Everyone feels guilty every now and then, particularly after they know that they’ve done something wrong and they feel bad for it. All individuals, from children to the elderly, feel guilt and have to learn how to deal with it and take the proper steps to alleviate feeling negatively about themselves. This is the emotion that teaches you to feel sorry for improper, negative, and hurtful actions, and it encourages you to make amends in order to make the shame go away and feel better about yourself and your actions. In that sense, it’s a positive thing.
But even though this emotion is completely natural and a normal part of being a human, in some individuals, it can go too far and become all-consuming. As with any other emotion that gets out of control, guilt can become a strain on a person’s life, and they may find it extremely difficult to get out from under the weight of the suffering it creates. A guilt complex, in particular, can result from being unable to cope with guilt and not knowing how to make amends for past wrongdoings.
To learn more about what causes people to feel guilty, depressed, or anxious, read this blog post on common mental disorders that affect many individuals who otherwise lead completely normal lives. You can also take this course in psychology to learn more about social psychology, in particular, and how people interact with one another and affect each other’s feelings. And if you’re feeling like guilt is weighing heavy on you but you aren’t even sure why, continue reading to learn more about the guilt complex and figure out if you suffer from it, as well as what you can do about it.
What’s a Guilt Complex?
A guilt complex is defined as an obsessive disorder in which you feel that you’ve done wrong and that you always do wrong. It’s considered a negative, internal emotion that you experience when you think that you’ve done something you shouldn’t have. And even if you didn’t cause someone else’s misfortune, pain, or suffering, if you think you’re responsible, you’ll still feel guilty. When you suffer with a guilt complex, you tend to blame yourself for everything that goes wrong both in your own life as well as in the lives of the people you care about.
What are the Typical Causes and Signs of Guilt?
Guilt can arise from a variety of situations, but it mostly occurs because you:
1. Know that you did something wrong. For example, you may have broken your own code of ethics or morals by cheating on your significant other or lying to someone you care about. Or you may have physically injured someone or even emotionally hurt someone else with your words or actions. In other cases, you may feel guilty because you fell back into an addiction or you gave in to a temptation that you’d worked so hard to resist. In all of these circumstances, you know that you did something wrong, and you actually did do something wrong. There’s no doubt that you’re guilty, so the feeling is expected and completely normal. Even other people around you will realize that you did something wrong and won’t blame you for feeling guilty.
Feeling guilty after having done something wrong is totally normal, so you shouldn’t be ashamed of it. Instead, you should be glad that you feel remorseful because, if you didn’t feel anything, you may be mentally unstable or psychotic and lacking empathy. In fact, if you live with someone who lacks feelings of guilt and empathy, you may wish to take this course, which will teach you how to deal with individuals who suffer with mental illness.
2. Think you did something wrong. Believe it or not, if you merely think you did something hurtful, it can produce the same amount–or even more–guilt that you’d experience if you actually did do it. These feelings can occur as a result of not really remembering what happened in the past but convincing yourself that you did something wrong. You may also feel guilty if you wished ill on someone and then something bad happened to them. In this case, even though you know it’s illogical to think that your mere thoughts caused someone else’s misfortune, you find it difficult to not feel guilty.
3. Thought about doing something wrong. A classic example of this type of guilt is mentally cheating on your significant other by fantasizing about another person. Though you may not have cheated in real life, just the fact that you thought about it in your mind is enough to make you feel horrible with feelings of remorse.
4. Think you could’ve done more to help someone. If someone you care about is suffering from a tragedy or an illness, you may do everything in your power to help them. But even if you do more than you should, or more than is expected, you may still run into feelings of guilt if you think you haven’t done enough. You may also end up feeling guilty if you think you could’ve done more if other commitments didn’t get in the way to stop you from being able to help. Much like people can suffer from compassion fatigue when working in medical facilities, rescues, etc., people who try to help their suffering friends and family can also experience this type of burnout and feel terrible about not being able to continue helping or for feeling the burnout in the first place.
5. Think that you’re living better than someone else. This is a type of guilt that you may experience if you outlive people you love during a natural disaster or tragedy, or if you simply feel that you’re living a more comfortable life than friends and family you care about. People who feel this type of guilt may turn to self-destructive tendencies that prevent them from living their lives to the fullest, even though the people around them want nothing more than for them to be truly happy and successful.
How Can You Get Rid of Guilt?
1. In the case of having done something you know was wrong, bear in mind that you may actually feel more guilty than the party that you hurt. For example, if you said something insulting to a friend, you may feel really sorry afterwards if they showed signs that they were upset with you for saying it. But, deep down, they may have let your negative comment go and moved on. In the meantime, you may still be thinking about it and feeling shameful. This could be a symptom that you suffer from a guilt complex, especially if you’re still incapable of moving on from the remorse after you’ve apologized. And if you still feel guilty after breaking your own moral code or letting yourself be tempted by an addiction you tried to quit, you could also be suffering from a guilt complex if you tried to let it go but absolutely can’t.
In these instances, it’s best to seek the support of others and also practice telling yourself that you can’t change the actions you committed in the past but you can certainly change yourself for the better in the present in order to prevent making the same mistakes in the future. The key is to understand that you’re an evolving human being and that the mistakes of your past are teachers that will make you an even better person if you simply learn from them and make the necessary changes. This is one of many ways to ensure your happiness.
2. In order to free yourself of the guilt that you feel from thinking you did something wrong, you need to simply convince yourself to be rational. For example, if you think you did something wrong in the past, be sure you aren’t making it up in your mind as a result of a false memory. In other words, if any wrongdoing actually took place, it makes sense to feel guilty. But if you know that you didn’t do anything wrong, there’s absolutely no need to feel guilty, so you can release the negative emotion, let go of the past, and focus on the present.
3. To get rid of feelings of shame because you thought about doing something wrong, practice accepting these thoughts and feelings as part of the person you are in the present. Then you can begin to change those thoughts so that you know that you’ll never end up acting them out. By recognizing that these thoughts are a part of who you are, you can take steps to avoid those thoughts so that you can, in time, change who you are for the better.
4. In the event of compassion guilt, it’s best to take a step back and tell yourself that you’ve done all that you can and that you need to take care of yourself for a little while so you can continue to do more. It’s important to convince yourself that, if you don’t recharge, you’ll only make yourself sicker and then be of no use to anyone. By taking a little bit of time out, you can jump right back into helping, and there’s no need to feel guilty about that, and no one will hold it against you if they know you’re experiencing burnout. In fact, they’ll probably encourage you to take care of yourself just as much as you’re trying to take care of them.
5. If you suffer from guilt as a result of your own success and happiness as compared to that of others, just tell yourself that you won’t be helping anyone by not living out your dreams. People who love you are happy for you and don’t want you to fail. And your unhappiness or failure won’t bring someone back from the dead either, so you must learn to accept the loss and move on, knowing that they would want you to be content and guilt-free.
Guilt can arise in many different forms, but each can be extremely destructive and inhibit you from being fulfilled and feeling worthy of joy and love. If you suffer with feelings of guilt, try to evaluate what type of guilt you feel and take steps to alleviate it on your own. If this doesn’t work, you can take a course that will help you ease stress and anxiety, or you can talk to a psychologist who can help you sort through your emotions and give you valuable advice on how to overcome your guilt complex at last.