How to deal with guilt and shame – Practical steps to end that guilt trip
Why do we experience shame and guilt in the first place.
Before we get into how to deal with guilt, let’s look at the main causes.
You probably experience guilt when having of these thoughts:
- I’ve done something I shouldn’t have (Or didn’t do something I should)
- This bad behavior shows that I’m a bad person.
Let’s get one thing straight.
There is a difference between remorse and guilt. Remorse is a healthy feeling.
When you experience remorse, you don’t associate yourself with the event.
In other words - remorse doesn’t imply that you’re a bad person, but guilt does.
Remorse or regret is targeted towards action, but guilt is targeted towards yourself.
When you do something bad this might lead to three different thought processes:
- Because of my bad behaviour I’m worthless and/or inferior (this leads to depression)
- If others found out what I did, they would look down on me (this leads to shame)
- I’m in danger of retaliation or punishment (this leads to anxiety)
The simplest way to find out if these feelings are destructive is to refer to the cognitive distortions article. (Coming soon)
The second thing that leads to distortions is that you label yourself as a bad person because of the thing you did.
A good example would be a boyfriend and girlfriend situation, if you say to your girlfriend an objective criticism about a thing that she does and she gets upset, you might put yourself on a guilt trip, but actually you’re not responsible for the way the she reacts.
It is she that thinks that you don’t respect her or don’t like her because of the thing you said, you can’t control other people’s reactions, that is why you shouldn’t feel guilty about that.
Another thing that leads to guilt is all or nothing mindset, or the perfectionists’ mindset. When you think to yourself that if you don’t hustle 100% of the time and take some time off, then you are not worthy.
The vicious guilt trip – how it works and why it should be avoided
- I feel guilty and worthy of condemnation. This means I’m bad.
- Since I’m bad I deserve to suffer.
So guilt convinces you of your badness and this just leads to more guilt and the cycle repeats itself and you keep digging a deeper hole for yourself.
Example of a guilt trip:
- You didn’t do the thing that your boss asked you to do.
- You feel guilty and anxious because of it.
- Because of the guilt you start thinking that you’re a lazy no good bum, that never gets things done.
- This leads to more guilt, as you start to remember more situations where you didn’t get things done.
- This leads to more guilt.
- Then, when you’re assigned the next tasks, the previous guilt pops up and you feel extreme guilt even before you’ve even started doing the next thing
- And the vicious guilt trip continues.
This sometimes make you think that if you punish yourself enough it will make you do the thing that you should be doing and help you cope with guilt.
I must say there ARE some times when we do something irresponsible, inappropriate and hurtful to someone. In this case you might think that you deserve to suffer.
I’m not going to disagree with you on that, but the question is, for how long? A day, a week, month or a year? It would be responsible for yourself to put a time table on your suffering, you shouldn’t be living with guilt all the time, but usually that doesn’t happen. And even if you would, could you just snap out of it after that period of time, after you’ve dug the hole that deep?
And it’s not like people are going to respect you more or love you more just because you feel guilty. Guilt is an absolute worthless and destructive emotion that should be dealt with as soon as possible.
At this point you might be asking, well if I completely eliminate guilt from my life and just don’t give a shit about anything what will make me act in a good way? Woah, hold your horses… as I told you, feeling remorse is not a bad thing and some remorse will help you to set your boundaries.
But a better strategy is to recognize that an error has been made and then create a strategy on how to solve the problem that you have created.
How to not hurt others when you don’t feel guilt
A good moral compass is empathy, the ability to see in the future of how other people will react because of your action.
The questions to ask to find out whether you’re feeling a destructive guilt or a healthy remorse are these:
- Do I intentionaly and ocasionaly do something to hurt others? Or am I’m asking from myself to be perfect at all times?
- Am I telling myself that I’m a bad person because of those actions?
- Am I feeling a healthy does of remorse and regret of what I did, because I emphatically see the consequences of my actions? Does the intensity and duration match the thing that I did?
- Am I learning from this and developing a strategy on how to be better? Or am I punishing myself even more?
Now lets look at some techniques on how to deal with guilt.
- Daily record of dysfunctional
The technique is really easy and done in the long term it really helps to get over guilt. You write down the situation that made you feel guilty. Then you write down the thoughts that you had in your head. In the end you talk back to your guilt voice.
I’m such an asshole, I always make her upset. I can never make her happy. I’m a terrible boyfriend.Let’s get real, I would be an asshole if I’ve told her that she is a dumb woman and just criticized her subjectively. But I was as nice as possible and told her something that could improve her situation. It is not true that I always make her upset. There are times when I make her really happy. I could definitely improve on being a good boyfriend, but I’m definitely above average.
|The situation||The automatic guilt thoughts||Rational response|
|I told my girlfriend some constructive criticism and she got really upset.||I’m such an asshole, I always make her upset. I can never make her happy. I’m a terrible boyfriend.||Let’s get real, I would be an asshole if I’ve told her that she is a dumb woman and just criticized her subjectively. But I was as nice as possible and told her something that could improve her situation. It is not true that I always make her upset. There are times when I make her really happy. I could definitely improve on being a good boyfriend, but I’m definitely above average.|
|I didn’t do the things that my boss asked me to do.||Holy shit, my boss is going to fire me. Why can’t I never remember things and do them on time. No one will want to hire me once they hear how bad of an employee I am.||Calm down. I’m screwing up only sometimes. No one is perfect and I’m definitely not getting fired over this. I should try to improve my memory, maybe I should buy a planner to write down all the things that I need to do, because I can’t possibly expect myself to remember all the things. I still remember and do a lot of other stuff.
And the “word” is definitely not getting out about me, 99,9% of the companies out there don’t know that I even exist and will never know.
This is a great exercise on how to deal with guilt and in the long term will greatly benefit in overcoming your guilty thoughts. Do NOT underestimate it. When I used expanded version of this exercise I got out of my 2 year depression within a week.
- Should removal
First of all ask yourself who says you should? Where is it written that you should? The point of this is to make you see that you’re not being rational and this might even lead you to some new insights on who plays a role in your life, maybe when you ask these questions you will hear a voice in your head that says: “My father would be dissapointed” or “My colleagues are doing it”.
This opens up a new pandoras box of other issues that needs to be dealt with, but we will talk about this in a different article.
This should show you that you are the one that makes the rules for yourself and if you make them then you can change them. For example, lets take from the previous example that a rule that you’ve set to yourself is “I should always be able to make my girlfriend happy”. To see how good the rule is just make two columns where you write down the advantages and disadvantages of the rule.
A simple example:
|The advantages||The disadvantages|
|If she is happy, I can feel like a great boyfriend.||Every time when she won’t be happy, even if it is out of my control I will feel guilty.|
|If she is happy, she will tell her friends how great I am.||I will get moody myself and maybe even start blame her for not appreciating me enough.|
|It makes me work really hard towards better relationships.||Whenever she will feel like getting something out of me, she will just have to start to act sad.|
|Since her boss is a real asshole and makes her miserable a lot of times, I’m sure to feel the same way.|
- It would be nice if…
Another way is to substitute your should statements with “it would be nice if” or “I wish I could”, this doesn’t put you in a position where if you don’t do a certain thing you should feel guilty. Remember whenever there are other people involved you’ re not in total control and can’t expect of yourself do make them feel the way you want to.
I gotta ask, have you done any of these two exercises? If not, do them NOW. You want to overcome guilt don’t you? You probably googled – how to deal with guilt. I’m giving you solid advice, so act if you haven’t
A great way to look on your life is this:
- Humans goof up from time to time no matter what they do.
- I’m a human
- I should expect to goof up from time to time.
Learn to stick to your guns
One of the disadvantages of a person who feels guilt very easily is that people can manipulate with you with ease. An easy question to ask you yourself is how many times have you done something that you didn’t want to, but didn’t want to upset the other person?
Well in most cases the worse scenario would be a wasted hour or a wasted evening, but there are certain situations where this can turn ugly. You might be hurting the other person in the long term with your “guilt generosity”.
- Antiwhiner technique
This will work in those cases when someone whines to you or nags about something and you feel obligated to help them.
The situation usually looks like this – the whiner will complain about something or somebody. You feel the desire to help or make a suggestion for the possible solution. The other person declines and keeps complaining.
You start to think that maybe your suggestion wasn’t good enough so you try harder. You get the same response and the cycle repeats. Any time you try to break off the conversation, the complainer will tell you that you don’t listen to them and don’t love or like them and then you feel the gult kicking in.
The best way to neutralize the complainers is to agree with everything they say. Pretty soon they will run out of steam.
Try it with someone, do a role playing exercise. Have a whiner and have a person that agrees all the time. The one who plays the whiner will get tired of you agreeing.
The explanation is simple, usually the one who complains feels frustrated with something and when you try to help them, they see it as criticism, but when you agree they feel endorsed and can relax.
- Developing perspective
One of the most common ways on how to start feeling guilty is to take responsibility for things that are not in your control or in other words – personalization.
A good example would be between two good friends. Let’s say that they have been really good friends since the kindergarten and now they’re in college. Let’s call them Rick and David.
When they arrive in college David decides that he is going to apply for a few activities to get to know other people there, but Rick thinks that he will be better off by spending time in the dorms and watching Netflix.
After a while David is becoming really popular in the school, he is getting good grades has a beautiful girlfriend and overall his life is great, but Rick on the other hand is gaining weight, smoking a lot of pot and spends most of his time watching movies.
Now since David and Rick have been such great friends David starts to feel guilty about Rick, that he is not so popular, his grades are low and overall he feels depressed. He thinks that maybe he should have tried to encourage him more and maybe that his popularity makes Rick think less of himself. After a while he starts to feel depressive and guilty because he thinks it is his fault.
The only way out of this guilt trip is to accept that you can try to help the other person, but you can’t make him do the work. A good way to do this is to make three columns and assert the situation and your inner monologue. Just like we did in the first exercise.
I hope this answers your question on how to deal with guilt and you will be able to overcome your guilt in no time.
If you have any questions or any other situation where you think these exercises don’t apply, let me know in the comments and I will answer as soon as possible.
Otherwise, share this article, someone might need it.