Updated: Sep 9
There are healthy and unhealthy ways of feeling guilt.
In this post, I open the door for you to get an insight into how I work with my clients, and I hope this will enable you to deal with guilt if that's how you feel sometimes and learn which conscious ways of thinking can release you from that negative emotion.
Guilt is one of the most complicated but common emotions; therefore, I'm starting my blog by writing my first post about healing from guilt.
Dealing with guilt through understanding the purpose of the emotion.
We consider guilt a complex emotion because guilt can serve several purposes. To deal with guilt and eventually release it, you must understand "what for" you feel guilty. You may notice I wrote "what for" instead of the usual question "why."
If this is the first blog you see, I highly encourage you to start with the introductory blog
The Methodology of Dealing with Negative Emotions. In that blog, I explain the Adlerian concept of asking "what for" do we feel what we feel.
If you read it and remember the methodology, please skip it.
When feeling guilty is healthy:
In the discussion on dealing with guilt, it's worthwhile to appreciate that guilt is also a very healthy emotion. Feeling guilty can help us grow in loyalty, honesty, and modesty and generally allow us to mature.
The healthy use of guilt is when we acknowledge that something needs to be changed and when we make those necessary modifications. A simple example would be that you lied, felt guilty about it, and went to that person to be honest about your lying.
When emotions become unhealthy:
Apart from guilt, there are many emotions we are better off without. On the page List of Negative Emotions, you will get help identifying which emotions have a negative impact on mental and physical health if you feel them uncontrollably, quite often or chronically.
The purposes of guilt:
Guilt and self-punishment:
Unhealthy ways to use guilt are, for example, for self-punishment. If you were told as a child to feel guilty when you did something wrong or not well enough, this voice in you might continue to expect punishment when it says it's necessary. If the conditioning was presented as logic, the concept of "wrongdoings deserve punishment" may persevere unquestioned and not re-considered since it's stored in the subconscious mind.
This can play out in ways where you may not allow yourself to enjoy nice things and moments, to be successful, or to have a good life overall because you judge your decisions as bad or not good enough; therefore, self-punishment seems necessary.
Healing this form of guilt requires acknowledging that you continue believing what you were told as a child. With empathy and the understanding that no human is perfect, healing is happening. As an adult, you now have the opportunity to create voices in your head that represent the parent or caretaker you wished you had. If the new inner dialogue is kind, tolerant, empathic, and compassionate, you will feel much freer and enjoy life much more in a few months of discipline in choosing the new talk.
Defying obligations by feeling guilt:
Another way guilt can be used is for not taking responsibility for one's choices without openly admitting that. This is applied in situations where you know you should do something, but you don't want to do it. Instead of approving that to yourself and being ok with not wanting to do it, you feel guilty, hoping to get off the hook for poor behavior (poor behavior according to your own judgment).
Similarly, to use guilt for defying obligations, the emotion can also be used to excuse yourself from acting appropriately, except that in this case, when you feel guilty, you're already suffering. So why should you add the burden of changing?
In these cases, healing from guilt happens when you allow yourself to not want to do something. You can say to yourself: "It's ok. Today I don't feel like it's a priority or a must, and I will cope with the consequences of my choice." As a child, you were told what you had to do, but today, that's not the case anymore.
Or, you can agree that you couldn't know as much as you comprehend now by the moment you made the choice. In that sense, to err is human.
Feeling guilty to protect from anger:
Guilt can also be used to protect yourself from anger. Instead of acknowledging anger, you feel guilty, believing it's better to feel bad about your response to a person than to let the person know you're angry.
Healing can happen when you accept that anger is a "normal" emotion and that others are strong enough to deal with you being angry. Of course, I trust you know where the boundaries are with expressing anger, but raising the voice a bit and throwing some angry words at someone can happen to all of us.
When guilt is used for moral purposes:
The next three purposes of guilt are to try to make a good impression and be moral when we're not.
Display superiority through guilt:
A widespread way to use guilt is to feel superior to others. This could show when you do something wrong, but at least you feel guilty where others don't even have the decency to feel bad for it. In that case, the others are judged as lesser good people than those who suffer.
Healing starts when comparison ends. Every person could write a book of sins.
You don't need to look down on others to feel better. It's about you and what you did. If you want to make the necessary changes, do them; if not, it's ok too. Others struggle with challenges just as much as you do, and you can meet others with compassion when they haven't got it all perfectly together, either.
Express good intentions:
Sometimes guilt can also be used to express good intentions we really don't have.
Guilt and looking good:
In general, and mainly when we convey to others that we feel guilty, it's to look good because we want to be seen as a person with moral standards. To display the dynamics of this form of using guilt, I again like to make a connection to what a child is learning from the adults. In this case, it's most likely learned through parents feeling guilty for their behavior towards the child and apologizing to restore their image. I'm not saying apologizing is wrong; however, if the intentions are pure, we prevent ourselves from acting inappropriately. In this context, I encourage my clients to have thoughts about self-integrity. Doing something we label wrong and wanting to look good by feeling guilty is moving us away from a very peaceful and powerful virtue: integrity.
Physical consequences of guilt:
Feeling guilty has the potential to only harms our mental health, but we can also pay the price physically. This emotion is often felt in the chest and can cause cardiovascular diseases, which are diseases of the heart and blood vessels. Cardiovascular diseases account for a large proportion of deaths worldwide because, as I mentioned at the beginning, guilt is a very common emotion.
Guilt is also often felt in the neck and can, due to that imbalance, create tension on the neck and shoulders but also move down to the lower back.
From the exchange with my clients and other healers I believe that the blockages in chakras is in the throat and heart chakra.
Healing from guilt:
The easiest way to release guilt is by being kind, tolerant, and permissive to oneself. Unfortunately, by making a child feel guilty, one can control their short-term behavior, but we don't do the infant a favor by making them feel guilty. And we don't do ourselves a favor when continuing to choose to feel guilty.
If you can relate to a version of a guilt's purpose and want to start living guilt-free,
don't be concerned that you will become irresponsible, thoughtless, or ruthless
without the guilt-tripping voices in your head. The main reason the
conditioning is maintained is that one may subconsciously believe it's
necessary because that's a concept the child gets to hear too.
In the opening post The Methodology of Dealing with Negative Emotions, I explain something I believe is worth repeating to remind you that you have choices:
The "What For" do I feel what I feel is indivisibly connected to your choice to confirm to yourself that you deserve to feel guilty. The subconscious wants to confirm what we once subjectively accepted as truth. By becoming conscious of your purpose for feeling guilty, you allow yourself to make healthier choices.
Yes, you may have failed or are failing right now, you have done wrong or are doing wrong today, you may have made a bad decision, or you are now living the consequences of a bad decision. You are weak sometimes, and these imperfections make you equal to other human beings.
Every step we take to move on from beliefs we adopted during childhood that create
negative feelings is a remarkable act of courage leading to maturity and a more
loyal relationship to Self.
G. McKay and D. Dinkmeyer, who I mentioned on the about me page and my work, wrote a fantastic book called: How You Feel Is Up To You. I recommend it very much
I hope this post was helpful.
The next post will discuss how to deal with shame and heal.
Until then, I'm sending you from sunny Engadine: "ün raz da sulai per tai," which is Romansh and means "a ray of sunshine for you."