What is Guilt?
Guilt is a common emotion that we all experience. It is that horrible feeling that you get, because you have done something wrong, or think, that you might have done something wrong.
Guilt can be healthy or unhealthy.
When guilt is healthy it keeps you in line with your own values It is telling you that you have done something wrong. It stops you from doing something that is against your principles, or that would get you excluded from your family or wider community.
Shame is often confused with guilt, but it is a different feeling. Shame is the feeling you get when you believe that there is something wrong with you, not something you should or shouldn’t have done. Shame makes you feel unworthy and is never helpful, healthy or productive. It keeps you stuck, anxious and depressed.
However unnecessary, excessive feelings of guilt are a psychological burden that interferes with your emotions and quality of life.
Excessive guilt has been associated with a history of childhood trauma and can take many forms. Guilt for surviving, for being happy or persuing your own life when someone in the family was suffering.
Feeling overly guilty can come from a sense of unworthiness, and can lead to eating disorders, depression and anxiety.
Women, in particular, are prone to feeling guilty, according to research.
The answer probably lies in the way that girls are socialised. They have been socialised for thousands of years to get along with others, not hurt anybody’s feelings, and take care of loved ones.
As a result of your upbringing and society norms, you can feel overly responsible for other people’s well-being and happiness, and feel guilty when someone is, or might be, displeased with you, and you will automatically assume it is your fault they are cross or unhappy.
You worry about what other people think of you and spend a good part of your life trying to please other people, not putting yourself first, or being ‘selfish’.
What you can do
If you are prone to feeling the unhealthy kind of guilt in which you are always beating yourself up for not doing enough, use the tips and tools below to set yourself free. It takes a lot of practice and deliberate re-thinking to change an ingrained pattern of guilt, so be patient with yourself:
1 . Collect evidence
If you feel guilty because you’re not doing enough for your children, partner, or family, list all the things that you regularly do for them. Then keep the list in your purse or wallet to pull out when guilt rears its head!
2. Check it out
Ask the people you think you’re neglecting whether they actually feel neglected. Consider whether they have a tendency to expect too much and not take enough responsibility for themselves (e.g., teenagers who expect you to pick up after them). Then think about how an outside observer would view the situation.
3 . Appreciate yourself and all that you do
Write a “Ta Dah” list at the end of every day, noting at least three things you did that day that helped someone you care about. At the end of the week, read what you’ve written.
Guilt (and perfectionism) make you pay attention to what you’re not doing right. By writing down what you actually did, you can overcome this bias and force yourself to focus on your accomplishments.
4 . Think how you would treat someone else?
Would you think your friend or partner wasn’t doing enough given all they had going on? We often find it easy to be compassionate and understanding with others but are too harsh on ourselves. By deliberately taking the other person’s perspective, you’ll likely see your situation in a more objective light.
5. Stop trying to be perfect
If you are trying to be the perfect partner/daughter/parent, you are going to fail. Be realistic about what you can achieve, instead, aim for excellence and your anxiety and guilt will decrease.
6. Learn to take care of your own needs
If you spent too much time as a child caring for others, you may still silence your own needs or feel they are less valid than those of your partner, child, or friend. But you don’t have to let this pattern of past relationships shape your relationships in the present. Focus on developing good self care practises everyday.
If you feel overly guilty and want to stop, I’d love to gift you £150 coaching session to help feel clear, calm and confident. All I ask in return is that you provide me with a testimonial and some feedback. You can book your session here: https://meetme.so/LindaBarbour
With 20+ years of experience supporting hundreds and hundreds of people through challenging or even traumatic times in their life, I can give you the understanding, tools and techniques that you need to make positive changes quickly.