The Insidious Effects of Guilt


Is guilt an ever-present part of your life? How to do overcome it and work towards living in a positive way?

Guilt is defined by the feelings of deserving blame especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy. Guilt can be an incredibly detrimental emotion that can make it harder to form interpersonal relationships, be open with the ones you love, or advance in your life in a meaningful way. The feelings of guilt are often imagined and unwarranted, which make them even more challenging to resolve. Guilt can also make you feel undeserving of your successes in your work or personal life. Feelings of inadequacy are often rooted in guilt as someone who feels guilty about a certain aspect of their life often feels undeserving of the love, success or happiness they truly deserve. Finally, guilt-prone people often think they’ve harmed others, even when they haven’t. These feelings can lead to a person becoming withdrawn leading to increased anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts.

Do you often feel guilty, remorseful, or like you’ve let down those around you? Do you avoid feeling happy, or think you’re undeserving of satisfaction in life? If so you may be experiencing the insidious effects of guilt. There are some proven ways to overcome these feelings so you can work on living your best life.

Go easy on yourself

Practicing simple self-care is a strong foundational way to help stop the feelings of guilt. Spend some time each day journaling, meditating, doing yoga or spending time with friends.Taking time for yourself and knowing that you are worth love and respect can go along way when you feel overwhelmed or overcome by guilt.

Stop self-magnifying

Did you make a small mistake at work or in your personal life that’s completely causing you to shut down? When experiencing guilt, take a look within yourself and make sure that the punishment fits the crime. Don’t magnify your feelings of shame from a small mistake. Looking at your infractions (whether perceived or actual) and making a value judgment on their severity is a good way to help you understand that you may be overreacting to a feeling.

Turn guilt into gratitude

Changing your mindset about your guilt may be the perfect way to move past your insidious feelings and on to more positive ones. If you’re feeling guilty about not going to the gym, or indulging in too many sweets, don’t let yourself feel sorry for these feelings. Rather, turn this negative sentiment into a positive one. Think about how great it is that you want to go to the gym, how you have the physical ability to do so and how good it will feel once you make the time to get there.

If you’ve spent the time to incorporate the above approaches into your life and are still dealing with feelings of guilt, consider speaking with a therapist. A therapist can help you get to the root causes of your guilt, allowing you to break the chains of this difficult emotion.

Dr. Takos is a Newport Beach Psychologist specializing in the treatment of adolescents and adults suffering from depression, anxiety, and trauma-and stressor-related disorders.