Guilt is a normal emotion. When you violate values, norms and rules which are important to your life, your mind sends a message of disapproval...
I am 22 and I feel intense guilt for my negligence towards my studies. Since the last few years I couldn’t focus on my studies and wasted all my time being with friends, roaming around town and sitting in front of the computer and playing games. I couldn’t even complete my under graduation. When I try to study for my backlog subjects, these thoughts haunt me and I end up with feelings of guilt and frustration. These guilty feelings are killing me and my life has become miserable. Tell how to stop these guilty feelings? - Vishwas, Kothagudem
“Mistakes are a part of life, everyone makes them, and everyone feels guilty about it too. But, some learn from them and some end up doing the same mistakes again. It's up to you to decide if you'll use your mistakes to your advantage”. - Meredith Sapp
Guilt is a normal emotion. When you violate values, norms and rules which are important to your life, your mind sends a message of disapproval telling you that you shouldn't have done so, that message is called ‘guilt’.
Just like any other emotion, the feeling of guilt is just a message that is sent to you in order to motivate you to take an action to resolve a problem that resulted from violating one of your values.
Although guilt is self-imposed, it is so powerful that it can influence your life in ways that can destroy you. All your plans and goals for the future would have to be put on hold as you become paralysed by your guilt.
When guilt is experienced the person feels upset and depressed because of something he/she has done to cause an event to go wrong, or feelings of another to become hurt. Guilt is caused by regret or remorse that one feels after he/she has committed an act in. Guilt can lead to self - doubt or even self - harm. According to Borchard, a university scholar and psychologist, guilt may spark insecurity and indecisiveness. The feeling of guilt has physical, mental consequences has and many effects on self and inter personal relationships.
Freud famously wrote that depression was characterised by feelings of guilt or self-blame and that was how it differed from ‘normal’ sadness. MRI brain scans show that depressed people respond more strongly to guilt confirming the above.
Guilt affects our brain, and causes a series of emotions and alters the state of the brain. Guilt causes anxiety and affects the mental stability of an individual. Guilt can affect complete structure of the brain and it could lead to the mind denying access to other natural feelings that are generally experienced. One’s brain can also be negative to decision making, and the feelings of guilt can decrease their ability to make decisions.
Some psychological effects of guilt:
- Destroy your self-esteem
- Erode your self-confidence
- Cause you to become your worst critic
- Cause you to lose self-respect
- Distort your perception of self
- Obstruct your ability to make decisions
- Create self-doubt
- Cause you to be unforgiving of self
- Bring about fearfulness
- Cause irrational thoughts
- Cause paranoia
- Cause you to ignore self
- Cause feelings of worthlessness and shame
- Send you into a state of worry
- Generate anxiety and panic
- Trigger depression
A renowned developmental psychologist Erikson who has developed, ‘Stage theory of psychosocial development’, believed that guilt first emerges in life at about the age of 3-5 years as the negative outcome to a period he called “initiative versus guilt.” Children develop a strong sense of guilt at this age if their curiosity, sense of initiative and related emotions are suppressed or controlled by others. They are afraid to express themselves because they fear that if they showed their true emotions, they would commit an unacceptable act. They grow up to be overly inhibited adults who constantly fear doing something for which they’d later feel guilty.
You feel that you wasted your valuable time by involving yourself in unproductive and useless ways and neglected your studies. However, how much you wish, you can’t change the past or bring back the time by travelling in to the past through the time machine. Ruminating over the guilt feelings can bring in more problems which you are already experiencing. Accusing and blaming your self can’t help in any way. Accepting self and forgiving your self is the first step. Figure out how to avoid committing the same mistake in future.
Nelson Mandela said that “do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back again”. Everybody makes mistakes. We all have done something stupid at some point of time in our life. Wisdom lies in not carrying them forward with us.
Healthy ways to deal with guilt:
1.Recognise the kind of guilt you have and its purpose: Guilt helps us to grow and become mature when we recognise the purpose. Rational purpose of guilt is simply to try and convince you to change the behaviour that is harming you and your future. Grab a pen and notebook. Prepare a journal. Make a list of things that could be making you feel guilty. This should hopefully leave your mind a little clearer, and allow you to think rationally about the source of the guilt.
2.Accept you did something wrong, but move on: If you did something wrong or hurtful, you will have to accept that you cannot change the past. But you can make amends for your behaviour, if and when it’s appropriate. Take time each day accepting yourself as you are. This means accepting your imperfections.
And move on. Guilt cannot exist when you are accepting yourself. Start working on correcting past mistakes.
3.Learn to forgive yourself: A big aspect of guilt can be because you simply don't allow yourself to make mistakes or you never forgive yourself for things that happened in the past. With meditation or engaging in spiritual activity, you can learn to use the power of presence to create an inner atmosphere of acceptance.
4.Make amends or changes soon: If your guilt is for a specific and rational purpose – take action to fix the problem at the earliest. Make a time table; fix the schedules set appropriate goals (including short term and long term) and start working on it. Do not wait for interest or good time. Sooner you start working, sooner you get rid of your guilt.
5.Each time a guilty feeling arises, remember no one is perfect: Nobody is perfect, not even our friends or family members who appear to lead perfect, guilt-free lives. Striving for perfection in any part of our lives is a recipe for failure, since it can never be attained.We all make mistakes and many of us go down a path in our lives that can make us feel guilty later on when we finally realise our mistake. The key however, is to realise the mistake and accept that you’re only human. Don’t engage in days, weeks or months of self-blame or battering your self-esteem because you should’ve known, should’ve acted differently.
6.Spend less time worrying about what others think about you: You can never control how other people think. People will always think what they want anyways. What matters most is what you think about yourself. Be true to yourself and then you will be true to others around you. People will take notice and respect you for that Realise that guilt is normal and we all have it. Everyone messes up sometimes. No one is perfect. Accept the reality.
Think through why your actions made you feel guilty.
Learn lessons from those actions and promise not to repeat them.
This will take time, and it will hurt a lot, but in the long run it will be so much better.
Sometimes you may just have a lot of anger built up inside you. Do something to release your anger.Stop blaming yourself! It's not necessarily your fault if something happens.
Making mistakes is what makes us human and it's how we learn. You can learn better ways of doing things or it might even remind you of what are your true priorities. Even when things at first go horribly wrong, later you may realise what huge benefits you gained from going through the experience. Overcome your guilt feelings and move on. Good luck!