It's normal to feel bad when you’ve hurt a loved one's feelings. The guilt you feel shows that you acknowledge the wrong you've done. It also implies a sense of empathy. But too much guilt can be a bad thing, and it's important to keep that emotion under control. After all, it's part of caring for your physical and mental health. The mind and the body are intertwined, so if your mind is distraught, your body is sure to feel the adverse effects.
What is Guilt and How Do You Know You Have It?
According to psychology experts, guilt is defined as a painful or uncomfortable awareness that one has made a mistake. Often, it's accompanied by the desire to take action to undo it. To put it simply: Guilt is when you feel bad because you feel like you did something wrong.
Here are some telltale signs of guilt:
• Low self-esteem
• Irritability, especially when faced with criticism
• Social withdrawal
• Hyperawareness of all your actions
• Feeling afraid of doing the "wrong" thing
Take note that guilt is different from shame. Though it is also a negative emotion, shame differs in that it is characterized more by feelings of inadequacy. It does not require wrongdoing to be felt. As such, a person can feel guilt and shame at the same time, but they're not the same emotion.
How to Cope with Guilt in a Healthy Manner
Confront your guilt
The more you push away your guilt, the more dangerous it becomes for your wellbeing. It's a way of suppressing your emotions and that can negatively affect your physical and mental health. For example, your can muscles tighten from the mental stress, causing pain in your head and neck. To avoid this, it's best to face the source of your guilt and work towards acknowledging it.
Avoid negative self-talk
It's so easy to be critical of yourself when you make a mistake. But remember that self-punishment solves nothing and only exacerbates the problem. Choose, instead, to be kind. Remind yourself that people make mistakes and that a single misstep doesn't make you a bad person. These positive affirmations can help you on your road to healing.
Try to make amends
If possible, reach out to the person you wronged and offer a sincere apology. Make sure to acknowledge what you've done and show remorse. Just remember that you might not earn their forgiveness. And that's okay. A sincere apology helps you heal just as much as it can heal the affected party.
Unfortunately, reaching out to those you've wronged might not be possible in all situations. In that case, the best you can do is try to forgive yourself. Nothing good will come out of withholding guilt, so you should work towards letting it go – for your sake.
Consider seeking professional help
If you still find yourself struggling with feelings of guilt, despite following the previous steps, it might be time to seek professional help. There are therapists and psychologists available who can help you sort out your thoughts. And if it’s an option that’s more accessible to you, you may even reach out to a psychiatric nurse. Today’s nursing careers also span mental health services, and nurses are trained to assess, observe, and assist patients in their mental health issues. With the help of a mental health professional, those suffering from excessive guilt can find respite through coping techniques and exercises in self-compassion.
If you feel that you may be struggling with guilt or any other negative emotions, don't hesitate to reach out. Reach out to our mental health counselors at Peaceful Living, and let's talk about how you're feeling.
Written exclusively for peacefullivingmentalhealthcounseling.com
Written by Jennifer Viera