Guilt can slowly consume you until you cannot longer bear it. Guilt is one of those emotions you cannot truly explain or describe. Dictionary.com says Guilt is “the fact or state of having committed an offense, crime, violation, or wrong, especially against moral or penal law; culpability” and “a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined”
Pay attention to the last line “whether real or imagine”. Our perception over the problem is what makes us feel guilty. In psychology it’s the sense that you did something either right or wrong but you did something and you cannot help but think about the effect that something had on someone else. It is cognitive. People think they caused harm. It doesn’t necessarily have to do with a crime. That’s not what I’m writing about. That’s a completely different type of culpability. I am referring to the guilt you feel because you might have hurt someone’s feelings or their ability to see you as they did before. Guilt over your behaviors (overspending, lying, manipulating someone into doing something you wanted, misbehaving, cheating on someone, or cheating on your diet, etc). The outcome is the same; you hurt someone psychologically or even physically. That someone can no longer see you with the same consideration. They may see you now with disappointment, bitterness and resentment. You may see yourself with these emotions as well; addicts do whenever they relapse and the guilt weights on them.
Guilt is so powerful that is the only emotions that can lead you to feel grief and misery. It is a death. The loss of someone, the loss of the relationship you had with that someone. Their love and caring feelings towards you have changed and will no longer be the same. The loss of your development. The loss of your self-worth. The loss of your tranquility and harmony. Your guilt has turned into grief, the cost of your responsibility, your burden and remorse for what you have done.
People will always and undoubtly regret many things in life, they may regret the trips not taken, the adventures not fulfilled or the jobs that didn’t work out and then of course the relationships they left behind. But regretting can be a passive feeling of inconsequential outcomes and in a way it’s safe because with regret you can still move on. You can perhaps do something to remedy the bad experience and it’s likely that it may help to lessen the guilt. In time it may become just a bad memory. However, there are times when you cannot undo the past, cannot undo the event that led you to feel this way. The guilt stays and doesn’t let you forget. How can one alleviate that feeling of guilt? In those cases there a few things I believe might help reduce your guilt feelings:
In cognitive therapy if you change the way you think then you can change your feelings. We try to help patients eliminate their negative thoughts which cause them to suffer. The negative automatic thoughts that can lead to depression and anxiety can be changed but it takes practice. Here are few suggestions:
Stop Catastrophizing things, is done. Nothing worse will happen (hopefully). Take action: If you can apologize, DO IT NOW. If you can do anything to make it better DO IT NOW. Stop thinking how badly the situation is, stop thinking there’s no remedy. Do amends if possible and remember nothing lasts forever, not even the bad things.
Then forgive yourself. You made a mistake, you are only human. You had no intention to purposely to do this (say cruel things, not loaning money to a needy friend, being disloyal to your spouse, not supportive of a friend, whatever that event was). Be kind to yourself. You are learning. We all are. Recognize this will not happen again, you have the ability to do better next time. You will do better. Positive self-talk.
Talk about it. Do not let it eat you. You need to express it somehow e.g. Talk, write, sing, draw, color, anything to get it out there. Be honest, be sincere.
Lastly, if you are experiencing severe grief and depression that becomes impairing in your day to day life, seek professional help. Talking to a counselor or therapist will be essential in regaining mental health.