Feelings of guilt (negative attitudes in which it seems to us that our actions - and in some cases ourselves - are the cause of other people's troubles) has a variety of manifestations and is not always directly related to "guilt" or "guilt." This feeling can appear not only where a person could be guilty. It can occur in any situation where there was severe stress (in the language of psychology, trauma).
Having arisen in the human psyche, this unpleasant feeling performs an important function - it helps to adapt to a difficult situation in order to survive it with less damage: instead of focusing on the traumatic situation, we look at the feeling of guilt, because it is not so painful and requires less internal work … We can say that the feeling of guilt itself is almost accidental, and any other negative attitude could have formed in its place. But why exactly is the feeling of guilt so popular and we talk about it so often?
How guilt begins
It is believed that at the unconscious level, self-accusations can happen already in the infant, that is, this mechanism is familiar to us from the times when we could neither express something in words, nor fully realize what was happening. With the advent of mature thinking, the “sense of guilt” tool becomes even more convenient to use.
For a small child, parents are a stronghold of security, strength and stability. They ensure its survival and development. Unconsciously, infants and young children unconditionally trust the authority of their parents. But if, for some reason, a child suffers from parental behavior, he is faced with a dilemma: who is wrong? His omnipotent parents, whom he unconditionally adores and reveres, or is the problem in himself? In order not to shake the stability of his existence, the child unconsciously turns the blame on himself for the fact that something went wrong between him and his parent. In some situations, this attitude remains with a person for many years to come and can dictate his line of behavior.
The good news is that psychotherapy helps to work through this problem and stop living the pattern of a traumatic event that has settled in unconsciousness. Contrary to rumors, psychotherapy is not designed to penetrate every corner of the subconscious and get to the memory of the infant period. Often it is enough to pay attention to the external manifestations of the problem in order to come closer to understanding the causes of guilt feelings, work them out and change the behavior to a successful and productive one.
Working with guilt is about fostering new, healthy habits in perception of reality and behavior.
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How to recognize feelings of guilt
The feeling of guilt is multifaceted and, in addition to the direct feeling of "one's own guilt", takes different forms.
First, notice if you have a habit of overly apologizing. "Excuse me, can I come in?", "Excuse me, please, if I'm taking your time." In these situations, we try to soften our intervention by using an apology, although other courtesies can do the same.
If you are familiar with this behavior, try thinking about what you are actually apologizing for. For yourself, who bothered someone more important than yourself, or, perhaps, for yourself, who has no right to count on something?
The mechanism of inappropriate apologies, disproportionate to the situation, can also be used by people who are prone to self-accusations.
The "I don't deserve to be happy" attitude
Chronic feelings of “badness”, inconsistency with ideals (invented by yourself or instilled by other people) may indicate that you are ruled by a feeling of guilt. It makes you think that you are not worthy of praise, or a happy life, or nothing at all that you really want.
An example is the continuation of an unhappy relationship or marriage "for the sake of children" ("so as not to upset mom", "to keep the union"), "a positive image in the eyes of others." For such people, the idea that you can defend your interests and be happy is almost sinful, because your own well-being takes the last place among all other "more important" motives.
Existence next to an unloved person for the sake of some higher goal is a clear reflection of the internal attitude "I am not worthy of happiness", which directly relates to the feeling of guilt.
The other pole of guilt is aggression directed both at other people and at oneself.
Guilt aggression is an unexpressed complaint against an abuser who has damaged your self-esteem, self-respect, and positive self-perception. Here we are talking about unconscious perception, and if you cannot say for sure what the problem is, then the conflict remained in your psyche and all its participants with their roles are immortalized at the unconscious level.
If after the conflict there was no "revenge" (for example, a constructive showdown), it is likely that the subconscious desire to punish the enemy will follow on the heels until it finds a way out.
Among the obvious examples of blatant aggression, one can name the habit of criticizing others and the desire to be right, to have the last word in any situation. Such behavior is characteristic of those people who, inside themselves, despise the right to make mistakes, who consider even their most insignificant imperfections to be weakness. By criticizing others, people often deflect from themselves the danger that someone, in their opinion, might see their imperfection. They seem to be the first to attack. Or they make excessive demands on themselves, strictly follow them and cannot forgive everyone else for other behavior.
So if you find yourself in a habit of criticizing others (inwardly or out loud), remember the feeling you get when you do it. Try to understand how this feeling is useful to you, what it gives, for what reason you need to experience it over and over again.
Quite often, feelings of guilt are accompanied by unexpressed aggression. If in the case of the habit of criticizing we see its obvious manifestation, then the suppressed aggression is not so straightforward. It can take the form of mild hostility (for example, some people in a stressful situation seem to "bristle"), conflicts at work, aggressive driving style - that is, those manifestations that a person usually knows about and learned to control. But sometimes suppressed emotions can manifest themselves in a paradoxical way.
For example, excessive friendliness or fear of expressing dissatisfaction, fear of defending your needs, getting your way, and having a constructive argument. The fear of expressing aggression (and, possibly, getting it in his address) and the inability to express it lead to the fact that a person is looking for ways to merge with other people, to be convenient to others. The fear of being rejected leads to the fear of defending one's interests.
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In another not most obvious way, the feeling of guilt finds its way out through high anxiety.
At some times in our lives, we all experience anxiety: due to illness of loved ones, at work in conflict with colleagues, when we hear sad news and the like. But the anxiety of a healthy person is proportionate to the situation and passes over time.
High anxiety is a wide range of painful conditions that are difficult to control and sometimes difficult to track (“I am tormented by something, although objectively everything is fine in life”).
High anxiety can turn into poor health, the cause of which cannot be found by doctors, problematic sleep, "unreasonable" mood swings, overeating, or, conversely, an obsession with diet, overwork or loss of energy. Anxiety has many symptoms, and if any of the above are familiar to you, then this is an occasion to consider the reasons.
Anxiety can be chosen by the subconscious mind as a channel through which tension escapes from the main problem - feelings of guilt. This happens when it is so intolerable or such a difficult experience is associated with it that the psyche refuses even to look in that direction and tries to control at least what it can do. This is how anxiety appears: the object of anxiety is selected and all forces are directed to fight against it.
This is a really tricky design, and in order to eradicate anxiety, you need to eliminate the root cause. It is much easier to do this together with a psychologist. Therefore, if you are familiar with anxiety, but do not know what causes it, tell the specialist about it. He is familiar with this mechanism, and you will quickly come to a solution to your painful state. Plus, the therapist is free from your guilt feelings, does not play by his rules, and contact with someone who does not play by the rules of guilt is already very useful in itself.
Why Get Rid of Guilt
The feeling of guilt devours a person's resource, because he has to give his vitality to "service" this problem.
Living with guilt is extremely costly, and at one point it can lead to collapse, so it is very important to deal with disturbing symptoms and work them out on your own or in psychotherapy. These symptoms include nervous breakdowns, alcohol and drug abuse, chronic illness and many other manifestations that make life difficult, poor and unhappy.
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How to "treat" guilt
Since we are talking about unconscious processes, changes should take place there. The most effective way is, of course, psychotherapy: long-term or short-term, individual or in a group - your wishes can be discussed with a psychologist or therapist, who, after understanding your request and collecting an anamnesis, will suggest a treatment regimen.
In order to understand the problem yourself, you can use several approaches from cognitive psychology
- Note under what circumstances and with what people you feel guilty most often. Write down and analyze: are there similarities in these situations and people? And then remember if there was a similar situation with you before. Perhaps in your childhood or adolescence.
- When you are overwhelmed by this experience, try to keep track of what is happening to you physically and psychologically. Notice the reactions of body and mind. Cultivating this sensitivity is helpful in learning to separate yourself from your reactions, and ultimately to control them.
- Carry out auto-training with you. Remind yourself that the situation was in the past and even though it has a present extension, you don't have to follow this scenario. Tell yourself more often that there is no ideal world, ideal situations, and even more so ideal people. The desire to be ideal leads to neurosis. Optimally, you strive to be good enough and give yourself the right to make mistakes. Remind yourself that you have control and that you can overcome your suffering in many ways.
It is important to practice these practices carefully and consistently so that positive changes can be noticed over time.
Finally, I would like to say about a very common mechanism that is used by almost all people trying to figure out what is happening inside them. It is intellectualization and rationalization of one's state, attempts to live not with feelings and emotions, but with the "head".
Of course, reflection is good. The ability to be aware and reflect on internal processes is a great skill that helps in so many life situations. But it is important to note the moment when the thought process has become a routine and does not bring real relief. Thinking about a problem for a long time does not mean solving it, and often does not mean the opposite (“I'd rather think about it than actually act”).
Our thinking apparatus has nothing to do with the sensory sphere, and its "pumping" is good for understanding a problem and for developing a strategy for its solution. But the decision itself always lies in the realm of feelings and emotions. This is what a psychologist or psychotherapist emphasizes: he invites you to explore together the other side of your personality - unconscious sensory processes that were once damaged by trauma and have not received the attention they deserve.>