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Almost everyone experiences guilt, off and on, throughout their life. Guilt is not completely negative, unproductive and disruptive. Guilt can be seen in a positive light, although most people do not see it as such.  It can be an adaptive feeling in that it can help motivate a person to learn from painful experiences.

Understanding Guilt

The dictionary defines the word guilt as a "feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined."

Guilt is that part of the human conscience that brings us up short and convicts us for actions and thoughts.  It is that voice within a healthy person that can bring us to a realization that there is a standard and we have fallen short of and a standard we would like to live up to.  Guilt can motivate a person to attempt to make amends, to try to repair damage to relationships, to confess and seek forgiveness, and to change their behavior.  It can turn a positive person into a person who sees nearly everything  as a problem. Like frustration and anger, it can slow down or totally inhibit our progress, and at times completely immobilize us. We can become so wound up with our guilt that we do not, and cannot, think or act rationally. 

In psychological terms, guilt is an emotional state in which one experiences conflict at having done something one believes one should not have done or, conversely, not having done something one believes one should have done. It gives rise to a feeling that does not go away easily, driven by conscience. It is often associated with depression, anxiety, stress and other mental health related problems.

From a legal perspective, guilt can also refer to the condition of having done something legally wrong, regardless of how one feels about it. From a cultural perspective there is a concept called collective guilt. Collective guilt is the idea that a collection of humans or a human institution can bear guilt above and beyond the guilt of particular members (see Wikipedia: Guilt).

Seeing the feeling of guilt in its proper light allows us to understand that it is a safety valve for the human condition. Guilt means there is a right and wrong way for us to operate and there are standards of what is good and what is worthy of guilt.

Where guilt comes from in the human mind is not known and the specific behaviors that cause guilt in a person can not be predicted ahead of time. However, we do know that there are people who appear to be lack any sense of guilt.  Such people, labeled psychopaths, typically do not exhibit a remorse or guilt in the face of wrongdoing. This is seen by psychologists as part of a lack of moral reasoning in comparison with the majority of humans, an inability to evaluate situations in a moral framework and an inability to develop emotional bonds with other people.

Treatment of Guilt

I have found that guilt can be a very helpful motivator, it can lead to a a thorough review of mistakes, it can increase alertness and caution, help a person feel responsible and it can foster social acceptance and esteem.  On the other hand, when guilt feelings take control of a person, the guilt can totally dominate thinking, decrease motivation and productivity, undermine your self-esteem and sense of worth, crush your hopes and dreams, and help destroy your life and the lives of those around you.

There is a right way and a wrong way to deal with guilt.  Trying to hide or deny our guilt feelings does not usually lead to a healthy situation.  It is important to look at the reason for the guilt. It does not necessarily follow that because you have guilt feelings, there is something to be guilty about. Guilt is only a powerful feeling but it is not always a realistic one. 

Guilt can sometimes be remedied through a rational cognitive approach, through understanding that the source of the guilty feelings was illogical or irrelevant, through confession, sincere remorse, and repentance, by forgiveness, through the completion of remedial behavior and through punishment.

Any mentally healthy person experiences guilt during their life.  Being able to put our guilt feelings and behaviors into proper perspective, and develop a plain to alleviate guilt in a healthy way, is a very important skill to develop. Each person needs to learn how to deal with and control guilt so that it does not control you. If you find yourself frequently feeling guilt, or that guilt gets in the way of your living effectively, you may need professional help.

Realistically you will not eliminate experiencing guilt in your life.  In spite of all your efforts, things will happen that will cause you  to feel guilty.  Some of these guilt feelings may be realistic and other s may not be.   Learning to deal effectively with guilt and how you can eliminate unnecessary guilt can improve your life.

For many people, help may be found in religious practices and meditation.  A discussion with your minister, rabbi, priest, or other religious leader can be very helpful.  Some people need the assistance of a psychologist or other licensed mental health professional in an individual or group therapy setting.

A therapist, who can observe and analyze your behavior and values from an impartial perspective, can help you with your reality testing.  An therapist knows many effective strategies to help a person deal with guilt.  I know that many persons have demonstrated improvement with counseling techniques such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Reality Therapy (RT), and traditional psychotherapy

Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and hypnotherapy have also been used effectively to help deal with guilty thought patterns. Sometimes antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications, when combined with counseling, can also be very effective in helping to reduce the feelings of guilt.

Would You Like Personal Assistance?

If you feel that your degree of guilt is out of control, if it is having an impact on your relationships and on important parts of your life, you might consider counseling to learn how to handle it better. Reaching out for information and assistance can help you live a healthier and more fulfilling life.

If you really want help dealing with your feelings and emotions, changing your behavior, and improving your life and the approach and office hours of typical therapists and counselors do not fit your life style or personal needs, I may have a solution.

By using very flexible office appointments, telephone consultations, email, teleconferences, and the willingness to travel and meet with you personally in your home, office, or other location,  I can be available to help you anytime and anywhere.

Feel free to contact me now for your free initial consultation. Once you become an existing client, you will be given a  pager  number where you can reach me whenever you need.

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