Guilt is a feeling that often arises when we have done something wrong or when we feel that we are not right or enough. Most of us have felt guilt at some point in our lives. Some of us tend to experience guilt quite often and to create a more stable pattern where guilt is something that pops up easily for no major reason.
We may feel guilty about our bad behavior, about a mistake we made, about the fact that we failed to cope with a demand or difficulty, or for not responding to a condition as we should. The sense of guilt we have can correspond to the actual condition and the magnitude of what happened, or it can be disproportionate, that is, the way we interpret the situation and the negative feeling we feel is ultimately much greater than what would be expected.
Guilt can be encountered in every area of our lives, whether in our personal or academic and professional life.
«I feel guilty when I have fun and I don’t study, because my parents sacrifice so much so that I can be at university. »
A., student of DUTH, 20 years old
Feeling guilty about something that has happened that goes against our values and socially accepted norms, or hurts someone else, can be seen as useful and rewarding, helping us to make amends for our mistakes and preventing us from repeating negative behaviors. But when we feel that guilt possesses us and that it is a feeling that comes often and without sufficient reason or is disproportionate to the cause, then it begins to work really burdensome and not helpful for us. In this case it has nothing substantial to offer us, it only damages.
What is the cause of guilt?
In our contact with others we seek acceptance and often put their needs and opinions above our own. We need validation and recognition. We want to be accepted by others so that they don’t abandon us or reject us. This creates pressure and when we don’t get the desired results we feel bad. Our guilt is connected to the insecurity we feel, to low self-esteem, to a lack of confidence in ourselves and our strengths. We try to make up for self-esteem through acceptance from others.
Perhaps this has its basis in our childhood and the environment in which we grew up. It may have been an environment with a lot of boundaries and rules, where our personal expression, needs and desires didn’t have as much room to grow. We have learned to respond to the needs and expectations of others, often leaving our own needs unsatisfied.
«I feel like whatever I did was never enough for my parents. I got 18 and they were disappointed because I didn’t get 20. They constantly compared me to my friends and, no matter what I did, they always thought I could do better. Nothing was enough to please them. »
M., student of DUTH, 19 years old
Many times the demands from others are high and the person feels that in order to have their love must constantly proves how capable is and work according to how they wish.
How does the guilty person behave?
A person who is often possessed by guilt tends to exhibit several of the following behaviors:
• Difficulty in setting boundaries.
• Doesn’t say no.
• Stresses to please everyone.
• Constantly apologizes and blames itself for everything that happens.
• Has excessive demands on itself.
• Wants to be liked.
• Cares a lot about what other people think.
• Has no confidence.
• Feels disadvantaged.
• Often feels anxious and worried.
• Stresses and tries too hard.
How can we deal with guilt?
A person who feels that can no longer bear the burden of guilt and has the desire to get rid of it, could try to adopt some of the following suggestions:
• To value himself/herself and his/her abilities more.
• To accept who he/she is, recognizing and embracing all his/her elements (positive and negative).
• To recognize and respect his/her wishes and needs.
• Be kind to himself/herself.
• To set limits where necessary and to learn to claim what he/she wants.
• To recognize where his/her guilt comes from and to try to change patterns of behavior and association with others and with himself/herself.
It is not easy for someone to part with his/her guilt. It is a behavior that has been firmly structured for a long time. But it is worth working in the direction of change in order to be able to get rid of their burden. The sense of satisfaction someone will have afterwards, will be great and remarkable.