Feelings of guilt for no reason

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Last Updated: 08/30/2022

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Why the feeling of guilt poisons life, how it is disguised and what to do with it

Feelings of guilt (negative attitudes in which it seems to us that the actions we have committed - and in some cases ourselves - are the cause of other people's troubles) has various manifestations and does not always refer directly to "guilt" or "culpability". 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). nine0003

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 a traumatic situation, we look at guilt, because it is not so painful and requires less inner work. It can be said that the feeling of guilt itself is almost accidental and any other negative attitude could have formed in its place. But why is guilt so popular and why do we talk about it so often? nine0003

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It is believed that at an unconscious level, self-blame can already happen in an infant, that is, this mechanism is familiar to us from the time when we could neither express something in words, nor fully realize what was happening. With the advent of mature thinking, the “guilt feeling” tool becomes even more convenient to use.

For a small child, parents are a bulwark of security, strength and stability. They ensure its survival and development. Unconsciously, infants and young children place implicit trust in the authority of their parents. But if for some reason the child suffers from the behavior of the parents, he is faced with a dilemma: who is wrong? His almighty parents, whom he still 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 may dictate his line of behavior. nine0003

The good news is that psychotherapy helps to process this problem and stop living the pattern of the traumatic event that has settled in the unconscious. Contrary to rumors, psychotherapy is not designed to penetrate into every corner of the subconscious and get to the memories of the infancy period. Often it is enough to pay attention to the external manifestations of the problem in order to get closer to understanding the causes of guilt, to work through them and change the behavior to a safe and productive one.

Working with guilt is the cultivation of new, healthy habits in the perception of reality and behavior. nine0003

© Caleb Woods/Unsplash

Guilt has many faces and takes many forms besides the direct feeling of "one's own guilt".

  • Apologies

First, notice if you have a habit of being overly apologetic. "Excuse me, can I come in?", "I'm sorry if I'm taking up your time." In such situations, using an apology, we try to soften our intervention, although this can be done with other courtesies. nine0003

If you are familiar with this behavior, try to think about what you are really apologizing for. For yourself, who bothered someone more important than yourself, or maybe 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-blame.

  • "I don't deserve happiness" attitude

A chronic sense of one's "badness", inconsistency with ideals (invented by oneself or instilled by other people) may indicate that you are controlled by a sense of guilt. It makes you think that you are not worthy of any praise, or a happy life, or anything that you would really like. nine0003

An example is the continuation of an unhappy relationship or marriage “for the sake of children” (“so as not to upset the mother”, “in order to preserve 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.

Existing next to an unloved person for the sake of some higher goal is a clear reflection of the inner attitude “I am not worthy of happiness”, which directly relates to guilt. nine0003

  • Aggression

Another pole of guilt is aggression directed both at other people and at oneself.

Aggression in guilt is an unexpressed complaint against an offender who once harmed your self-esteem, self-respect and positive self-image. Here we are talking about unconscious perception, and if you cannot say for sure what the problem is, then the conflict remains in your psyche and all its participants with their roles are immortalized at an unconscious level. nine0003

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.

Obvious examples of undisguised aggression include 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 internally despises the right to make a mistake, who considers even their most insignificant imperfection to be a weakness. By criticizing others, people often ward off the danger that someone they think might see their imperfections. They seem to attack first. Or they make excessive demands on themselves, strictly follow them and cannot forgive everyone else for other behavior. nine0003

So if you notice 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 the feeling of guilt is accompanied by unexpressed aggression. If in the case of the habit of criticizing we see its clear manifestation, then repressed aggression is not so straightforward. It can take the form of mild hostility (for example, some people bristle in a stressful situation), conflict at work, aggressive driving style - that is, those manifestations that a person usually knows about and has learned to control. But sometimes repressed emotions can manifest themselves in paradoxical ways. nine0003

For example, excessive friendliness or fear of expressing one's dissatisfaction, fear of standing up for one's needs, getting one's way, having a constructive argument. Fear of expressing aggression (and, possibly, receiving it in your 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 for others. The fear of being rejected leads to the fear of defending one's interests.

© Anthony Tran/Unsplash

  • Anxiety

In another, not the most obvious way, the feeling of guilt finds its way out through high anxiety.

At some time in our lives, we all experience anxiety: because of illnesses 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 with time.

High anxiety is a wide range of painful conditions that are difficult to control and sometimes difficult to track (“Something torments me, although objectively everything is fine in life”). nine0003

High anxiety can result in poor health, the cause of which doctors cannot find, problematic sleep, “unreasonable” mood swings, overeating, or, conversely, an obsession with diet, overwork, or a breakdown. Anxiety has many symptoms, and if any of these are familiar to you, then this is an occasion to consider the causes.

Anxiety can be chosen by the subconscious as a channel through which the tension from the main problem, the feeling of guilt, comes out. This happens when it is so unbearable or such a difficult experience is associated with it that the psyche refuses to even look in that direction and tries to control at least what it can. This is how anxiety appears: the object of anxiety is selected and all forces are directed to combat it. nine0003

This is a really complex construct, and in order to eradicate anxiety, you need to eliminate the root cause. It is much easier to do this in tandem with a psychologist. Therefore, if you are familiar with anxiety, but do not know what caused it, tell a specialist about it. This mechanism is familiar to him, and you will quickly come to a solution to your painful condition. Plus, the therapist is free of your feelings of guilt, 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. nine0003

Guilt devours a person's resource, because he has to devote his life forces to "servicing" 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. Among these symptoms are nervous breakdowns, alcohol and drug abuse, chronic illnesses, and many other manifestations that make life hard, poor and unhappy. nine0003

© Anthony Tran/Unsplash

Since we are talking about unconscious processes, the changes must also occur 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, having understood your request and collected an anamnesis, will offer a treatment regimen.

In order to understand the problem yourself, you can use several approaches from cognitive psychology. nine0024

  • Note under what circumstances and with what people you most often feel guilt. 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 caught up in this experience, try to keep track of what is happening to you physically and psychologically. Notice the reactions of the body and mind. Developing such sensitivity is useful in order to learn to separate yourself from your reactions, and ultimately control them. nine0026
  • Carry out self-training with you. Remind yourself that the situation was in the past, and although it has an extension into the present, you do not have to follow this scenario. Often tell yourself that there is no ideal world, ideal situations, and even more so ideal people. The desire to be perfect leads to neurosis. It is optimal to strive to be good enough and give yourself the right to make mistakes. Remind yourself that you have control and there are many ways you can overcome your suffering. nine0026

It is important to practice these practices carefully and consistently in order to notice positive changes over time.

Finally, I would like to say about a very common mechanism that is used by almost all people who are trying to figure out what is happening inside them. This is the 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 an excellent 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 a lot and for a long time does not mean solving it, and often means the opposite at all (“I’d rather think about it than actually act”). nine0003

Our mental apparatus has nothing to do with the sensory sphere, and its "pumping" is good for understanding the problem and for developing a strategy for solving it. But the solution itself always lies in the realm of feelings and emotions. This is what the psychologist or psychotherapist is focusing on: he invites you to explore together the other side of your personality - unconscious sensory processes that were once damaged by trauma and still have not received due attention.

Dealing with constant guilt: a psychologist explains

Guilt haunts us all the time. We can experience it in every area that exists: work, food, relationships with others and a partner, political views. Even our own feelings can make us feel guilty. If you want to finally stop feeling guilty, read our material.

Where does guilt come from

Guilt is the feeling that you have somehow harmed others or yourself with your actions, thoughts, desires. Initially, guilt as a negative emotion is aimed at making a person want to improve. If you accidentally stepped on your neighbor’s foot on the subway or entered the conference room without knocking where an important meeting was taking place, most likely you will become uncomfortable. Guilt will make you ask for forgiveness and the incident will be over. Quite different - irrational guilt . It occurs when you, for example, eat a bag of fast food for dinner, although everyone around you only talks about how harmful it is. But you really want to eat it and are already eating it. Understanding "how to" struggles with the desire "how you want." What to choose?

A person can literally constantly feel guilty. Childhood memories are the strongest base for this. Earlier, as a child, you did not want to hug a relative when you met, and you were ashamed of it. So you have grown up and still do not burn with the desire to communicate with people who are not interesting to you - a feeling of guilt because of this always accompanies you. Since childhood, we are taught how important it is to be “good” and “correct”. Only we do not become more correct from this - we live as we want, but with a sense of guilt. nine0003

My "bad behavior" shows that I am a bad person.

I did something I shouldn't have done (or didn't do what I should have done) and it doesn't meet my moral standards.

How to understand that you are experiencing exactly the feeling of guilt

The "symptoms" of feelings of guilt



  • sensitivity to the consequences of any action; nine0026
  • anxiety for fear of making the wrong decision;
  • low self-esteem or, conversely, very high;
  • avoidance of emotions.

Guilt is often confused with shame. Guilt comes from within - it is not for nothing that it is called in a different way "pangs of conscience." Shame is an emotion associated with society and its rules and culture. At the same time, shame is a rather fleeting emotion, since it is associated with other people. And the feeling of guilt is born inside and can accompany a person for a long time. nine0003

Depressed people tend to experience irrational guilt along with helplessness, lack of motivation, sadness and loss of energy.

Karine Avanesyan

practicing psychologist, family systems therapist, member of the Monstars People opinion leader team

— Guilt often serves as a regulator of boundaries in relations with others. It happens that the feeling of guilt that comes helps us to realize that somewhere a mistake was made, somewhere you were wrong. Then the opportunity opens up to apologize, to admit one’s imperfection, to offer a solution how to fix everything. But there is also destructive guilt. It accompanies a person regardless of the offenses committed. This is an obsessive state in which a person stays permanently. Behind the constant feeling of guilt, there may be a fear of being rejected, a fear of loneliness, a desire to feel needed. nine0177

What to do if you constantly feel guilty

A person wants to be loved, respected and accepted. These are basic needs that are very important for mental well-being. However, what we blame ourselves for very often does not change us for the worse.

Guilt is often born from excessive severity towards oneself. How often do you allow yourself what you really love? And do you always love what you do? Excessive severity towards oneself not only injures the soul, but also leads to the accumulation of desires. Famous story: for a month to ban yourself chips, and then eat a whole bag for the evening. You should not blame yourself - it is better to figure out what exactly you are missing. Maybe not chips at all. nine0003

Try to identify situations or incidents in which you feel guilty. You didn't call your parents, you went on a frivolous date, you missed several workouts in a row, you work too hard, or, conversely, you decided to take a break from business.

Write down at least ten situations in which you feel guilty for no apparent reason. Think about what guilt is associated with in each situation, and write it down next to it. For example:

  • spent all day in bed on the weekend - I'm supposed to be productive, but I act like a lazy person;
  • hasn’t talked to mom for a week now — good children should be interested in how their parents are doing;
  • went on a tinder date - the right relationship doesn't start with online chatting.

Try to analyze the beliefs that carry the feeling of guilt. Where did they come from? Do you really think so?

Imagine how you would feel without guilt. Will you get bored or relieved? Even this may be a clue. nine0003

Karine Avanesyan

practicing psychologist, family systems therapist, member of the Monstars People opinion leader team

- Ask yourself: did this happen because of me? Can I somehow influence this situation without harming myself? You must admit that your guilt is destructive. This is a neurotic condition that prevents you from feeling happiness and well-being.

Guilt often hides the fear of losing the love of others. Here the scheme works: I refused or made a mistake - that means I'm bad. I will be considered bad and will not be loved. I will stay alone. nine0177

Being alone is scary, therefore, in every convenient and inconvenient case, a feeling of guilt and a desire to apologize and be guilty before everyone turn on. A person is ready to bear any moral, temporary and material losses, just to remain good in the eyes of others.

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