According to Psychology Today, guilt is an emotional experience that occurs when a person has committed (or believes they committed) incorrect actions, a failure to do something they should have done, or thoughts that they think are morally wrong. Guilt is aversive and, like shame, has been described as a self-conscious emotion, involving reflection on oneself.
Guilt that motivates us to apologize fulfills the purpose of experiencing the guilt in the first place. This is the virtuous side of guilt
Guilt that manifests into shame and changes what we believe to be true about ourselves is like a noose around our necks. It destroys our emotional energy and leaves us feeling immobilized and deeply entrenched in shame.
The two most common incorrect understanding of guilt are:
- guilt is valuable and allows us to learn and grow
- as the sensation or experience of guilt increases so does our learning (so we won’t make the same mistake again)
These principles are fundamentally untrue.
Reflecting on past behaviour and learning from it is the design of experience. This is why we make mistakes: Simply to learn. Neverending remorse serves only to reinforce low self-esteem and low self-worth and blocks creativity and self-awareness.
Excessive or long-term guilt may manifest as :
- Being overly sensitive to the results of every action.
- Feeling overwhelmed by possibly making the “wrong” decision.
- Low self-esteem and self-worth.
- Putting others before yourself to your own detriment.
- Avoiding uncomfortable emotions.
How to escape guilt:
- Review your behaviour and assess if your actions were appropriate given the circumstances. If it was, let it go. If it was not, how can you make amends? What have you learned about yourself from this experience?
- Forgive yourself. You did the best you could at the time with the tools that were at your disposal. You may have been anxious, stressed, depressed, overwhelmed or a host of other emotions that would obstruct your ability to make any other decision than the one you made.
- Be compassionate with yourself. Your judgment reflected where you were in your journey. You simply did not know what you know now. Looking back with the knowledge you possess today is not fair to the person you were when you made those decisions.
- Remind yourself that you are not responsible for others. You are not responsible for their happiness, their lives or their learning. Your journey is your own. And your responsibility is to yourself.
- Remember that assuming guilt suggests intention, which was not the case.
- Release any behavioural ideals set out by your family or self-imposed. Perfectionism is not the goal.
- Acknowledge your right to protect your own self-interest and stand up for yourself. There is nothing inherently wrong in pursuing your own goals.
And most importantly:
- Address the inner child. Your subconscious programming around guilt is holding you in this place of shame and remorse. Childhood is where these programs originated. You most certainly received messages during childhood regarding incorrect or bad behaviours. Mistakes don’t mean that you’re bad, wrong or unworthy. Errors in judgment are opportunities for learning and growth. To hold onto these understandings of childhood is keeping your personal growth stunted.
If you would like help with any of these concepts, book a free call.
Katrina Murphy is a Professional Intuitive Mindset and Confidence Coach in Ontario, Canada, serving clients across Canada and internationally. Katrina helps professionals to change the relationship that they have with themselves so they can reconnect both in their relationships and at work. She’s been featured in various publications and is the creator of the Power-Passion-Purpose Framework.