Anxiety and Guilt: Guilt That’s in Your Head (Part 2)

In the last entry on guilt, we talked about the type of guilt that arises when you do something wrong. This time, we will look at the guilt that comes just from the things that you think, which can also cause anxiety. You didn’t actually commit any action. Instead, perhaps you think you did something wrong, or just secretly want to do something that seems wrong.

An example of a type of unwanted thought that could cause guilt may be feeling attraction towards someone you wouldn’t normally feel attracted to or aren’t “supposed to” feel attracted to—for example, someone of the same sex or your best friend’s partner. Other intrusive thoughts that trigger guilt could be dirty or violent thoughts about someone you know—again, someone that you shouldn’t have these thoughts about because they seem “messed up,” appalling, or simply just wrong. You feel guilty because these thoughts are labeled as forbidden, and you know you shouldn’t be thinking them, but you just can’t help it. Perhaps you wished for something bad to happen to someone, and it actually did happen. You may also feel guilty because not only did you have those thoughts to begin with, but it also seems as if they actually came true because you had wished it.

If you are experiencing guilt just from the thoughts in your head, you’ll find that it is quite common for people to deal with them by “putting them away.” We often just shift our attention away from the thought.” We might also deal with them by denying that we even had such thoughts. We think to ourselves, “No, you weren’t thinking that. That didn’t happen. I was just being silly.” Repressing these thoughts and denying them are not long-term, effective ways to deal with these thoughts and the guilt that accompanies them. Even though they may seem inappropriate or forbidden, it is important to recognize that sometimes we cannot always control what we think.

Rather than trying to repress or deny unwanted and intrusive thoughts, a better approach would be to learn to accept them. Just as we mentioned in our previous entry on guilt, acceptance is the first step on the way to getting rid of these guilty feelings. Although these thoughts may be disturbing to you and you don’t want to think them, recognize that it is okay and that it is normal. What is important is that you do not act on the thoughts, but simply make a conscious effort to reduce them. If guilty feelings are arising from something you think you did, first check to make sure you’re not wrongly accusing yourself. It’s also common for people to blame themselves for more than they should.

Remember that you don’t need to struggle alone. 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 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

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