What can generate feelings of guilt?
Although there are multiple situations that can trigger this feeling, the ones that usually generate the most internal conflict are:
- Not meeting the expectations of family, friends or colleagues ( “if I don’t help you, I’m going to disappoint you, you’re going to think I don’t love you”).
- Taking responsibility for other people’s emotions ( “he’s depressed at home and, although I call him every day, I feel like I should do something else” ).
- Not being able to set limits ( “I should have said no, instead of doing what he wanted” ).
- Think good or bad of others ( “whenever I see the neighbor I think he is an idiot and I feel guilty” ).
- Doing things wrong ( “I should be studying and not shopping” ).
- Fail ( “I should have tried harder, I’m going to be the laughingstock of the family” ) or succeed ( “I have such a wonderful life that I feel like I don’t deserve it” ).
- Feeling positive emotions ( “my partner has just been fired, I shouldn’t be happy about my promotion” ) or negative emotions ( “with everything I have in life, I shouldn’t feel that way” ).
- Issues related to sexuality ( “if I loved my partner, I shouldn’t be attracted to other people” ).
Given the complexity of certain situations, some of the most important are detailed below:
Guilt for having committed an infidelity.
An infidelity is often accompanied by a feeling of guilt, anxiety and stress. This guilt is not only due to the fact of having betrayed the trust of the couple, but it can also appear linked to fear of social judgment and, in the case of religious people, sin .
The causes that have been able to lead to infidelity are multiple and range from the affective-sexual stagnation of the relationship to the simple sexual attraction. However, having transgressed the limits of the relationship often leads to experiencing guilt, since:
“The betrayal has not only been to the couple, but also to oneself, because it does not reflect what one wants to be”.
Guilt in dependent caregivers.
Taking care of a dependent family member is complicated. Most of the time, the caregiver tends to be too demanding with himself , considering that he must respond effectively and quickly to all the demands of his family member. In fact, some people even feel guilty about taking time for themselves and resting, which:
“In the long term it can lead to burnout caregiver syndrome, a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion.”
Obviously, it is a highly demanding situation that requires making decisions related to the patient (for example, that they go to a day center or put them in a residence permanently), which, together with discussions with family members who feel neglected or not cooperating in the care of the dependent, can increase the feeling of guilt.
Finally, this feeling of exhaustion and responsibility sustained for so long, can lead the person to have thoughts related to the desire for the death of the family member , either to avoid seeing him suffer, or to stop experiencing the crisis situation. Logically, having these thoughts about the dependent family member can arouse a great feeling of guilt.
Guilt for spreading COVID-19 to a loved one.
During the pandemic, people have continued to maintain contact with their loved ones, so being diagnosed with coronavirus generates special anguish, not because of the uncertainty associated with having the disease itself, but because of the guilt of having been infected and, in certain cases , having exposed relatives, some elderly or ill.
“Guilt aggravates the feeling of anguish and the discomfort of the disease itself.”
Given the compelling need for isolation, some people may develop obsessive thoughts and have recurring nightmares related to the disease. In fact, the most common thing after the diagnosis is to feel shocked and, to some extent, ashamed and saddened by the possible contagions generated, not only among their own contacts, but among those of others.
Reviewing many times what was done wrong, when it was infected and wondering with anguish how many people have been infected are the anxiety symptoms that are repeated the most during the forced quarantine. So is guilt for belonging to that group – sometimes irresponsible and unconscious – that has contributed to the spread of the disease. So much so, that some of those infected do not understand the signs of affection from their environment, instead of the reproaches they believe they should receive.
Given the difficulty in managing feelings related to the survival instinct , measures will be proposed later to assume the damage from acceptance, with special emphasis on individual responsibility when complying with the protection regulations .
Guilt before the death of a relative.
Surviving a traumatic event in which a loved one died can lead to so-called survivor syndrome . This syndrome is a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder, although it can also be experienced independently. It is a common syndrome among war veterans and Holocaust survivors, but it can also occur after the death of a child, among other situations.
In these cases, people can blame themselves for having survived, since:
“It is a more acceptable feeling than accepting that the world is a chaotic and unpredictable place.”
The difficulty in determining guilt.
In his book The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry alludes to this difficulty:
«It is much more difficult to judge yourself than to judge others. If you can judge yourself well, you are a true sage. “
Currently, the Western world has taken two ways to determine the degree of guilt in different circumstances:
Guilt from a legal perspective.
From a legal perspective, charging a crime means blaming a person for a criminal action. When determining a penalty, jurisprudence takes into account the intentionality of the offender . Hence the distinction between the involuntary manslaughter of the volunteer.
Thus, not having planned the crime or the consequences being different from those expected does not exempt the person from guilt when, for example, during a couple’s argument, one hits his partner and the latter dies from the hit. , the person will be equally responsible for the homicide. In this way, repentance is to some extent irrelevant , since the damage caused must be repaired through punishment, that is, the penalty , which can prescribe .
“In the legal conception, the consequences of the action are more important than the intentionality of the criminal, since this cannot be objectively known.”
Guilt feelings from a religious perspective.
According to Catholicism, the fundamental thing is the intentionality of the sinner , because if he was ignorant of the norm, he is exempted from his guilt, which does not prescribe under any circumstances. Thus, guilt can be eliminated through the Sacrament of Confession , which, through a priest, absolves of sins in the name of Christ by imposing a penance through which to repair the damage for their sins. In addition, to receive absolution, the person must feel pain for their sins (either for having offended God, or for the ugliness of sin or for fear of punishment).
“However, the temporal penalty for sins is not eliminated, and may have to be expiated through prayer, good deeds, an Indulgence or in Purgatory.”
In any case, the purpose of amendment , that is, the promise to avoid committing the sin, is also necessary to get rid of guilt, unlike legal guilt, in which it is enough to serve the penalty.
Strategies for managing feelings of guilt.
“Guilt is a learned emotional reaction, so you can learn to handle yourself in a healthier way.”
Here are some strategies for managing guilt, which can be grouped into two stages: At first, you have to know how to identify and be aware of feelings of guilt, and later on, forgive yourself and learn from it. the experience.
Identify feelings of guilt.
- Identify the source of guilt : Sometimes guilt appears due to an inadequate level of self-demand or fear of how other people will respond to what happened. Therefore, it is important to know what is causing this feeling, in order to act accordingly.
- Examine your own responsibility for what happened : Sometimes, you feel guilty in situations over which you have no control or for issues over which you did not have significant responsibility. Analyzing the degree of actual guilt is the first step in being able to accept the guilt and make the necessary adjustments in your own behavior.
- Recognize and express the guilt : When you feel guilty, tend to isolate themselves from other people, feeding their guilt alone. Expressing what happened, apologizing if necessary, is essential to be able to accept guilt in a healthy way.
- Taking responsibility for what happened : Living in guilt means that decisions are not made regarding the present, not being able to repair the damage caused or not changing the behavior that leads to making the same mistake over and over again. On the other hand, taking responsibility for what happened reduces your own feeling of guilt.
Forgive yourself and learn from experience.
- Forgive yourself : Recognize your own limitations, avoiding disqualifying yourself for the mistake made, fostering self-pity (would you speak this way to a repentant person who wants to redeem himself?).
- Learn from what happened : Analyzing the consequences of your own actions is appropriate, but punishing yourself only serves to damage your own self-esteem. Instead of wasting time beating yourself up for what happened, it is healthier to free yourself from guilt by remedying the situation, avoiding making the same mistakes again, which can lead to growth as a person.
- Allow yourself to fail : Sometimes, there is a tendency to dramatize the repercussions of the events themselves. Making your own code of demand more flexible will make you feel less guilty about everyday mistakes.
- Do not allow yourself to be manipulated through guilt : Certain people tend to make people around them feel guilty, trying to manipulate them to achieve their goals.
Psychological support to overcome the constant feeling of guilt.
The feeling of guilt can lead certain people to develop psychological problems such as problems with self-esteem, anxiety or depression.
In these cases, guilt becomes so corrosive that their actions in the past prevent them from moving forward and they require the help of a psychologist to reassess themselves, forgive themselves for what happened and take responsibility for their present. As Annabel Pitcher said:
“If guilt were an animal, it would be an octopus: slimy and twisted, with tentacles that twist and squeeze you tightly.”
Alexa Clark specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She has experience in listening and welcoming in Individual Therapy and Couples Therapy. It meets demands such as generalized anxiety, professional, love and family conflicts, stress, depression, sexual dysfunction, grief, and adolescents from 15 years of age. Over the years, She felt the need to conduct the psychotherapy sessions with subtlety since She understands that the psychologist acts as a facilitator of self-understanding and self-acceptance, valuing each person's respect, uniqueness, and acceptance.