Normally, guilt is brought on when you do something bad, such as stealing, cheating or even lying. It’s when we commit an offense or break the rules that we are consciously responsible and therefore blameworthy. But from a psychologist’s point of view, guilt doesn’t work “logically”. Often, the roles of victim and perpetrator are reversed, and it’s those who are in fact innocent blame themselves. Let’s take a closer look at this feeling which prevents us from living our lives.
Where does this heightened feeling of guilt come from?
The causes go back to childhood
You often have to go back quite far to understand why, when faced with a difficulty, our initial reflex is to blame ourselves. The way we perceive ourselves originates from childhood. When we are very young, we don’t distinguish between us and others; we understand ourselves through their gaze. When we don’t feel loved or wanted, and are traumatized and mocked, we feel we don’t deserve to be loved. In other words, we are guilty.
This feeling gets worse if, as a child, you go through a painful or upsetting event, such as the loss of a loved one or your parents getting divorced. We automatically associate these situations with ourselves, and we believe that everything is our fault. And this doesn’t get better when we grow up.
Life isn’t always easy, and we often have to go through challenging times, like brutal break-ups or workplace bullying. When faced with all that, it’s normal to be upset and more sensitive. But if you naturally tend to feel culpable, you will react by being totally devastated. It is sometimes normal to cry or feel depressed, but not to the point of having a breakdown. If this is the case, however, it’s because our inner child is in distress.
A misunderstanding that can become damaging
When lacking hindsight and confidence, we start to question ourselves. Let’s go back to the example of a break-up that we didn’t see coming. “Is it my fault? What did I do wrong to deserve this?”. Misunderstanding in certain situations can be very damaging. What’s more, our emotions prevent us from taking a step back from the situation. So, left alone, frustrated and with no explanations, we point the finger at ourselves and feel guilty.
Fear of disappointing also plays a role
We might also blame ourselves for all the harm that has been caused through fear of disappointing others and ourselves. Arising from an upbringing full of humiliation, shame, emotional blackmail and blame, we leave no room for error (which is, however, part of what it means to be human). Failing an exam, not reaching our personal or sporting goals, brings back our fear of judgement! If we do not meet certain expectations, we fear others might belittle us, because deep down we desperately lack confidence. Instead of taking the blame, some people accept failure, seeing it as lesson… and they’re right!
You will agree that all this is unhealthy for us! We are not encouraging you to become the king of selfish people, but constantly living for others stops you from being happy. By doing what is right by others, you forget about yourself, and even worse, you take responsibility for their suffering and their problems.
Next time you feel bad because the blame is being put onto you, say to yourself, “everyone has their own problems”. If the person you are speaking to refuses to move on and makes no effort to re-examine the situation, then that’s their problem. Instead, concentrate on yourself… and we’re going to help you!
How do you stop feeling guilty for no reason?
If you have felt guilty all your life, you won’t instantly stop feeling like that. This feeling is ingrained in you, but good news: it’s not impossible to overcome. The outcome of your work will be seen over time, and to help you, here are our 11 top tips:
- Identify the times when this happens to you: That’s the first step! Take note that this is it, you have experienced said scenario, and you are going to feel bad immediately after. It’s through recognizing the problem that you will be able to better deal with it. Over time, you will experience the situation less intensely because you will have anticipated it, you won’t be so taken aback by your tendency to feel guilty. Little by little, you will stop listening to the traumatized child and will become more grown up.
- Transforming today’s failure into a lesson: Blame can sometimes be valuable. Take, for example, excessive and unnecessary spending, or an argument where what we say has gone beyond what we actually think: afterwards, you will feel so bad that you know next time you will control yourself a bit better. Knowing your weaknesses is a strength.
- Work out who is actually at fault: Sometimes you are blamed, and you don’t know why. Even after taking a step back from the situation, we can’t see what’s wrong with our behavior. In that case, it is highly likely that the other person should take a closer look at themselves and their behavior. Use your analytical skills!
- Take an outsider’s perspective: if you think you are to blame, it’s probably because you haven’t taken the whole context into account. Your perspective might be misleading as it is influenced by past hurt. A loved one or a specialist might be useful for making you reflect. Sometimes the act of recounting what has happened allows you to realize that the guilt wasn’t truly justified.
- Accept that we don’t have control over everything: we are human beings, not superheroes! We can’t therefore carry the burden of all the poverty in the world. What’s more, we are not alone on Earth and can’t control external factors. Accidents, the suicide of a loved one; there are events that we can unfortunately not stop, despite what we think.
- Think about yourself and allow yourself a few lapses: It’s sorted then, a simple chocolate bar won’t ruin all your efforts, nor will it wreck your “healthy” plans. If you agree to let go from time to time, and be less demanding, you will feel less guilty. Logical, right?
- Say sorry to those that we might have hurt: even if it seems complicated because of the mistakes made, by saying sorry you will ease your conscience! Some weights are too heavy to carry round with us!
- Forgive: It’s an important tool for restoring your self-esteem and for no longer blaming yourself or living in the past. No one can change the past, but it’s not too late to forge on ahead!
- Go back to the root of the problem: understanding why you react in this manner is the best way to regain control. Often, our reactions are hiding a past trauma. Keep a progress diary if that helps! By describing and dating what happened to you, you will be able to keep track of everything, then take a step back and see that in fact, you shouldn’t have been that hard on yourself in the first place!
- Paying yourself compliments on a daily basis: frequently repeating to ourselves that we are simply human or listing our positive qualities isn’t classed as being narcissistic! In fact, these tips help us become aware of our strengths and help us arm ourselves with the confidence needed to better confront this emotion!
- Knowing how to say no: these two letters will allow you to assert yourself! By refusing to put yourself in a situation that will embarrass you, you will stop yourself from feeling terrible.
The feeling of guilt makes you suffer and can lead, in the most serious cases, to suicide. In extreme cases, it therefore becomes pathological, and it is essential that you consult a specialist to deconstruct this pattern.
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