Dealing with Guilt


Aashkaa Nair

Mental Health Writer

What is Guilt?

Guilt refers to feeling responsible or regretful for a perceived offence, real or imaginary. It can be a part of grief reaction. No matter what the situation is, guilt can be a terrible emotion to experience. Maybe you're feeling guilty about being inattentive to your child or maybe you're feeling guilty about speaking ill of your friend. Guilt can cause serious emotional turmoil if not attended to.

However, psychologists and researchers have proved that guilt can also be used in a constructive manner. Guilt makes you realise your own mistakes. It indicates moral and ethical standards in an individual. It also helps in working to your fullest potential and not settling for less.

For example, students who feel guilty for wasting their time during exams, have a greater realisation of their mistake and have high chances of making amends to their behaviour, i.e, by studying more during exams.

Types of Guilt

1. Healthy guilt

Healthy guilt refers to experiencing guilt due to one's own mistakes/ behaviour. Feeling guilty for a genuine reason indicates that your conscience is working in the right direction. Healthy guilt points out social regulation as well as awareness of emotions and morals.

For example, when you behave in a rude manner with your friend, you feel guilty about it. This is healthy guilt. You ought to feel bad about your inappropriate behaviour. People who experience healthy guilt are more prone to making amends to their behaviour in the long-term.

2. Unhealthy guilt

Unhealthy or irrational guilt, refers to experiencing guilt mistakenly assuming responsibility for a situation. This type of guilt can be very damaging and can cause serious emotional disruption. For example, feeling guilty for someone's death caused due to an accident.

This type of guilt has also been linked to many mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, etc. It can also cause disturbance in daily routine, increased stress, low productivity and overthinking. As a result, the overall outlook and quality of life is deeply affected.

Ways to overcome Guilt

1. Recognise where your guilt stems from

First and foremost, its important to recognise where your guilt is coming from. Try to reflect back on the situation and realise where the feeling emanated. Once this process is over, try to think about all the people who were involved in this situation. This process will help clarifying misconceptions and assumptions which you might have had before.

2. Write about your feelings

The best way to gain more understanding of your feelings is to start journaling about them. This helps in keeping a tab on them as well as being aware about them. How does writing exactly work? Writing about your feelings compels you to take a deeper look inside. It demands you to be aware and present about the way you're feeling. Start by writing why you're feeling guilty. Describe the situation in as much detail as possible.

Try to include the people who were present in the situation. Give a description of what you were feeling then and what you are feeling now. For example:

“I spoke to her rudely on her birthday. Why did I do that? Was I angry with her or someone else? What was going on in my life then? Was I distracted?”

3. Change your behaviour

If you've realised your mistake and want to get out of the guilt, start making changes in your behaviour. Apologize if necessary. Try to make the other person feel good. Small gestures like planning surprises, cooking for them, etc will help in making the other person feel better. However, just by cooking once or giving them a gift, doesn't mean your mistake is given the green light.

You have to keep making amends to regain their trust and to genuinely give yourself a chance to improve. Here's how you can get started:

• Start by targeting one specific habit/behaviour you want to change.
• Journal in the morning.
• Greet everyone with a smile.
• Be more flexible about your attitude.
• Listen to others.
• Take other's opinions into consideration.

4. Learn from the situation

The most important thing which most people forget is “not to repeat” the same behaviour. Repetition of behaviour would lead to loss of trust which would then indicate lack of improvement. Always keep in mind to learn from your past situations to become a better person in future.

Reflect on your actions and see how you can avoid them if such a situation arises in future. For example, if you want to avoid speaking rudely, then try avoiding speaking to the person while you're angry or maybe you can inform the person that you're not in the right mood to talk. This way you can be honest with the other person as well as avoid the action which hurt them in the past.

5. Accept and move on

Nobody can change the past. The only thing you can do is to forgive yourself and move on. It can be challenging initially, however with time it gets manageable. With the right kind of support and guidance, your thoughts and feelings with regards to your guilt, can be controlled.

Try to accept the situation in your own head first and then go on justifying it to others. Once you've made peace with yourself, others would automatically understand.

Guilt can either hold you back from growing or it can show what you need to shift in life. Therefore, dealing with guilt wisely and with the right kind of support can lead you to live a healthier and happier life in future.

View more content by Aashkaa Nair

Discussion Board

What do you think about guilt?

Prarthana Aradhye
Amazing article 💫
Rohit Chopra
Incredible writing! Guilt can paralyze a person. It is better to reform and correct mistakes rather than become helpless due to guilt! 🌺