Feeling guilt over things is very common, we often feel guilt about something we have done that has caused a negative effect on someone else. This kind of guilt serves the purpose of helping us to make sure we do not hurt someone unnecessarily, or as a life lesson.
Guilt in this sense has a profound effect on our perception of right and wrong. It guides us to live a life that’s good and kind to others, it helps build character and empathy.
Guilt can however lead us into a state of victim mentality, where we feel guilt for everything we feel we should be doing but are not. This kind of guilty behaviour can be extremely destructive and lead us to feeling like we are no good or worthless.
Guilt about something you did
This is the kind of guilt spoken about in the text above, its the guilt we feel when we have caused another person physical or psychological harm. When we violate our own ethical standards through actions such as lying, cheating or stealing, our minds feel a great sense of unease at our actions and guilt eats away at us. We can base our own identity on guilt and by not feeding into guilt can potentially leave us identity-less, which is not something we want, so we end up in a vicious circle of feeling guilt.
Guilt about something you didn’t do, but want to
This kind of guilt is usually repressed and can often end up being acted out unconsciously. An example would be an attraction to someone that isn’t your spouse. You feel guilt for having illicit thoughts about them and about thinking of doing things with them, even though you have no intention of doing so. If you repress these feeling they can manifest eventually where you carry them out, which is often why affairs and the like happen. Rather than repressing these feeling a way to deal with this kind of guilt is to accept the feelings as part of you and actively make a conscious effort to not act on them. Another example of this is being asked to do something but not being able to, then beating yourself up for not doing it even though you physically couldn’t. This also falls under not doing enough, guilt.
Guilt about something you think you did
We can often feel guilt for things we feel we have manifested unconsciously, such as wishing someone ill will only to find out something bad happened to them. We then assume those bad thoughts have come to life and assume guilt that’s almost, if not worse than if we had actually caused it. Feeling guilt for someone taking a dislike to us is also common as we assume we must have caused this by saying or doing something to them. When in reality people may dislike us for multiple reasons that may not have anything to do with us. Our own personal insecurities come into play and guilt ensues.
Guilt that you haven’t done enough
When we assume the role of the rescuer in any given situation we can give more of ourselves than we really should, however we cannot continue indefinitely to give this kind of commitment and when burnout occurs, guilt that we are not doing enough can creep in. For example our relative is ill and we sideline our own needs or commitments to help, this can only continue for a short time before our own emotional or physical exhaustion occurs or our commitments need attending to. Then we feel guilt for not being able to offer the same level of support we previously had. A very destructive guilt grown our of the fear of being selfish to others’ needs or that we are not equally as important.
Guilt that you have more or are better than someone else
There are various examples of this kind of guilt. In terms of friendship you can feel guilt for having more than your friend. For example they are in a relationship with and abusive partner and you are not. You may feel guilt for having a loving supportive spouse. Or if you fell foul to an accident or burglary and came off better, (less stolen or less injury) you may feel extreme guilt for this. Usually you will find the other person is glad for you, but this doesn’t help with feelings of luckiness and guilt.
It’s really important to be able to identify these 5 types of guilt to see if it is assumed guilt, or actual guilt. Once you have identified this you can accept those feelings and start to move on from them, allowing the least amount of guilt to occur. The practise of mindfulness can help enormously with this task, bringing your attention into the present, as to why you are feeling the way you are and examining if there is legitimate reason to feel it or not. Even if there is or isn’t reason, by leaning into how you feel and accepting that guilt cannot undo the situation you can start to free yourself from the cycle of pain. Realising we cannot control situations, we can only control our outlook or action to them, allows us the opportunity to move past guilt and then to freedom from guilt.
Have you ever felt these kinds of guilt? Or found a way to deal with them constructively. Let us know about it in the comments