. It is not uncommon to be able to have such frank conversations at the end of life stage if the person is fully cogent. We do walk gently here to recognize that she is now the vulnerable one, at least physically, and to walk that path carefully to not cause harm to her or yourself. Breaking the cycle of abuse is a tight walk and it sounds like you are trying to do that, but need to acknowledge to your protective part of yourself that you are up for the task.  It sounds like there are some anticipatory, complicated feelings of grief, which can include apathy, anger, regret, guilt and a potpourri of emotions. This might also occur after she passes. Think of how you can navigate this in a way that you can honor yourself and the emotion you still hold in reference to your grandmother, and at the end of her life, feel good about how you walked that walk. If not already, you may want to consider working with a professional through that process. Be gentle with yourself, Judea
(LISW, LCSW, MSSA)
Answered on 10/22/2022

How to find peace?

Hi Jeeks, Thank you so much for reaching out for support on the BetterHelp platform! I really appreciate you taking the time to ask this valuable question about making positive changes as a means to find a way to let go of your past in order to pursue a semblance of peace. You have certainly come to the right place. Based on what you wrote in your question, it sounds like you have been feeling this way for quite some time. It may be helpful for you to begin to identify which aspects of your past are truly holding you back from your goal of letting go. I can understand that it is a challenging task to process and let go of the past. Please consider having some hope, as well as faith, that the therapists available on the BetterHelp platform are here to guide you in this therapeutic journey. I truly admire your goal of trying to find peace with yourself and with your past. It sounds like that you do have some hope that you can attain peace in some way and at some point. I realize how challenging it can be to let go of the things that have happened in the past but I believe that you can do it. Essentially, it is going to make a difference in your future based on how you choose to process your past. As Francine Shapiro, a well renowned American Psychologist and the founder of the therapeutic modality known today as EMDR once said, "The past is the present. It pushes you." It is true that the past influences and impacts human behavior, thoughts and feelings in the present moment. If we were without our memories and our most deep seated thoughts, experiences and feelings, who would we actually be? It sounds like you really do value peace, and I can tell that you are looking to find some peace within and for yourself. I recommend taking some time to implement the EMDR inner peace place exercise. Initially, the development of the inner peaceful place must come from the self. I will share with you the link to this EMDR based technique: https://emdrtherapyvolusia.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Calm_Safe_Place.pdf The inner peaceful place goes like this: Imagine a place, real or fantasy, that provides a safe space for you to be comforted. Imagine that feeling safe is only seconds away from the present moment. If you can picture this place, what things might you notice seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and feeling? Tap into your five sense for this exercise and imagine yourself feeling grounded and okay in the present moment. Some people may choose to imagine laying on the beach, hiking to the top of a mountain or strolling through the park. Who might be with you in this space? What might you decide to bring with you? Ultimately, this guided visualization exercise is geared towards helping individuals to establish safety, provide relaxation and bring an overall sense of comfort to the present moment. Your inner peaceful place can manifest itself in your life. Remember that no matter where you are physically located and what emotions you are currently feeling, you can return to this place at any time. If you have some time and are willing, you may want to create a therapeutic drawing, painting or a collage of your inner peaceful place. Perhaps you can find an image online that is akin to your imagined peaceful space. Having a visual cue close to you will serve as a reminder of the image you harbor as peace. It will also bring you closer to your desired place of peace. In addition to securing an inner peaceful place, I recommend that you continue your pursuit of prayer. I think that it is a great thing that you have been praying to God for forgiveness and asking for His assistance. It is awesome that you know that God has forgiven you. It is such a wonderful strength of yours to be so in tune with your spirituality. I hope that you continue to value yourself as a spiritual being. A prayer for forgiveness is a truly amazing and powerful thing. It may help if you choose to begin your day with a prayer of forgiveness for yourself. In some ways, this might help you to forgive yourself first and foremost! Think of forgiving yourself for what happened in your past as a great gift that you have the ability to give to yourself. Take a moment to contemplate how far you have come and how hard you have worked to get to where you are today. Thinking in these terms will likely help you to realize that you are deserving of such gifts, including the gifts of forgiveness and of peace. It may take some time, but perhaps you will begin to realize that some of the things that have happened in your past were not always circumstances that were within your control or perhaps you were just simply going through the journey that will lead you to the place where you are meant to be. At this time, I recommend individual counseling services on a weekly or biweekly basis. I can tell that you have a lot of experiences that you are willing to process. I wonder if group therapy services would also be beneficial for you at this time. It sounds like you feel that you have nobody to rely on at this time. It may be helpful for you to join a therapy or support group as a means to connect with other people and engage in social interactions. Thank you, Jeeks, again for your time in exploring this topic on the BetterHelp "Ask a Licensed Therapist" forum. I wish you all the best on your therapeutic journey now and in the future. With a combination of hope, faith, and prayer, you will surely be able to find a connection to your perfect place of peace. Stay positive and be well!
(LMHC, ATR-P, MS, NCC)
Answered on 10/01/2022

What are the best ways for me to try and control my emotions?

Hi Lolo, you've got a good question there, one that so many of us struggle with and something I see others are often questioning, too. I'm going to challenge you to think not in terms of control, but rather to think of managing. When we think of control it's often with an idea of holding in, or to exercise restraint or direction over. To manage is more along the lines of to take care of. Our emotions have a very important job: to signal to us what's going on internally with our feelings.  When we get a cut, it's obvious we need a bandaid when we see blood. Similarly, our emotions let us know we might need to take care of something, too. It's easy to label some of the feelings and emotions we have as GOOD: joy, happiness, love, peace. We like those feelings because they're easy to sit with and to share with others. It's just as easy to label other feelings as BAD: sadness, hurt, guilt, fear, etc. Those feelings have just as much value to bring to our lives. The first step in managing our emotions is understanding them. We do this by allowing them to happen. Rather than trying to get rid of them when they appear, it's helpful to be curious about them. Saying "I'm having a feeling of guilt..." (or whatever the uncomfortable feeling might be). This creates a little distance between you and the feeling in order to look at it from a different angle. Not fighting it or getting rid of it. From there you might want to take some time (either right then if you're able or later in the day) to investigate a little deeper about the situation that was going on when that feeling popped up as well as notice some of the thoughts you had at that moment, too.  With that said, you touched on a good point. Sometimes our feelings of sadness and hurt are absolutely warranted. When promises are broken and we're let down by others, it makes sense that these feelings pop up. Again, checking in with yourself is the first step. Being honest with yourself about the situation and what about the situation is causing the hurt. It might require that you have an open and honest conversation with that person about what happened. Or it's possible that checking in with yourself might result in reevaluating the relationship with that person.  Managing our emotions is definitely not a simple and straightforward task and when we start making changes with how we're doing things, it can be messy and challenging. If you are noticing that, you might find working with a therapist might be a valuable experience to have someone from outside your world step in and walk with you through the journey.  I wish you the best, Lindsey Maurer, MA, LPCC
Answered on 09/24/2022

How do I deal with my past choices without letting them define and crush me daily.

Hello Andy: You asked a very important question, How do I deal with my past choices without letting them define and crush me daily? This is a great question. We have all made mistakes. The key to moving past these mistakes is forgiveness. Forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself. It allows you to let go of heavy emotions, such as resentment, you may have towards yourself, or someone else. Forgiveness allows you to treat yourself, and others, with compassion. Forgiveness allows you to give yourself permission to move forward with a renewed mind and heart. Not forgiving can keep you stuck in the past, ruminating on how things could have been different. We have the present time. We can do something with the time we have now to walk in forgiveness and find happiness. Don’t put conditions on your happiness!   True, and authentic, happiness is a state of mind. It is not something we have to go on a scavenger hunt outside of ourselves to find. It is something that lives within us. We just need help discovering our happiness, choosing happiness, and committing to having happiness no matter what. Happiness is a feeling. It is something that you get to choose. You can make yourself happy. To start, begin to let go of unhappiness. To put it another way, let go of what is not serving you. What is not serving you, negative thoughts? Negative anxiety? Low mood? Limiting beliefs? Undesirable coping skills? Lack of boundaries? Putting conditions on happiness? Self-comparisons? Difficulty saying no? Operating from a place of lack? Operating from a place of trauma and fear? Living in the past? Not forgiving? Low self-worth? Low self-esteem?  Another way to find happiness within is to debunk cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are thought errors that affect how we perceive and give meaning to our life’s experiences. All-or-Nothing thinking, Jumping to Conclusions, Should statements, and Emotional Reasoning are all examples of thought errors. Instead of letting thought errors get the best of us, we can choose happiness in each moment by making logical, rational, and productive decisions in a timely manner. In order to do this, we can take some time to relax the mind. We can take some time to weigh facts against the emotionally-based opinions. We can take some time to allow negative thoughts flow to us, and then we can release them without acting on those negative thoughts. Make one minute, one hour, one day, or even the whole week happy. The power is truly within. Are you willing to forgive yourself, and allow yourself to be free of blame, shame, guilt, and resentment? Are you ready to allow yourself permission to have happiness? Working with a mental health professional can help you get to the other side of this challenge. If you feel like you are in distress, or at-risk of self-harm, call 9-1-1, 800-273-8255, or your local hospital. Sending Positive Vibes,   Until Next Time, -Val
(MSW, LICSW, PIP)
Answered on 09/22/2022

Why do I feel like I am the problem in my life?

Hello.  I am sorry to see that you are feeling like you are the problem when it comes to situations in your life.  Many times the way that we feel is dictated by the thoughts that go through our minds.  If we often deal with a lot of negative or critical thoughts, then we will only feel negative feelings with it.  The negative inner critic is typically formed from what we may have heard growing up and so it is no longer just what we heard. We suddenly adopt the things people used to say as our own beliefs.  I often tell my clients who struggle with those negative thoughts, which are otherwise known as cognitive distortions, that it is hard for them to try changing those negative thoughts to positive ones simply because we are so much more comfortable with saying the negative things to and about ourselves.  Many of my clients express their discomfort with trying to speak positively to themselves, saying nice things in place of the not so nice and even just telling themselves positive affirmations.  This is the very sad part of these thoughts and our behaviors....we are much more comfortable saying the not so nice things, and uncomfortable with saying the kinder, more compassionate things to ourselves.  The things that are actually true.  For example, you say that your mom shows more love to your sibling than she shows you.  Is this something you know happens for sure or does it just feel like it because of what you tell yourself?  Now, when you have an argument with your boyfriend, again, do you feel like you are the problem because of something in your own thoughts?  Because it isn't possible that you are the problem 100%...it takes two people in a relationship to either make things work or to make things fall apart.  With your dad and his choice to not have a good bond with you...that is absolutely not your fault, nor are you the problem.  In this relationship, you are the child and if your father chooses not to have a bond with you then it is his loss and he is the one that is responsible for making this happen.  He is the parent.   I am sure there is more to your situation that would take some discussing of all the issues and learning more about your background and how you view things in order to know more about how you think, but I have seen many times where people have felt these similar things and typically it begins with how they are thinking and feeling about themselves.  Working on changing your thought patterns is a big help to feeling differently in each situation.  I hope some of this answer helps you to understand why you might be thinking the way that you do....that you are the problem in each situation...but to also understand how in reality, you aren't the problem.  Changing the way that you think begins by using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and I typically show my clients things like attachment theories to show how our childhood impacts our adult life.  Then there are things like core beliefs which are also formed and developed around what we endure as children, then they are impacted by things like trauma, so if you have ever experienced any trauma, that could also explain your views, plus just not having that bond with your father.  That seriously impacts our outlook on ourselves and our lives.  The fact that he doesn't have a bond with you may make you question why.  What is wrong with me?  Why doesn't he want to know me more?  That makes you feel down about yourself, when you shouldn't feel bad about yourself.  I hope this helps.  I wish you luck and should you want/need my help, I am here.  
(MSW, LCSW)
Answered on 06/15/2022

Curious, any therapist certified in the Daring Way method?

Hello! I am not certified in the Daring Way Method, however, I wanted to respond to your question. It sounds like there have been multiple factors in your life that have impacted your confidence and that you are experiencing increased self-doubt. Having someone to talk to, express these doubts, and challenge you and allow you to challenge yourself can be really helpful. As you mentioned, feeling stuck... therapy can help focus on the what and why of that feeling and work on ways to help you move out of that stuck feeling and back within normal functioning limits. I noticed you also mentioned feelings of guilt. I would be curious to know what that guilt is relating to, and if you are able to at this moment identify the root of the guilt and why you are feeling this way. The guilt, and issues with strength and confidence also coincide, so I feel it would be important to also focus on that feeling of guilt as that is such a strong emotion that can truly take hold of us. I would ask you to reflect on also how the death in your family has been impacting you. Has your mood shifted a lot since the death? What changes occurred that have continued to add to the every day stresses, has this impacted your confidence as well? Therapy is something that can be super helpful and beneficial, and it is not for everyone, but I would challenge you to seek it out and see if it is something you can grow and learn from, as well as benefit from. If not, then at least you tried and then would know you put in the effort to help you improve mentally and get out of that stuck headspace. That first step of starting therapy can be really hard, it is great that you proposed this question to receive feedback and potentially an answer on whether or not therapy is something you would like to move forward with. I hope this was helpful, and provided you with some encouragement to take the next step and utilizing therapy services! 
(LCSWC)
Answered on 05/05/2022

How do I get past hating myself for a mistake I made?

I am so glad that you reached out for help, and that you talked with your doctor about a prescription to help with your symptoms. There is no shame in seeking out support from medical professionals, that is wisdom to know that you needed a little help! A huge part of the human experience is making mistakes, we all make them from time to time. It sounds like you have been really beating yourself up for several years about this choice that you made, and I want to offer some suggestions and support to better understand perhaps why you are “stuck” in that space of time and in your life. People who struggle with depressive and anxious symptoms (or guilt and shame) often think in terms that are global, stable, and internal. I want to break each of those terms down individually to best understand this way of thinking. These terms are kind of like a fun-house mirror. They distort and twist our thoughts, feelings and beliefs into a different version of reality that feels so real.Someone who is struggling globally thinks in terms of all or nothing. For example, they might think everything in their life is broken or damaged or destroyed because of one mistake they made. This feels like a global problem that is impacting every single aspect of their life, everywhere that they turn. But pause for a second and ask yourself – is this mistake still affecting every aspect of your life? Or are you allowing one mistake to impact and cloud everything else, even things that are positive in your life? Pause and reflect on the good things that you have going for you right now. Someone who is struggling in terms of stability, they think in terms of always and forever. Those funhouse mirror thoughts, feelings and beliefs convince us that we will always feel this way, and we will never feel better. Our stability feels like forever, that we will always be stuck in this churning loop of guilt and shame over a choice that was made. But ask yourself, there was a time when you were happy before, you can be happy again! Finally, someone who is struggling internally takes on all of the guilt, shame and blame as their own. They may even take responsibility for things that are not theirs to hold. They think that everything is their fault, and they cannot see that most situations have shades of gray, most things are not so black and white. When bad things do sometimes happen, even just by chance, they may even start to believe they deserve pain, hurt and guilt in their life. Ask yourself, do you feel you deserve to be happy? I hope the answer is a resounding, “yes!” So, what do we do with these distorted thoughts, feelings and beliefs? How do we find the happiness beyond the pain, guilt and shame of a past indiscretion? The first step is to recognize these thoughts, feelings and beliefs for what they are, a distorted version of the truth. When we know that they are distorted, we are able to challenge and ultimately change our thoughts, feelings and beliefs. We can ask ourselves, what evidence do I have to support what I am thinking, feeling and believing? If we do not have evidence to support what we are thinking, feeling or believing, we can begin to replace those distorted ideas with kinder, gentler and more forgiving ideas. If a dear friend approached you with the exact same situation, what advice would you give them? Would you tell them that they need to punish themselves for the rest of their life? Or that they deserve forgiveness? Treat yourself like that dear, treasured friend; you deserve happiness too! Forgiveness is possible, even for ourselves. It is a challenge for sure, but everyone is capable of forgiving with hard work and patience. One of the first things is to name and recognize your mistake. Write it out, tell your story and own your choice. Do not edit yourself, and do not leave any details out. Own your choice, every part of it. After that, you can begin to look at your mistake as a learning experience and an opportunity for growth. Are you a different and maybe even a better person because of the choice you made? Will you commit to not making that same kind of mistake again? Can you help someone else learn from your mistake and be a blessing to them? Can your words and support impact someone else’s life who may be facing a similar choice? There is a concept called post-traumatic growth, that basically states that we really learn to live when we can find the deeper meaning in our suffering. This was clearly a very difficult moment in your life that has impacted you profoundly. Is there a deeper meaning to the pain you have been through that you can see? Continuing to punish yourself can sometimes feel like penance or making amends, meaning if you forgive yourself, you must somehow be saying that it is okay what you did, or that you approve of your choice, when that is just not the case. Forgiveness is not approval, it is not condoning or validating the choice you made. You can forgive yourself and still not be okay with the choice that you made and wish that you could have done things differently. Forgiveness is acknowledging that you made a choice you are not proud of and acknowledging and honoring that punishing yourself for the rest of your life will not change the past, it will only make your present and most importantly, your future, unhappy. Forgiveness allows you the opportunity for growth, compassion, kindness and love to re-enter your life, for you and the people you care about. 
(MSW, LCSW)
Answered on 06/09/2021

Why guilt is pointless?

Guilt is a feeling people typically experience after doing something they think should or should not have done (examples include not recycling or spending too much money on oneself).  Guilt can be connected to a person’s morals and/or ethics.  People can also feel guilt overlying, cheating, or doing something illegal.  Unless another person was harmed, guilt is typically a wasted and useless emotion.  People can also be made to feel guilty by others for not doing something the other person wanted. Guilt is about blaming oneself for something that happened in the past, whether an hour before, months, or years before.  Guilt is also typically self-imposed.  Guilt is pointless because the past cannot be changed, and it is an emotion that focuses on something a person may or may not have done.  Ruminating and dwelling on the past continues to reinforce the negative and make the feelings of self-blame worse.  No good comes of this because when the thoughts that come before the self-blame are continuous and constant, the neurons in the brain are connected, and there is a path that is dug between those neurons.  The more thought and emotion are experienced, the deeper the path becomes.  The deeper the path becomes, the more the thought and emotion are experienced without being conscious of it, and the path becomes deeper, thus creating a vicious cycle. Sometimes the never-ending guilt and self-blame turn into shame.  Shaming oneself never does a person any good and can also impact their self-esteem and self-confidence—the guilt and what comes after can do internal damage to a person.  Guilt can change a person and who they are as well. Looking at the past and learning from one’s choices and decisions, and taking different paths in the future would be more productive than guilt and self-blame since the past has already happened and cannot be altered.  For example, credit card debt cannot be changed; the debt has been occurred and needs to be paid off.  Instead of guilt and self-blame, a person should look to make different decisions in the future.  Taking accountability and responsibility for one’s behavior and actions is more effective than feeling guilt or blaming oneself.
(LISW-CP, LCSW-C, LCSW)
Answered on 05/17/2021

Why guilt occurs?

Guilt is an emotion that can be difficult to deal with for many of us because it feels so uncomfortable.  When we experience guilt, it can be somewhat confusing why it is there at times and can be helpful to question and reflect on why it is there.  Guilt can be purposeful in many ways, and it is important to recognize when guilt occurs to serve a purpose.  For example, if I steal something from a friend and then feel guilty about it, the guilt has a purpose: to learn why I stole it, come up with a plan not to steal again, and feel apologetic to my friend for stealing from them.  Without guilt, I would likely have difficulty maintaining friendships and relationships in my life because I would never actually learn from my mistakes.  Sometimes guilt can pop up for people when it does not have a purpose.  People with low self-esteem and/or deep shame within them are likely to have this type of guilt occur. Due to their shame, they tend to think that they are inherently bad and thus will feel guilty in scenarios where they did nothing wrong.  This type of guilt has no purpose and can quickly become toxic. The toxicity of that kind of guilt can lead to serious mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, among others.  For some people, guilt occurs because it has been ingrained in them. The messages we receive in our formative years of life typically stay with us throughout our lives.  When someone receives messages of being bad in their formative years of life, guilt will likely occur more often than someone that did not have that background.  For example, if someone grew up in a religion that focused on their mistakes, that will likely last throughout their lifetime and keep them focused on their mistakes, rather than some positives.  Guilt will occur for these individuals because it is how they were raised to think about themselves.  They could pick up on actual mistakes but will also likely struggle with thinking they are making mistakes when they are not.
(MA, LPC, NCC)
Answered on 05/10/2021

What to do about parents who guilt trip?

Your relationship with your parents can be great, but naturally have moments of conflict.  Parents hopefully want what is best for their child, but they are not perfect and will make mistakes with their parenting at times.  One common tactic parents will use to guilt-trip their children into doing something they want them to do.  For example, if a parent wants their child to clean their room, they might repeatedly ask until the child feels guilty enough to go ahead and clean their room.  While this tactic can get the job done eventually, it can be pretty annoying for the child and even lead them to feel shame about themselves.  If you are dealing with a parent that guilt trips, one important step to take with them is to try and explain how their guilt-tripping makes you feel.  To communicate that, it would be best to not come across as accusatory and more from a place of explaining your own experience.  Forming your feelings in the form of an I-statement can help prevent coming across as accusatory. An I-statement is when you phrase your feelings as, “I feel _____ when you ____ because _____.”  Hopefully, that can help them understand how guilt-tripping makes you feel and to consider other tactics instead.  As you approach this with your parents, it will be important to consider the solutions focused on.  Using the example above, you will need to make sure that while you are promoting them not to guilt-trip you, you are also promoting a solution around actually cleaning your room.  Otherwise, it will come across like you are just trying to get what you want without seeing their needs.  If you try these tactics and your parents continue to guilt trip, it could be helpful to enlist outside help.  A friend, family member, and/or counselor could all be great options to help you all through these struggles.  Those people can hopefully help you and your parents understand more about what works and what does not work so that you all can get on the same page. 
(MA, LPC, NCC)
Answered on 05/10/2021

What to do when guilt hits?

Guilt is a powerful emotion. It can help you acknowledge actions and define ways to improve behavior. It can also cause you to hyper-focus on what you might have done differently at some point in the past. Guilt can promote positive growth in some cases, but it can also become a weight that holds you down long after your behavior has changed or you made amends for a past wrong. Pushing guilt away may seem like the most helpful strategy, especially because it can feel like a painful and heavy burden. This can actually exacerbate the feeling, though. Instead, take some time with your guilt. Use a journal or notebook and write down the source of your guilt. For example, “I feel guilty because I yelled at my son.” Next, allow yourself to feel how you feel about it and identify those emotions in writing. Adopt a sense of curiosity about the feelings and the guilt itself. Where did the action that caused the guilt truly come from? Has your behavior changed since that time? Were you in distress? If so, is it a distressing situation that you can take action to manage or heal? Take some time to curiously explore what you might have learned in the situation that caused the guilt, too. Write about the event and what you would do differently if faced with the same event now. If you weren’t ever able to apologize or own your actions in the situation that you feel guilt over, consider an apology now. If you’re not able to do that, write your apology as a journal entry for yourself. Guilt is a normal experience, and so is a mistake. If you did something hurtful to someone else, you are aware of it if you’re feeling guilt. That awareness is helpful to changing behaviors and patterns that will help prevent similar issues in the future. It’s also important to be aware that excessive feelings of guilt that aren’t related to any specific situation or are related to a situation you’re very fixated on may be indicators of a bigger problem like depression or shame. For some people, guilt is a daily experience and very difficult to let go of. If you’re struggling with guilt, talk with a licensed mental health professional to help get to the root of the issue.
(MS., CMHC., NCC.)
Answered on 05/06/2021

Will Guilt Cause Anxiety?

Although very important to experience, like many other emotions, guilt can cause pain. Despite the ability to serve as a signal for us to begin taking responsibility for our feelings, decisions, and behaviors we may have made and the conflict that causes, many of us allow these negative feelings about ourselves to bleed further into a sense of shame. When this occurs, we go from experiencing a helpful and adaptive emotion to feelings of unworthiness and believing we are defective and flawed. When these feelings of intense inadequacy and negativity permeate our thoughts and invade us enough to impact our mental well-being, that may be a sign that we have crossed the line and combined feelings of fear and anxiety with guilt and shame. Our desire for approval and fear of consequences for our improper or inappropriate actions weigh heavily on our conscience and become excessive, something we walk around with constantly. This continuous ‘drip drip drip’ of inadequate feelings, repeatedly telling us that we have done wrong, that we are flawed and defective, most certainly lead to intense anxiety. Many people who experience intense anxiety can dig through their past and discover excessive guilt or shame as a key concept behind it.  It is ironically correct to see anxiety as a cause, not just a possible symptom of guilt. In other words, guilt and anxiety combine in a way where it becomes a cycle many of us find ourselves trapped in. It goes something like this: If I am already dealing with anxiety, there is a chance that I already incorrectly attribute the well-being and happiness of other people to me and my actions. In other words, anxious people are more likely to blame themselves when other people are not okay. This distortion in thinking and believing, in turn, contributes to my sense of guilt which in turn causes more intense anxiety. Many people with anxiety report excessively thinking (overthinking) overreacting to words, gestures,s and a variety of things that are believed to signal to the already super guilty and anxious person. The more guilt that develops, the more distressed they feel, which increases the level of anxiety. And so the cycle continues until interrupted and set off course.
Answered on 04/30/2021

Why Does Guilt Occur?

When we conclude or believe that we have done something that goes against or compromises our own moral standards and feels that our conduct has violated some human or universal standard and sense a strong responsibility for the violation, we experience the emotion known as guilt. Although this may seem straightforward and basic, rarely is guilt simple.  We may feel guilty when we fall out of love with someone we once fell in love with.  Or if we work too hard and feel as if we don’t spend enough quality time with the people we love. Or we might feel guilty on the complete opposite end of that spectrum and feel guilty for not working enough and not making enough money to buy those we love the things that they ask for. We can dip into our pasts and bring up feelings of guilt from our childhood, maybe when we allowed ourselves to stand by silently and witness someone bullying someone else. Or we can feel guilty because we are successful and financially stable when our other family members are not as fortunate and successful. And quite often, other people throw guilt our way, either through direct intention or not. When we fall prey to expectations, a very common human occurrence, guilt usually results somewhere directed at ourselves or someone else. And blame is very closely connected to guilt because most of us try our best to get rid of the guilt we feel as it is anything but pleasant. We think or say things like, ‘It's not my fault, it’s hers or his.” We do this much of the time because we don’t want to feel as bad as we do when we guilt us. As long as we can ‘manage’ our sense of guilt, even when we assume it as a consequence of not living up to our own expectations and not having it bleed into shame, we can actually benefit from this emotion rather than suffer at its hands. Sigmond Freud and Carl Jung saw a connection to maturity and growth in our personal development and experiencing guilt, which indicates personal self-responsibility and a desire to try and rectify our wrongdoing. It also can serve as proof that we are entire human beings, neither flawless nor unworthy of love.
Answered on 04/30/2021

What does guilt do to the brain?

Guilt can be a purposeful feeling but can easily turn into a toxic one as well.  If you can live out the purpose of the guilt you are feeling, that can lead to a healthy and growing brain.  When we live out the purpose of our guilt, we are essentially learning lessons from our mistakes.  Therefore, when we are learning, we are keeping our brains active and helping them to grow.  If we can get in the habit of making guilt purposeful and taking action on those purposes, it will hopefully help to nurture a healthy brain.  On the contrary, if you are not living out the purpose of your guilt, it can be quite frustrating for the brain.  The brain wants you to take action, and when we do not do what the brain wants, it can eventually train the brain to do the opposite.  This can easily lead to a bad habit with the brain and the response to guilt.  Guilt essentially triggers fear in our brains, and fear is meant to be lived out for it to be processed.  For example, if I have hurt a friend by doing something mean to them, the guilt should also signal a fear that I will lose the friendship. That fear is purposeful and meant to help me to learn not to hurt my friend again.  Like with any emotion, if we get in the habit of training our brains negatively by not processing through our emotions, that can lead to possible mental health issues.  Depression, anxiety, and even psychosis are possible long-term effects that not living out the purpose of guilt can have on the brain.  If we can actively process through the purpose of our guilt, it can hopefully avoid this.  It is also important to accept guilt as a natural emotion to experience from time to time because no one human is perfect.  If we can validate guilt as a necessary emotion, that can hopefully help us to process it when it happens and thus nurture our brains. 
(MA, LPC, NCC)
Answered on 04/29/2021

What does guilt do to the body?

Guilt is a common emotion, but it can be a particularly painful one. People usually experience guilt when they engage in behavior that doesn’t line up with their personal beliefs or morals. Cheating on a partner, taking an accessible parking space they aren’t permitted for, or even cutting corners on monthly budgeting can lead to feelings of guilt. Emotions like guilt can impact the body in multiple ways. Intense feelings can result in emotional pain, and this can cause physical symptoms that appear in the body and have no underlying physical cause. Any emotion can cause emotional pain that results in physical symptoms. Guilt has been associated with a feeling of “weight” in the body, as in the common phrase, “Carrying the weight of guilt,” but other symptoms are possible. Some of the physical symptoms that may result from intense emotional pain include: Headache Muscle pain and tension, especially in the shoulders or neck Nausea Vomiting Diarrhea Dizziness Aches and pains in any area of the body Physical and emotional pain are different, but research indicates that both types of pain share similarities. In brain imaging studies using MRI or magnetic resonance imaging, the same areas of the brain are activated by both physical and emotional pain. Some researchers believe that rather than looking at physical and emotional pain as different, they should be looked at as occurring along a pain spectrum. Intense guilt may cause body tension, which can result in physical pain. Addressing both the emotional and physical pain caused by guilt is important. If you’re unsure that your guilt contributes to the physical pain you are experiencing, visit your trusted medical provider to rule out any potential underlying physical cause. If you’re experiencing strictly emotional pain and guilt, talking with a licensed mental health provider can help. In therapy, you can determine the exact cause of the problem, whether or not it is tied to some larger issue, and create strategies to address what you’re experiencing. If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts or are feeling hopeless, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline  at 1-800-272-8255 for support. 
(MS., CMHC., NCC.)
Answered on 04/29/2021

How can you tell if someone is guilt tripping?

Guilt-tripping is a tactic used by some people to manipulate someone else into guilt.  They can have a variety of reasons for doing this and different tactics in going about this.  One way of guilt-tripping someone that is pretty common is by repeating oneself repeatedly and telling you to get the desired result.  By repeating themselves, they hope that eventually, the person will feel guilty enough to do whatever they are repeating.  For example, if I ask you to buy me a gift and do not receive one, I might decide to guilt trip someone into getting me a gift by asking them over and over again.  Eventually, someone might feel guilty enough that they have not bought me the gift to go ahead and do it out of guilt and probably get me to stop asking.  Another tactic people can use when guilt-tripping someone is to manipulate others to make themselves look better.  If the guilt tripper can deceivingly make themselves look better, that can lead to the other person feeling guilty because they are less than.  Using the same example of gift-giving, if I do not receive a gift after asking for it and then explain that I give them lots of gifts, the person might feel guilty about that even if that is not true.  That guilt can then lead them to go ahead and give me a gift because I have manipulated them to think that I deserve it, and they are less than as long as they do not give me a gift.  Guilt trippers are definitely focused on manipulation, and another form of manipulation is to not pick up on someone else’s efforts and even make joking remarks about their efforts.  The person will feel like they do not do enough and will feel guilty enough to do more.  In this form of guilt-tripping, the guilt tripper is intentionally not picking up on what someone else is doing.  For example, using the gift example, if you actually gave me gifts before, I would not bring attention to that and even make jokes about the contrary to make you feel guilty. 
(MA, LPC, NCC)
Answered on 04/29/2021