All of us, upon looking back, can recall a few situations where, given a chance, you would have fared better. Consequently, we all have something to regret, in spite of being told many times that to err is human. Regret and remembrances often call in guilty feelings in quantity, and then we find ourselves amidst emotional (and sometimes even physical) commotion. Whether these feelings are really justified or not, we are obliged to deal with feelings of guilt in ways depending on their strength and relevance.
Is It a Healthy Guilt?
Guilt is healthy when it is rational (you know that you were wrong and acted irresponsibly) and proportionate (you realize just about how badly you misbehaved).
You know you have a healthily guilty feeling if you got embroiled in a situation instead of avoiding it and made a hash out of it. So now you keep wishing you could have acted otherwise and been able to make up for it.
What Is Unhealthy Guilt
Yet guilt can often be unhealthy. It means that it is out of place, proportion, and utterly senseless. You are sorry for what happened, but you weren’t in control and you were unable to change anything.
Say, while you are reveling in your new relationship, your best friend might have parted tearfully with her boyfriend. So, being happy, you will be feeling sorry for her, and your own happiness will be tinged with guilt. But there is nothing rational in this feeling, for you cannot be blamed for their quarrel. While you realize that, you can’t help feeling guilty due to your closeness.
Since you haven’t been the instigator of the bad situation, you are not actually in a position to try and mend it, so you can’t do a lot about your guilt. Your best bet is to try and come to terms with it.
How to Cope with Healthy Guilt
As you bring back your bad memory, you begin to feel remorseful. Nevertheless, in spite of the mixture of unpleasant sensations, you could grow out of it and even attempt to patch up the relationship.
In dealing with healthy guilt you can avail yourself of these ideas:
• If your guilty action made an impact on another person’s life, apologize at once, without any conditions that might devaluate your apology.
• Do something to get the situation back on track, at your first opportunity.
• The main thing is to analyze the unseemly behavior and take instant measures to ecompense the situation. As you mend the relationship you will improve your socializing and assuage the onsets of guilt.
• Once you’ve done your best to mend the relationship and resolve that it won’t recur, remind yourself that you no longer need to feel guilty. It’s worth your while to leave the guilt behind and move on to productive socializing, so you will have to approach coming to terms with your feelings and forgiving yourself mindfully.
What is a Guilt Complex?
When your guilt becomes chronic, you develop a guilt complex. Its development could be accompanied by stress, depressive periods, sleep problems, poor concentration, languor, and, finally, the unwillingness of any social contacts.
Living with this complex, people grow accustomed to striving under the feeling of inadequacy which eventually prevents them from achieving their objectives. They begin to believe that they are unworthy, undeserving, and try to behave with a view of receiving punishment for their shortcomings.
What Can Guilt Do to You?
Tortured by guilt, people tend to act in an over-responsible fashion, going out of their way to make those around them feel good.
Out to compensate, people become excessively conscientious. Their every word and action are regarded by them as potentially offensive to others, and they are often curbed even if it means neglecting their needs and wishes.
People grow oversensitive. They ponder over the correctness of their words, deeds, and decisions, ascribing to them power they never actually possessed. They believe the smallest motions have long-lasting impacts.
All these considerations sooner or later lead to people becoming immobilized. Overwhelmed by fear of doing the wrong thing the person lapses to inactivity, prefers to stay mum, hold back, and, finally, withdraw from any socializing.
Also, people feel extremely hesitant about making decisions. They are sure they must needs to be right, and the slightest chance of their landing in the wrong makes them postpone decisions or even ignore them.
A pretense of self-denial works well for such people. If they deny – or make out they do – their needs and always place other people first, they may labor under misapprehension that it is their milk of human kindness at work, while in reality they are motivated by the nagging guilt.
As guilt-ridden people knuckle under their heavy feelings, their span of possible emotions dwindles to those that are pressing them down and make them feel worthless.
Guilt is apt to give rise to many irrational conceptions that flood the mind and prevent one from acknowledging true feelings. When you are aware that guilt does dictate your feelings, try to find the way back to objective reasoning and, consequently, to judicial decisions.
Some exercises that can bring you back to balance:
- Make sure you have some laid-back time alone regularly.
- Write down your reasonings in a journal so you can check on them later.
- Register your guilt, writing down or relating to yourself the situations when you felt guilty because you behaved discreditably.
- Avoid putting your bad feelings out of mind – if you are overcome with guilt, regret, rage, or frustration, whatever it is that holds you in its grip, – give it a chance to assert itself, write about it if you find it helps.
- Register these feelings regarding them unemotionally, non-judgmentally, with curiosity. When a situation is fresh, it may seem to be complicated, and if you hit upon the pivotal factor, you can sort the situation out in your mind and realize how you can handle it.
- Should you find it difficult to acknowledge guilt, fall back on conscious meditation as well as registering your emotions and understanding. This way you can familiarize yourself with your emotions, enabling yourself to work with them no matter how uncomfortable they might be.
How to Deal with Unhealthy Guilt?
Sit down and explain to yourself that in any case, you acted for the best, and if you were not quite at your top, you still were as good as you could be at that moment. You could have slipped badly, but you know that now – could you have figured it out back then? Chances are, you couldn’t.
If it is a case of surviving a mischance, it was through no fault of yours that there were others who failed to survive, and there can be no blame on you.
Also, mind that at that time you could have hardly known that there was going to be a mishap, and your sense of guilt can have made you rewrite the past so as if you were in control and could have made something to prevent the disaster – which, of course, you couldn’t.
It means that now you may be laboring under a misapprehension of your behavioral patterns – you may be demanding too much of yourself. If you have to try hard to live up to your standards, it may be that they are not your own but were imposed upon you by others, and now it is making you overreach yourself.
Is it easy for you to refuse? If the answer is no, probably you must teach yourself to protect your needs and interests. You know they don’t have to coincide with other people’s, so if you pursue them, it doesn’t mean you necessarily infringe on others and should desist. It is a very debatable point.
That may mean that you have bad communication with your “inner child.” Try to communicate with him and learn what he feels guilty about; make him see that his guilt is irrational and stems from fear of being accused of what you are really innocent.
Nobody Is Perfect
No one can walk their way without getting embroiled in some dubious situations where bad decisions are but natural. Mistakes and ensuing guilt are factors of our lives that are not there to torment us but to be acknowledged and accepted for their true value. Don’t think it is a valid reason to wallow in guilt or destroy your self-esteem. It’s one of these things, no more, no less.