‘I feel bad’
‘It is my fault’
‘I will never forgive myself’
Sounds familiar? Relatable? The emotion experienced here is Guilt: a self-conscious, moral emotion. It drives us to do things that are socially appropriate. It also acts as a red-flag that signals the need for empathy towards others. Everybody experiences guilt- at work, with friends, family, colleagues and romantic partners. You may feel guilty if your sibling is shouted at because you spilled the beans or you could feel guilty to celebrate your success when a friend lost their job. Guilt could even take subtle forms like avoiding the associated person, staying silent about the past action, or helpless crying.
Another common phrase is – “I am guilt tripping”. In the most basic form, it indicates ‘I am feeling remorse, regret and bad for the action directed at you’. This is called healthy guilt. It nudges us to rectify our mistake and do something about it. We have possibly harmed another and not been compassionate. On the other hand, we can also experience a gush of turmoil, pain and deep regret. This feeling is intense and difficult to manage. It is unhealthy guilt because it drains us mentally and emotionally. We feel confused, stuck and fear the consequences. A quote that beautifully expresses this is:
“Fear is the tax that conscience pays to guilt.”- George Sewell. Yes, we fear that we will be blamed and put down by others. Our inner thoughts could sound like ‘They think poorly of me’, ‘You are to blame for everything that has happened’. In the process, we attempt to hide our guilt by avoiding others or acting irrationally. This could damage the very purpose of guilt- which is ‘making amends by changing past behavior.’
Recent research studies show that experiencing guilt can be useful if it motivates a person to take responsibility for their actions. The perception of the end result as rewarding, elevating and relieving can make the desirable behavior repeat. It can be constructive as a reminder to do better in future. Interpreting it this way can help to increase empathy.
Some tips to manage guilt in a healthy way are:
- Acknowledge the anger, frustration and pain you have caused
- Try to make effective amends as quickly as possible
- Take responsibility for your actions
- Accept and regulate your feelings
- Be realistic about what is in your control/ what is out of control
- Affirm yourself by saying: ‘I did the best I could, with the knowledge I had.’
Remember that “Remorse cannot be coerced, it has to be discovered.” ~ Leland R. Beaumont
If you often find yourself dealing with intense guilt, please reach out to a Counselor at LeanonMe. We will be happy to listen to you.
AUTHOR: Sneha, Associate Counsellor
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