This post was updated on Nov 29, 2022
Most people feel guilty from time to time. You may feel guilt because you feel like you’ve done something wrong. Or you may even feel guilt for having a thought. Or, you may feel guilt when your thoughts and behaviors don’t match the expectations of your family or culture. The ways we experience and respond to guilt can vary greatly, as not everyone processes their emotions in the same way.
However negative your associations with feelings of guilt may be, its purpose can actually be quite positive. Look at it this way: if an action causes you to feel negative emotions or has a negative consequence, you’ll probably feel guilty later on. This is your mind’s way of informing you that what you did was “wrong”, at least by your own standards. Essentially, guilt serves an important role in helping you make morally sound decisions.
Unfortunately, guilt can turn excessive and cause a variety of obsessive or depressive tendencies that can damage your overall well-being and your relationships. If you experience excessive guilt on a regular basis, you may want to start by understanding the reasons why and devising ways to cope.
Fortunately, there are numerous ways that you can minimize the effects of guilt, including sessions with a relationship coach, healthy relationship workshop activities, honest communication, and self-reflection. In the meantime, read on to learn more about guilt.
What Causes Feelings Of Guilt?
Guilt can creep up on you for a whole range of reasons, some of which are perfectly rational. Others, not so much.
Rational guilt arises when you feel like you’ve done something wrong, that is, you’ve violated your own values and are going against your moral compass. For example, you may feel guilt because you have:
- Hurt someone.
- Otherwise broken your own moral code.
This form of guilt helps you regulate your social behavior and keep you on the right track toward achieving your goals. Nevertheless, even rational guilt can eat away at you, especially if you struggle with changing your behaviors.
Irrational guilt is a different animal. It tends to come from our “shoulds”, that is, the rules we impose on ourselves. For instance, you may feel irrational guilt for:
- Mistakenly assuming responsibility for other people’s feelings and behaviors.
- Feeling like you are a burden to your loved ones.
- Feeling like you haven’t done enough to make people happy.
- Feeling like you’re not doing anything meaningful in your life.
Of course, these are just a couple of examples of irrational guilt. You may feel guilt for a wide variety of different reasons unique to you. However, no matter the cause, irrational guilt can impact your mood, reduce your productivity and concentration, damage your relationships and actions in numerous ways.
The difficult thing about irrational guilt is that it can easily disguise itself as rational guilt. After all, who says that it’s irrational to feel guilty about not spending enough time with your family? Or to feel guilty because you’re not taking enough opportunities in your life because of your perceived laziness? The thing is, this sort of reasoning often comes from an underlying anxiety or thoughts that you imported without reflection. If left to linger, irrational guilt can nag at you, regardless of what you actually do. In a sense, it tends to become even more irrational over time.
What Are The Signs Of Guilt?
Guilt can result in a variety of physical, social, and emotional symptoms that influence your daily actions. Some of these may include the following:
- Sleep disturbances
- Stomach and digestion problems
- Muscle tension
- Heightened sensitivity to the effects of your actions
- Feeling overwhelmed by decision making
- An extreme tendency to put others’ needs before your own
- Impaired self-esteem
- A persistent tendency to avoid uncomfortable emotions
How Guilt Can Ruin A Relationship
Excessive guilt can have a detrimental effect on your romantic relationships. Ask yourself how many things in your life do you do out of guilt and obligation? Or out of fear that you may be losing your partner?
You may go along with what your partner wants (or what you think they want) because you fear they may find someone better and leave you. Or you might fear being judged by your partner’s family and friends, so you try to impress them. As you can see, guilt and fear often go hand in hand. Together, they may cause feelings of uneasiness in your relationship, make it harder for you to open up, and cause feelings of resentment.
Evaluate the ways in which you respond to feelings of guilt – you may find that it controls your life far more than you thought, especially when it comes to intimate relationships.
How Do You Deal With Guilt In A Relationship?
It can be quite hard to let go of persistent relationship patterns, especially when they are fueled by guilt. Still, you can learn to handle excessive guilt and overcome its effects. Here are some guidelines:
- Develop better self-regulation skills and take action if you feel that your guilt is justified.
- Practice mindfulness and meditation to put your guilt into perspective.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself and learn forgiveness.
- Learn from your guilt and your mistakes.
- Keep your perfectionism in check and remember that your perspective may be skewed by your high expectations.
- Speak with a relationship coach and discuss your guilt in depth to gain a new perspective.
Visit A PIVOT Couple Workshop For Deepening Your Relationship
Whether you are dealing with rational or irrational feelings of guilt, speaking with a knowledgeable and compassionate relationship coach can be of great help. At PIVOT, we are dedicated to helping you and others like you develop a healthy relationship with emotions and facilitate positive behavioral change.
Whether you opt for our individual coaching sessions or attend any of our intensive relationship workshops and retreats, we can provide you with invaluable tools and resources to help you on your journey towards becoming a healthy adult. Contact PIVOT now to learn more.