Guilt is amazingly powerful, one of the most intense emotions we can experience as human beings. The feeling of guilt can range from minimal to devastating depending on many factors. The gravity of how we feel depends on upbringing, faith, and what we believe about ourselves. Either way, it can create a vacuum of depression, anxiety, and pain if we allow it to consume our minds.
Culpability can originate from a childhood event, cheating, lying, betrayal, trauma, and anything that affects the moral compass. We succumb to guilt, oftentimes without understanding the strength of its impact on our psyche and body. No matter where the guilt stems from, it can have a significant effect. The emotion is closely related to uneasiness, embarrassment, disappointment, all feelings that lead to bigger concerns, which can lead to serious damage if left unattended.
We usually dump guilt into one large bucket, but it is essential to recognize there are three major types of guilt, each different. When you feel guilt for doing something that goes against your beliefs, it’s called Anticipatory Guilt. The response to an act labeled improper or deemed unacceptable by society or your own standards it’s considered Reactive Guilt. Lastly, there is Existential Guilt, which is regarded as the most complex because it relates to life’s unfairness. Injustices that happen in life in some way are connected to you, how you have negatively impacted the lives of others, as you can imagine, a huge burden to take on by yourself.
In some instances, these feelings can be helpful, if it results in a change. If the guilt leads to a decision that influences you to make different or improved choices in life, then it can be positive. The feeling of regret may help to remind people they have a conscience, and what he or she is doing may go against their code of conduct, possibly discouraging future bad behavior. It may also be an indicator for us that trouble is up ahead. If you are sensing guilt, it tells you that something isn’t right, possibly deterring one from future mistakes or indiscretions.
Guilt is mostly known as the heavy and intense emotion it is, remorse that can create a vortex of negativity. Insecurity, shame, reduced confidence, physical deterioration when consumed by wrongdoing and pain.
People can have a tough time dealing with the aftermath of misconduct in any way. Some may even feel guilt when it really does not belong to them. Shutting it off can be a task that not everyone is up to; circling obsessively around whatever you think you’ve done is likely to induce insomnia, loss of appetite, and be downright torture. Focusing on other parts of life proves challenging, as you figure out what you’ve done to deserve punishment. You find yourself functioning out of character; doing things that may result in self-inflicted pain is not uncommon. It’s the reason why some individuals fall into unhealthy relationships that are abusive or unhealthy. It is a tricky emotion, particularly when it is unfounded or unjustified.
Divorce is painful. The rupture of any relationship, especially one with a significant emotional investment, is daunting. I went through a life-altering separation almost a decade ago that changed my life in many ways. However, it also gave me many blessings like forgiveness, a modern family, and new love. It was a long time before I let go of the guilt from divorce. For a long time, there was a feeling of blame. I felt that it was my fault the family was broken; I placed a lot of the responsibility on myself. Self-criticism and a lack of self-love were born from that guilt which stayed with me for years. The reality is, there’s always blame to go around. We are human beings and far from perfect.
Navigating your way out of baseless guilt is not easy; the total opposite, it can be quite the challenge. We don’t always know we are carrying it with us, therefore getting help to resolve those feelings is vital for our mental health. Therapy helped me immensely, as I was not able to deconstruct the problem on my own. I needed to have an impartial party guide me to sort through the confusion. There can be overwhelming stress that can stem from unknowingly bearing the weight of guilt.
If you are not open or ready to speak to someone about your feelings, there are things you can do to help eradicate guilt on your own, though not easy. Self-talk, constant reaffirmation that you are not at fault or did not commit actions that warrant blame is necessary. It reminds you that you are worthy of love and forgiveness. Maybe you did not realize or not conscious what you did was wrong. Give yourself space to feel but also practice kindness with yourself. If you can connect with the essence of you, acknowledge to the best of your knowledge, you’ve done everything possible to act right, guided by good intentions, then release regret. The emotion will negatively affect you and not serve you well. It can be so self-defeating. In fact, it will take you down if you allow it. Forgiveness is the greatest gift you can give, especially to yourself. Empathy starts with you. Remember that you matter too.