Anxiety and Guilt: Feeling Guilty for Something You Did (Part 1)

As we all know, anxiety can be caused by many things. One cause that we don’t often see discussed is the type of anxiety that arises from guilty feelings. Most of us know what guilt is and have experienced it sometime throughout our lives. You may have felt guilty for doing poorly in school and disappointing your parents, being a bystander while witnessing a crime, or even thinking thoughts that go against your moral code. This is the first of a four-part series we will be doing on guilt in the upcoming weeks. Today we will explore the type of guilt that is typically the most common: guilt for something that you did in the past.

When you do something wrong—for example by hurting someone else or violating your own morals—it is completely normal to feel guilty for it. You may wish that life was a VHS tape and you could just hit rewind and redo what you did, but sadly, this isn’t the case. People make mistakes—in fact, mistakes are one of the most effective ways that human beings learn.

The important thing to do when you feel guilty for something you did is to work at accepting it and learning from it. It’s definitely easier said than done and will take time and effort. It is also important to understand exactly what happened. Step back and look at the situation; examine why you did what you did. When something like this happens, it can be easy to fall into a cycle of self-criticism and self-blame. What this does is it lowers your self-esteem, self-confidence, and it makes you believe that you’re a worse person than you really are. Though these feelings are completely valid, sooner or later, you will need to accept what happened and learn to forgive yourself. Only through acceptance and forgiveness can you find healing and work to avoid making the same mistakes again.

Remember that a mistake in the past does not define who you are. Just because you made a mistake does not mean you are a bad person. In fact, feeling guilty about it now is a sign that you regret it and that you really didn’t mean to hurt anyone. If you hurt someone, apologize as best as you can. Let them know how you feel about it now and that you understand the harm that you’ve done. Sometimes people will forgive you and sometimes they won’t. In the latter case, know that no matter what you do or say, you cannot control another person. What you can control is the way you react to the situation. People will heal on their own time, just as you’ll heal and learn from this on your own time. Accept the consequences, watch the self-blaming thoughts, and keep in mind that this is a work in progress. Ultimately, there is always a lesson to be learned from any mistake you make. Don’t try to change it; just use it to work at a better future and a better you. Your past does not define you, this guilt doesn’t have to consume you, and your future can still be bright.

Of course, these guilty feelings can be overwhelming and it is normal to seek help for them. If you or a loved one live in Manhattan or Bergen County New Jersey and are having trouble dealing with guilt, self-criticizing thoughts, or self-esteem issues, the psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurse practitioners or psychotherapists at Arista Counseling can assist you. Contact our Bergen County, NJ or Manhattan offices of psychologists, psychiatrists, and psychotherapists at (201) 368-3700 or (212) 722-1920 to set up an appointment.  Visit http://www.acenterfortherapy.com for more information.

Written by Kassandra C.
 Sources: Krauss, Susan W. (2012, Aug. 11). The Definitive Guide to Guilt: The five types of guilt and how you can cope with each. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201208/the-definitive-guide-guilt 
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