Imagine just another ordinary day in your life. You wake up at the same time, do your morning routine, and eat breakfast. But then, you get that text. It’s your dad, and you suddenly remember you were supposed to call him yesterday to see him and help him out for a small project that he can’t do it alone and wish him a happy birthday.. Even without opening the text, you feel a sinking feeling in your chest and stomach.
You imagine your poor dad sitting all alone in his house, mournfully lamenting his son’s lack of contact on his special day. A shower of self-critical thoughts begins to cascade down upon you. It’s a slow drizzle at first, but by the time you get to work, it’s a downpour of judgmental and harsh attacks on your character. You’re too busy, too selfish, and a bad son ,and you start the guilt ride ,even though you called and apologized and told him that you will make it up for him.
This is guilt. We all know the feeling, and it is a powerfully absorbing experience. It has a magnifying quality to it, making small errors and oversights seem like glaring assaults on the people we care about. Many people around the world live with a recurring sense of excessive guilt that triggers too easily, lasts too long, and leaves a wreckage of self-esteem and confidence in its wake. The good news is that excessive guilt doesn’t have to rule your life, and freeing yourself from its grasp is entirely possible.
We recognizes our faults, mistakes and past stupid action we took, but we repent ,apologized, and took a great effort to correct our actions and mistakes, and turned to God to cleanse and purify us , and be a good example, yet other people fixed their mind on the old you, the previous mistakes and action and not what you have become ,not on the new you .People always focus on the negative due to evolution of the mind that make them to focus on issues that might harm them as part of their survival mechanism.
Let’s start with a basic definition – what is guilt? Through countless hours of clinical observation, I’ve found that the emotion of guilt originates from a perception that you’ve done something wrong, which leads to a mixture of anxiety and pressure. The anxiety is based on the prediction that something ‘bad’ will happen. That’s why in some cases people who have severe anxiety and pressure with guilt are more prone to feel and sense the paranormal.
For example, others might be upset, or you might be judged or disliked, or you might feel ashamed of yourself – which leads to a loss of love, connection, opportunity or your status as a ‘good person’. Then there’s the pressure. The pressure to apologies, fix the situation and otherwise ‘make it right’ to experience the relief of absolution.
At the right level, the anxiety and pressure created by guilt can be useful, and can have a positive impact on our relationships. When my brother Sam God bless his soul took my toy and then sees him sobbing, he might feel some compunction to return the toys and make amends. When you snap at your spouse, sibling, parent or child, you might feel a similar unease until you’ve righted the ship and either apologized or acted with greater patience and kindness.
This is what I call healthy guilt. Healthy guilt creates an invisible force field, helping us operate within a band of behavior that’s aligned with our values. It ensures we’re responsive to the needs of those close to us, and allows us to have warm, positive relationships.
But what happens when guilt goes wrong? Sometimes, our trigger for guilt is too sensitive and fires off inappropriately, or to an extreme degree for minor offences. This is known as excessive guilt – or unhealthy guilt – and is exactly what this Guide can help you with.
To understand whether the guilt you’re experiencing is unhealthy, it’s helpful to think about rules. All guilt essentially occurs when you’ve broken one of your rules. Some rules are valuable and generally support you and others, such as ‘Don’t steal money’ or ‘don’t verbally attack those you love’, and these rules tend to drive healthy guilt. Other rules, such as ‘You must always say yes’ or ‘Don’t disappoint others’ or ‘Never get angry’ can be toxic cages that keep you trapped in perpetual suffering – and lead to unhealthy guilt.
Identifying when the guilt you’re experiencing is unhealthy or excessive will help you begin to detach from it. In the five-step process below, you’ll learn exactly how to do that. For now, here are a few simple guidelines to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy guilt:
I forgot Dad’s birthday! Oh man, that’s pretty bad. I feel awful. Ouch. OK, what can I do now to make it right? First things first, I can call him straight away and leave him a voicemail if he doesn’t pick up. When I get home today, I’ll record and send a video of the kids singing her Happy Birthday, that will light him up. And I’m going to put a reminder in my calendar right now for next year so I don’t make this mistake again. Thats also true for those who misses a child birthday, a wife anniversary, and so on.
Notice how this voice acknowledges the error, without trying to deny or downplay it. It also focuses primarily on what can be done now to make things right, all without tearing yourself to shreds or verbally abusing yourself. Contrast that voice of healthy guilt with that of unhealthy guilt:
I forgot dad’s birthday! Oh man, that’s terrible, Poor Dad. How could I do this to him? He must feel awful. Wow, that’s so bad of me. What the heck was I doing yesterday anyway? Why didn’t I remember? He must be so sad and upset, and it’s my fault. Hs health isn’t so good right now anyways, and here I am abandoning him on his birthday, which is only going to make him worse. I always do this kind of thing, I’m so self-absorbed. I’m an awful son.
Can you feel the difference between these two internal monologues? Can you feel how the second one is heavy like molasses, a burden that makes it hard to take effective, corrective action? This can lead to prolonged periods of procrastination, avoidance or low mood.
But if your excessive guilt stems more from minor transgressions and unreasonable rules, such as in the second birthday monologue described above, let’s talk about exactly what to do to free yourself from what’s going on.
Most commonly, people manage unhealthy, excessive guilt by doing their best to please everyone around them and avoiding upsetting others at all costs. If that sounds like a bad strategy to you, you’re absolutely right. We can do much better.
In fact, it’s possible to use each instance of guilt to clarify your values, determine the rules that you actually want to live by, and free yourself from the perceptions and demands of others. To do this, I will share a five-step process that I’ve used with hundreds of clients to help them liberate themselves from excessive guilt:
- Acknowledge and allow the guilt
The first step in liberating ourselves from anything is to actually acknowledge and allow it. Initially, you might not even notice you feel guilty. Because the feelings of guilt can be painful, your impulse might be to stay in motion, distract yourself or compulsively apologies. But, instead of reacting to guilt, you should examine it.
Slow down, withdraw from screens and other people, and take a few minutes to be with your own emotions and bodily feelings. What do you notice? Are you uncomfortable? Do you have racing, anxious thoughts? Are you restless or agitated in your body? Do you feel tightness in your chest or throat? Do you have a sinking feeling in your stomach? These are all possible signs of guilt.
Now observe your thoughts – I call this the ‘voice of guilt’, and it’s very important to notice how it’s speaking to you. Recall the example above and the chart differentiating healthy vs. unhealthy guilt. Does the voice sound calm and loving, while still recognizing you’ve made a mistake? If so, this is probably healthy guilt. Or is it angry and critical, like a raging parent who’s lost it – a chastising voice telling you what you should or shouldn’t have done? If your thoughts are telling you that your actions make you fundamentally selfish, mean or inconsiderate, then it’s most likely unhealthy guilt.
Whatever guilt you’re experiencing, when you notice it arising, you can actually identify it out loud. This is powerful, even if you’re alone. Simply say: ‘Ahh, this is guilt.’ Acknowledgement provides a powerful fuel for change. Allow your-self to sit with the feelings and thoughts, and experience them for a moment. During this step, it’s also important to keep in mind the fallacy of emotional reasoning: just because you feel guilty, doesn’t automatically mean you’ve done something terribly wrong. This leads us to our next step.
- Identify the rule(s) you’ve broken
This is the next step in neutralizing unhealthy guilt because it will give you valuable information about what’s happening and how to deal with it. Figuring out what rule you’ve broken will help you determine if this is healthy or unhealthy guilt – if this is something pointing you towards being your best self, or just another sneaky pattern of perfectionism and self-hatred.
- Determine if the guilt is healthy or unhealthy
Remember, healthy guilt is a feeling that arises when you’ve broken a realistic rule that you actually do value and aspire to live by. This guilt is guiding you to get on track and be the kind of person you want to be in the world. It reminds you of what matters most, and inspires you to live in alignment with your values. It’s a positive force for change and is rooted in love – for your-self and for others.
Unhealthy guilt is a form of punishment and self-attack. It can arise when you’ve broken a rule that’s rigid, extreme or not in alignment with what you really value. It can also arise when you’ve broken a rule you do value but, instead of motivating positive change, the guilt becomes excessive and toxic.
When we feel unhealthy guilt, we often overestimate how much others are annoyed or hurt by our actions, thereby artificially magnifying our transgressions. We then use this distorted data to conclude that we’ve done something wrong and must be punished for our sins. We think that if we punish ourselves enough, and suffer sufficiently for our badness, then we’ll atone for our transgression. But this approach to improving our relationships or personal actions doesn’t positively influence behavior, and is rooted in fear.
To determine whether you’re experiencing healthy or unhealthy guilt, it helps to look at the underlying rules that you broke. Look at your list of broken rules and ask yourself: do I want to live by these rules? Do they reflect my values? Are they realistic? Do they take into account variations in the environment and the fact that I’m a human?
- Understand the message
This step allows you to turn the unpleasant feelings of guilt into a positive experience that benefits both you and others. When I was ready to go to be my 2 cats want to play as they slept already most of the morning and now I am screaming at them and they get more upset , they want to play, then they wanted to eat more treats and started scratching the door to wake me up, I started scramming at them.
Eventually, both cats slept at my feet. Thank God Sweet relief. I passed out next to them , listening to the soothing sound of their burring. But I awoke the next morning with a pang in my heart. Good morning, guilt. My mind began reflecting on moments from the previous night’s bedtime, seeing all the ways I was being so harsh on my cats and responsive to their demands to play and eat more.. I felt upset with myself.
Is this healthy or unhealthy guilt? It all depends on what the message of the guilt is. First, I checked the rules (Step 2). The rules I broke were pretty clear: I should be patient with my cats ; I should be non-reactive to their wild behaviors; and come from a place of connection and love when attempting to influence them. I shouldn’t convey the message that they’re bad for being awake or doing something else over which they have little control, they are cats and that what cat love to do they sleep in morning and play at night ,most of them. They are nocturnal animal.
- Take new action
The truth is, you can’t beat yourself into being a better person. Attacking, judging, punishing and criticizing yourself won’t lead to improvement. This is an antiquated and unexamined pattern that many of us fall into, despite it clearly not working. Instead, focus on what you can do now. If your mind keeps pulling you back to your supposed transgressions, how bad they were, and what a bad person you are, simply label that as unhealthy guilt and remind yourself that it’s not serving you. To help yourself snap out of the hypnotic trance of excessive guilt, you can stand up, take a few breaths and move your body around the room. Say out loud: ‘This kind of self-attack is not helpful. I can do so much better.’
This is how you can manage unhealthy guilt, and let it transform you in positive ways. Get out of your head and into your heart. Feel whatever is there and keep meeting it with love and forgiveness, even if your mind tells you that it’s unforgivable. It’s not. Forgiveness is infinite and always accessible.
You might also think about the kind of rules you want to live by long-term. If the guilt you’re experiencing is due to an extreme, unrealistic or long-standing rule that you don’t want to live by, then proclaim that. Decide right here and now that you’re going to choose something different. You can do this with a proclamation, starting with this powerful phrase: ‘In my reality…’ For example:
In my reality, it’s OK to say no when I want to or need to.
In my reality, it’s OK for others to temporarily feel disappointed.
In my reality, it’s OK to speak up for myself and state my perspective.
This is an essential method to confirm the new rules that you want to live by, ones that stand in sharp contrast to the old, unrealistic rules of excessive guilt.
On the other hand, if you realized during the previous steps that this is healthy guilt, and that you’ve broken a rule that reflects a core value, there might be some practical action you can take. Do you need to apologies to someone? Do you need to change your behavior, habits or ways of relating to certain people? Do you need to create a regular ritual or practice that will help you be more patient, kind, caring, present or relaxed?
Take a moment to decide on the corrective behavior and commit to doing it now. Let the discomfort, anxiety and pressure of the healthy guilt be a positive force to guide your behavior from here on out. Do you notice how liberating that feels?
- Guilt is a feeling of anxiety and pressure that arises when we think we’ve broken an important rule. Guilt can serve a healthy function when it guides us to adhere to realistic rules that create positive relationships and behaviors.
- Guilt can turn unhealthy or excessive when it’s triggered in response to rules that are unrealistic or that we don’t really believe in. Unhealthy guilt leads to harsh self-criticism that’s not constructive.
- When you’re feeling guilty, acknowledge it out loud, discover what rule(s) you’ve broken, and determine if you actually believe in those rules.
- Determine if they’re overly rigid, simplistic or otherwise unreasonable.
- Interrupt harsh self-judgment and think about ways you might be exaggerating your transgression. Bring more compassion to yourself and the other people involved, and determine what corrective action you can take now to repair the situation (if needed). Then take that action swiftly.
Some people find that they experience unhealthy guilt very frequently. If that sounds like you, it might be helpful to examine in more detail the kind of rules you hold yourself to, and learn how to let them go. Specifically, many people who struggle with excessive guilt often have many unrealistic expectations of themselves related to perfectionist rules and inner demands. These rules are not based on personal core values but are instead based on completely unrealistic standards for human behavior, emotions and relationships. They are rigid, all-or-nothing, demanding and generally impossible to adhere to. These include rules such as:
I should never feel angry.
I should never feel anxious.
I should never make a mistake.
I should always know what to say.
I should never hurt anyone’s feelings.
I should never upset anybody.
I should always have total self-control.
I should be able to predict all outcomes.
I should foresee all problems and avoid them.
I should obtain now. (Insert any result you are striving towards.)
These kinds of rules push you to constantly try to perform better, get more done, meet everyone’s needs, always get back to people, please everybody and never make a mistake. And underneath all of them is one central theme: There’s something wrong with you. The more you listen to these rules and follow them unquestioningly, the worse you feel about yourself. The more insufficient, inadequate, unlovable and unworthy you think you are, regardless of external achievement or how much others love you, the guiltier you feel.
The rules above are insane. When you identify one of them, the message isn’t that you should strive harder or become even more self-sacrificing. The response in these situations is to slow down and let go of the demand on yourself to be superhuman. Let go of these insane rules that are driving you so hard and creating so much suffering. This set of rules is not your friend.
It might seem like it’s your inner coach, pushing you to ‘be your best’ or ‘be a good person’ but actually it’s the voice of self-hatred. It’s trying to push and coerce you into being what you imagine you should be, most likely in order to please others and finally feel worthy of recognition or love.
Something entirely new is possible. Find a way of relating to yourself with kindness, compassion, curiosity and warmth, a way of treating yourself as you would someone you love and want the best for, A way of life where you’re truly on your side, no matter what.
Steve Ramsey, PhD- Public Health.