What Is Guilt?
Guilt is an emotion we experience when we convince ourselves or believe that we have done something wrong or caused harm to another person. Guilt is self-focused, and it’s often intertwined with social expectations and pressures all at the same time.
“Healthy guilt” moves us towards accountability and radical responsibility, and that’s real. There is a sense of healthy guilt where “You know I should really just take ownership for that. I should just really take radical responsibility. I should just move towards accountability.” And then there’s the “unhealthy guilt,” which moves us towards blame and shame.
Where Does Guilt Come From?
Guilt can come from something that you actually did that was wrong, or it can be something perceived as something you did wrong. You can feel guilty for something that you perceive as wrong because maybe you’ve been told or because perhaps someone is projecting it onto you. Someone else perceives something that you did as wrong. So now you perceive it as wrong and feel guilty as a result.
Your parents project that “you shouldn’t have done that,” or maybe someone else is in their own shit. So they say, “you did that wrong,” even though you actually did nothing wrong, but you could still perceive it as something that you did wrong. So sometimes, it could be a perception that you put on yourself. Still, it could be a perception that gets projected onto you or that comes from society and so forth.
Why Do You Feel Guilty?
Why do we feel guilty when we actually didn’t do anything wrong? Lets go through the list:
- Lack of self-love. Lack of self-love looks like beating yourself up. “I don’t have what it takes. I should have done better.”
- Lack of self-trust. “Well, what if I messed up? maybe I’m wrong.”
- Codependency. “I feel bad that they feel bad.”
- Rescuer mentality. “I must save this person or I’ll feel bad.” That’s not about the other person. That’s about you.
- Constantly being told how it should be or how it should have been done.
Similarly, being taught that you are the best and have to be the best. You’re already guilty for not doing enough. And you haven’t even started the project yet.
Being taught to be hyper-aware of other people’s needs because that’s the right thing to do. One day you’re told that you’re not enough, and then the next day, you’re told that you’re the best. How confusing. So wouldn’t it make sense that you would just feel guilty all the time about everything if you were getting these confusing messages all the time?
Signs of Chronic Guilt
- Feeling bad about feeling your feelings
- Low self-esteem and lack of confidence
- A deep sense of grief and regret
- Self- abandonment
- Constantly putting everyone else before you
- You repeat the same patterns in relationships
- You owe something all the time
- Replaying conversations in your head
- Putting everyone else’s needs above your own
- Overwhelmed by making the wrong decision
If we could even go deeper, what’s the root cause of that? Well, what if part of you being so overwhelmed by making the wrong decision actually comes from this deep-seated guilt that you carry with you because you’ve been guilted so much? We remember the feelings that are the ugliest. So weirdly, we’re led by that because we know it, it’s so familiar, and then we end up just perpetuating it.
Guilt vs. Shame
We need to talk about the difference between guilt and shame because they are different. Guilt revolves around an action or inaction. It’s about something you did or didn’t do. Shame, on the other hand, revolves around identity and perceived identity. It is not only how you actually view yourself, but how you think other people view you and how you perceive yourself, even if it’s not correct.
Shame is a deeply internalized guilt about what you did or want to do. It turns into a negatively internalized belief about your identity and who you are. Guilt says, “I made a mistake,” And shame says, “I am a mistake.”
How To Stop Feeling Guilty
Acknowledge the situation objectively. “What’s happening here? Did I actually do something wrong? What’s really going on?” And then go to the truth. “What do you know is true about the situation?” Then you take radical responsibility. “What do I know I can do about the situation?” Super simple. Feeling guilty is like persecuting yourself, making yourself a victim of your own persecution, or making yourself a victim of someone else’s persecution without even realizing it.
And then, as a follow-up, change your thoughts and understanding. It will shift your feelings. So if you constantly think, “I messed up, I shouldn’t have done this. What was I thinking? God, I’m such a mess.” You’re gonna feel like shit. But if you think, “I know what my truth is. I see where I went wrong. I can take radical responsibility. I know exactly what to do. I’m going to go ahead and take action tomorrow.” Boom. You automatically feel so much better.