Guilt: Healthy vs Unhealthy and Steps to Setting Yourself Free.

We all feel guilt in our lives, however, when we begin to feel overwhelming feelings of guilt it is important to determine if it is becoming toxic to us.

Guilt is feelings that we experience when we think that we have done something wrong. It’s the sense that we’ve done something that we shouldn’t have or haven’t done something we should have.

Healthy guilt allows us to monitor our right and wrongs. When we feel healthy guilt it can help us to become motivated to change behaviors that do not align with our morals, the laws of society and codes of conduct. It allows us to consider the feelings of others while increasing compassion for them. Healthy guilt allows us to take responsibility for our own behaviors. It can help us to increase our self-control by encouraging us to manage the need for instant gratification. It increases self-respect by increasing boundaries with others and not allowing them to take advantage of us. It allows us to balance our needs with the needs of others. In addition, if we feel guilty about not meeting our potential it may trigger us to try something new such as volunteering, trying a new skill or getting a better job if we are feeling dissatisfied.

Unhealthy guilt is like healthy guilt out of control and can feel toxic. Unhealthy guilt can make us feel responsible when we are not such as if we are constantly worried about someone else and constantly feeling responsible for their emotions when we are not. Unhealthy guilt is when a victim feels responsible for what happened to them. It often makes us give, give, give, even when we are depleted and the inability to say, “no”. This type of guilt can lie to us and make us think of excuses to allow the truth of a situation to be distorted. This can often make us feel trapped by always pleasing others and not allowing ourselves to do what we want or need. It can make us blame and doubt ourselves for everything because we are too afraid that we will not be loved by others. Unhealthy guilt makes us feel that we have to do it all by ourselves resulting in feeling trapped by it.

Unhealthy guilt does not have to trap you and don’t we owe it to ourselves to set ourselves free from this guilt? Some strategies to help free us from this guilt begins with being truthful to ourselves.

  • Honesty: Admit to ourselves that we have allowed others to use guilt to trap us.
  • Boundaries: It’s important that we acknowledge that we have a right to be respected and have needs of our own. Once we are honest with ourselves setting boundaries with others and learning to say, “no”.
  • Consistency: Be consistent with the boundaries. At first, others may not like it and may rebel. Continue to set those boundaries as it will let other people know that you mean business.
  • Feel the distress: It’s important to know that this can be distressing as you are used to “fixing” things and accommodating others. This can be difficult but as others begin to accept these new behaviors their rebelliousness should begin to decline and they will learn to accept it or not. Be aware that letting go of unhealthy relationships may be part of the process.
  •  Monitor: It is important to monitor your thoughts and feelings to avoid slipping back into old behaviors. If you find yourself falling back into those behaviors take an honesty inventory with yourself and get back on track.
  • Self-Compassion: Throughout this process, it is important to be compassionate with ourselves. Changing behaviors is no easy task so remind yourself you are doing it and you deserve it.

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(510) 947-8041