How to get rid of a guilt complex?

How to get rid of chronic guilt: 5 tips

Almost every one of us feels guilty from time to time.

If it forces to correct mistakes, then everything goes only for good – psychologists call such guilt productive. Another thing is if guilt becomes permanent or inadequately strong and begins to have a negative impact on well-being, actions, quality of life. We tell you what to do if guilt has become unproductive.

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Why we feel guilty

Guilt is the complex of feelings a person feels when he or she commits-or thinks he or she is committing-the wrong thing. It signals mistakes and motivates one to correct them and not repeat them in the future.

Guilt is an unpleasant feeling, but in many cases it can be useful. It is one of the ancient adaptive mechanisms that help people regulate behavior and maintain strong social bonds. Lack of guilt can be a symptom of psychopathy or another disorder.

The intensity of guilt is influenced by a person’s personality traits. For example, those who have strongly developed empathy are more likely to feel guilty.

But this has its pluses. Studies show that especially guilt-prone people are less likely to get behind the wheel drunk and generally less likely to commit offenses. And criminals who acutely experience guilt while incarcerated have lower recidivism rates after release.

In addition, people who know how to feel guilty usually arouse more trust in those around them, and they are more likely to justify that trust. Therefore, they turn out to be reliable colleagues, good managers, and romantic partners.

But all these advantages appear only if a person inclined to feeling of guilt knows how to experience it correctly: take responsibility for really committed mistakes – and forgive oneself for them.

There is nothing good in feeling guilty all the time for everything that happens in the world. Guilt always triggers a stress reaction in the body. If it is not interrupted, it can become chronic. It can lead to emotional burnout and sleep problems, and increase the risks of developing an anxiety disorder and depression.

The other danger is that unceasing feeling of guilt can force a person to make unprofitable decisions. For example, he or she may start spending inadequate amounts on strangers, jeopardizing his or her own well-being. Or constantly deal with the problems of a former lover whom he once left in pain. To keep this from happening, it’s important to learn how to keep your guilt within adequate bounds. Here are a few ways.

The surest way to get rid of guilt is to admit that you did something wrong, apologize to everyone affected, and try to eliminate the consequences. University of Massachusetts professor Susan Whitburn, who researches guilt, suggests this algorithm.

Don’t try to suppress guilt. Research shows that this leads to increased negative emotions. Rather, admit to yourself that you feel guilty. This will help you get your emotions under control.

Think back to exactly what you did. It will be unpleasant – most likely, the feeling of guilt will increase for a while. Despite this, try to approach the task as responsibly as possible – remember as many details as possible.

Do not try to find an excuse. Instead, think about whether you were trying, committing a mistake, to satisfy a need. This will help you adjust your behavior in the future and prevent a repeat of the mistake.

Let’s say you feel guilty because you yelled at your partner without reason. But not because you wanted to be cruel to him. But because recently he began to distance himself, and it scares you. Consequently, in order to no longer arrange unfounded scandals, it is necessary to discuss with your partner relationship.

Sincerely apologize to those who have offended. Be sure to tell them that you understand how much pain and discomfort caused them and that sincerely regret it. To demonstrate to the person that you fully understand exactly what you are guilty of to them, use “I-speak.” For example: “I’m sorry for what I did.”

And try to avoid phrases like, “I’m sorry you’re hurt.” They show that although you are sorry that the other person is going through an unpleasant emotion, it’s as if you don’t see anything wrong with your behavior.

Back up your remorse with action. If the damage from your actions is material – make amends. If psychological – start to behave differently with the affected person. And if for some reason you cannot directly do something for the victim, help someone else.

For example, send a donation to a charity. “Atonement by action is not punishment. It’s reparation, which the guilty party has to pay if they want to alleviate the guilt,” explains Susan Whitbourne.

Forgive yourself. To do this, say to yourself, “I did everything I could to right the wrong. And I will try not to make it again in the future. So I forgive myself and allow myself to move forward.”

This point, according to psychologists, despite the seeming formality of it, is as important as the previous ones. Feelings of guilt are subjective, we can continue to feel it, even when other people have long forgiven us. Therefore, it is important to convince ourselves that the situation is over, and therefore there is no need to continue to berate ourselves.

People can experience guilt not only for what they have done, but also for much larger problems. For example, for allowing humanity to bring the planet to ecological disaster, a phenomenon described by the separate term “ecovina. Or for the actions of politicians they did not elect. Or for the fact that there are still groups of people in the world whose rights are infringed upon.

A person may understand perfectly well that he himself is doing nothing wrong. But knowing that injustice is being done in the world and that there are people who are suffering from it will make him suffer.

Despite the fact that this type of guilt is based on moral values, psychologists often consider it unproductive: the problems that must be solved in order to stop feeling guilty are global. The realization of this paralyzes many people, and they get stuck in a state of guilt for years.

When this kind of guilt becomes completely unbearable, it is useful to use a method conventionally called the circle of responsibility:

  1. Take a piece of paper and write on it how many percent you feel guilty about a particular global situation. Let’s say 90% means that 10% of the blame lies on someone else.
  2. Then draw a circle. And ask yourself the question: Who else besides me is to blame for this situation? And how much of it is his fault? And then shade the segments of the circle corresponding to those percentages. As a result, you’ll have a scheme that will help you understand how much you’re really to blame for the situation.
  3. Think about what you can do to have some effect on the situation that you are concerned about. For example, if you’re worried about ecology – start to collect garbage separately, and try not to buy unnecessary things. Do not forget that even a minimum effort is better than complete inaction. It will help you not to feel guilty all the time.

Let Go of the Guilt author Valorie Burton describes how the most unexpected things become an excuse to feel guilty – like cornflakes.

Burton’s son really likes to eat breakfast cereal. It’s convenient: you don’t have to spend time cooking. But the trouble is that Burton herself is a firm believer: a good mother should always feed her child a breakfast of several healthy dishes with porridge or scrambled eggs, toast and fruit. That’s what her mother always cooked for her as a child.

Every time she poured cereal on her son’s plate, she felt deeply guilty before him. Although the child himself such a breakfast is only happy. Such examples Burton calls fake guilt.

In addition to cultural attitudes, the triggers of fake guilt can be unclear expectations of oneself. For example, people tend to blame themselves for “not eating right” or “not exercising enough.” Although they have never defined what exactly they mean by “right” or “enough.” And it turns out that people berate themselves for not fulfilling conditions they have no idea about.

Another cause of faux guilt is outdated ideas about oneself. Let’s say it’s unfair to blame yourself for not being able to work as hard after having a baby as you did before maternity. Or that because of the tortured you a few days of insomnia, you again forgot the keys at home, although before – that is, in a sleepy state – have never done so.

To combat the fake guilt Burton advises to apply the method of cognitive-behavioral therapy:

  1. When feeling guilty, don’t automatically succumb to that feeling. Try to analyze it. Ask yourself: “Did I really do something wrong? And if so, what exactly? Has someone really been hurt by my actions?” If the victim is undetectable, try to figure out if the very unreflected and outdated attitudes are triggering your guilt. To do this, you can try to remember what thoughts were going through your head just before you felt the guilt.
  2. Once you have found the source of the guilt, try describing the situation in a new way. Say, instead of “It’s my fault for feeding my son cereal again,” say, “I feel guilty about feeding my son cereal because I have a belief that it’s wrong. But in reality, I’m not hurting anyone.” That way you change your attitude about the situation a little bit – and the guilt will diminish.
  3. List the evidence for why you’re not hurting anyone. Burton explains that the goal is not to find excuses for yourself, but to describe your feelings more accurately.

Another type of guilt is called survivor’s guilt. It is usually experienced by survivors of war or a serious disaster. For example, cases of survivor’s guilt have been reported in large numbers in the United States by relatives of those who died during the COVID-19 epidemic.

In these cases, people are usually advised to seek help from a professional. He will help to look at the tragedy from the outside, which will bring relief.

But some psychologists also call this the guilt felt by people who are more successful than those around them. Life really isn’t fair: some are lucky from birth, and some grow up in an environment where a child’s basic needs are not met.

But even if you are lucky in many ways, it is much more productive not to feel guilty, but to help those who are less fortunate than you.

And, of course, you should not blame yourself for the fact that parents have laid down their lives for your success. It’s better to replace the guilt with gratitude for the people who put in so much effort so that you could achieve more in life than they did. Especially since it was their conscious choice, which you could not influence in any way.

In order that guilt doesn’t become chronic, it’s worth remembering that every one of us, from time to time, makes mistakes or acts unfairly toward others. And that doesn’t make us all unequivocally bad people. Especially as long as we try to take responsibility for our actions and their consequences.

So even if you’ve seriously wronged others, there’s no point in berating and punishing yourself for it for a long time. You’ll only increase your stress, but the situation will not be corrected.

It is better to think about what you would say to your friend, if he was in this situation. Surely you wouldn’t shame him, but would give a more adequate assessment of what he did, and find words of support and consolation.

Guilt is not a pleasant experience. And the fact that a person is experiencing it, gives the right to sympathy. Including from himself.

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Guilt complex – a problem from childhood

Everyone knows that perfect people do not exist. We are not robots who unquestioningly do everything that is programmed into them, we are prone to make mistakes. But some people admit them and try not to repeat them, while others, due to an inflated self-esteem or lack of self-criticism, consider themselves always right. And there are people who live with a constant feeling that they did something wrong, answered someone sharply or dared to refuse. This is called a guilt complex, and it does not arise from nothing.

Where do complexes come from?

Complexes are restrictions that force us into a certain behavioral framework, deprive us of a sense of freedom, lowers self-esteem.

It is believed that all people have certain complexes. For some people it is physiological, when they do not like their appearance (obesity, excessive thinness, height, size of eyes, nose, ears, etc.). Others are psychological, which entails a lot of negative consequences and complicates everyday life.

A person is not born with these complexes. Often their manifestation is greatly influenced by early childhood upbringing, the atmosphere in which we grow up and acquire certain skills, habits and experiences.

Very often parents, wishing to instill in their child only the best, without noticing it, instill in him a sense of insecurity, inferiority, phobias. Guilt complex – this is also the result of such methods of education. Worth a kid do something wrong, or do not perform the task of an adult, as it immediately begins to suffer some kind of punishment, to blame for his ineptitude, to deprive his favorite toy. The psyche is gradually broken. Another big mistake – to scold and punish in front of strangers. At these moments, moms and dads do not even think about the problems that await in the future of their son or daughter. In fact, everything is very serious. Subsequently, they will always be afraid to do something wrong, to upset their parents, to express their opinions. In everything, including in the upbringing, you need to observe a measure, so as not to do harm.

Wanting to get a good word from his mother, the child will be out of his skin, just to please her, and so every time. Then he will fawn in front of classmates, colleagues, bosses, so as not to incur the wrath or displeasure of others. This is how a guilt and anxiety complex arises, preventing him from fully living, learning, working and enjoying the simple little things.

Signs of guilt and its influence on the psyche

There are cases when adults, hoping to raise from their children honors students, top athletes, just obedient children, and not getting the expected results, begin to put pressure on the psyche, to criticize their abilities, setting an example of the neighbor boy or daughter friends, thereby unconsciously giving rise to the development of complexes.

They point out that feelings of guilt are most often peculiar to girls and women, especially if they were the eldest child in the family. Parents put them on their shoulders to take care of the younger brothers and sisters, constantly instilling a sense of duty because they are older. By shifting most of the adult concerns onto the girl, they unintentionally deprive the daughter of her childhood. And as a result, she is infringing on her own interests, sacrificing herself for the good of others. Thus it turns out that she does not live her own life. Later, such behavior becomes a habit.

What signs can indicate the presence of psychological problems in a person? For example, if you notice in your loved ones excessive anxiety on any occasion, stiffness in conversation, in movements, increased anxiety, insecurity in communication, fear of expressing or lack of his opinion, constant control of their actions, behavior, fawning before others – these symptoms indicate that most likely a person has a guilt complex. It is also noted that such people are usually gloomy, pessimistic, and unsure of themselves. They often become hostages of other people’s opinions: what will that person think? They involuntarily try to replay the worst versions of the solution of a situation. As a consequence of dissatisfaction with oneself, constant tension, the psyche suffers a lot, and it does not take long to reach depression. And then it is problematic to do without the professional help of a psychologist or psychotherapist.

Getting rid of the guilt complex and its consequences

How to get rid of the complex and whether you can do it yourself? This will require a lot of work on themselves, their fears. First of all you need to figure out what caused the guilt.

Psychologists advise to do this by describing on a sheet of paper the situation that gave rise to the guilt. It is necessary to remember everything, note the details and little things. Then try to analyze the reasons that prompted a particular step, and justify them. Practice shows that often to do otherwise would not have been possible, so beating himself up in this case is inappropriate. Then the paper should be burned or torn into small pieces and thrown away.

Another way to get rid of a guilt complex is to talk about the problem. In the role of the listener can be friends, colleagues, whom the person trusts, relatives or even ministers of the temple. First of all, spoken out loud, the problem does not look as serious and scary as it did before. Secondly, there is always a chance to get effective advice and help.

By practicing these methods from time to time, or in the emergence of oppressive feelings of guilt about something, you can notice how a person gradually gets rid of the complex that prevented an objective assessment of what is happening.

In addition, experts recommend not trying to please everyone. This is simply unrealistic, and self-indulgence does not lead to anything good. It is important to learn how to refuse some requests from people, to be able to express their feelings, thoughts, to defend their interests, not to let them manipulate you. In order to get rid of the guilt complex, you do not need to strive to meet the demands of others, to adjust to their opinions. It is necessary to be himself and be clear about his desires.

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