Total Wellness Blog

The Guilty Feels

The guilt feeling is one that is a regular visitor to many of my client’s experiences. It tends to be there in the background colouring so many of our experiences and it comes with a sting that we sometimes would prefer to ignore than face it.

So, what is guilt? Guilt is a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some wrongdoing. However, we need to remember that the feeling of guilt is not a bad thing. For instance, it can be the voice of reason and moral compass telling us we need to make amends. That kind of guilt can be tempered with an apology or getting back on track to living within our values. This guilt keeps us on track, and ensures we are kind and considerate towards others. Accepting guilt like this isn’t always easy but it is within our control to address it and learn from it in the future.

There is another kind of guilt. Think about times when you have wanted to put yourself first and instead of going out on a family trip you chose to stay in and relax at home. Then the phone calls start from family members asking why you weren’t there and that they expected you would be there to see the family. Or if you have felt that you should have done better with your assignment and got higher grades and other people in your cohort probably have done better than you.  That guilt can be pervasive and damaging. It’s the guilt that makes us feel worthless, depressed and prevents us from living life as it is meant to be lived. This kind of Guilt can eat away at you until it manifests as a physical and mental illness. Dealing with guilt of this sort is tough.

5 Types of Guilt

1. Fear of letting people down

2. The ‘should’ factor

3. Being manipulated into feeling guilty

4. Comparing self with others and coming up short. Not good enough

5. Needing people to like you.

Guilty for Letting People Down

The fear of letting people down is often instilled into us during childhood and it sticks around. In their ‘enthusiasm’ to bring up a likable, willing child, parents will often pile guilt upon their child via blame. “You forgot to do this…” “You haven’t cleaned your room…” “You hurt my feelings…” we can internalise these messages as we can never do enough.

The Guilty ‘Shoulds’

I have a ban on this word in my therapy room as it is always dripping in guilt.  The ‘should’ factor can affect anyone – you feel guilty taking time off work or by lying exhausted on the couch while your partner has to cook and clear up. You feel guilty doing something you enjoy when you feel you should to be doing chores. This is a very common one and we all are susceptible to shoulding all over ourselves.

Manipulated into Feeling Guilt

You can be manipulated into feeling guilty by someone who thinks you don’t give them enough attention or that you let them down in some way. Children become quite adept at getting what they want by using your guilt against you. Partners, friends and parents can also inflict feelings of guilt upon us. We cannot change how others will attempt to manipulate us, but we do have control over whether we believe their statements and what meaning we attach to their messages. Remember when someone does this it is a statement about where they are at emotionally rather than statement about your character.

Comparison Guilt

You may have created a great life. You work hard to keep it all together but still you feel guilty. Perhaps to save time you cook ready meals, or don’t iron your clothes. You compare yourself with others who seem to sail through life with impeccable organization skills. Why can’t you be like them? Social media is a great one for exacerbating this thought process. Remember most of those happy snaps come with #filteredoutalltheflawsboringstufffightbadmoodselfdoubtetcetc At the end of the day we are all on our own journey as long as you are living within your values and then you are winning!

I Need You to Like Me Guilt

Our need to be liked can cause guilt on many levels. We may lie to make ourselves seem like better people. We may say ‘yes’ to someone who really isn’t that important in order that they see us favourably, at the same time saying ‘no’ to a family member. Then we experience internal conflict, followed by… you guessed it, guilt. This is when we ae not living our authentic selves and we cannot fool ourselves into believing we are someone we are not!

The Effects of Guilt

Sustained feelings of guilt are damaging to our self-esteem, confidence, relationships, health and prevents us from living a full and rewarding life. Sometimes in extreme cases we feel guilty for things that are completely out of our control for example surviving car accident when others did not. This is called misplaced guilt and it is important to seek professional assistance in these situations. The physical symptoms of guilt can be muscle tension, always feeling irritable or on edge, stomach discomfort, headaches, insomnia, trouble sleeping, tearfulness.

Dealing with Guilt: Let it Go

Often, we allow feelings of guilt to eat away at us for a long time, reliving our bad deeds, letting them accumulate until they form a rock-like burden which we carry around inside. Great news is you can release this guilt.

Take a step back. Imagine you are a close friend advising you. Hold up your guilt. What would this close friend tell you to do? Perhaps a simple apology to the person you offended/upset/hurt would do it? Maybe you don’t even have to do that. You could write it out in a letter, then burn it. Or journal about it. Once you have done whatever it takes, then let it go. Do not revisit it, don’t relive it or hold it up for regular inspection. It’s done, in the past, and dealt with. Until they invent a teleport stone to go back in time reliving it in our minds is only going to make us feel distress and will not help anyone.

We all have our inner child within us. What would you tell that child about that awful thing – that it wasn’t your fault? That you couldn’t have prevented it? That you thought you were doing the right thing at the time? Give your child-self the gift of forgiveness. Ultimately, we need to treat ourselves with the same nurturing and compassion as we would treat a child who needs to feel safe.

Know that you aren’t perfect, that no-one is. Accept that you always do the best you can, as do most of us. You can never live your life without screwing up sometimes. Be kind to yourself, acknowledge you were wrong and move on. Life’s too short for guilt and you will miss out on the wonderful gems in our world if we are always caught up in our minds beating ourselves with the “should” stick.

References:

Belden, A. C., Barch, D. M., & Oakberg, T. J. (2015). Anterior insula volume and guilt: Neurobehavioral markers of recurrence after early childhood major depressive disorder. JAMA Psychiatry, 72(1). Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/1935483

Brown, B. (2013, January 14). Shame v. guilt. Retrieved from https://brenebrown.com/blog/2013/01/14/shame-v-guilt

Holloway, J. D. (2005). Guilt can do good. Monitor on Psychology, 36(10). Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/monitor/nov05/guilt.aspx

Huhmann, B. A., & Brotherton, T. P. (2013, May 31). A content analysis of guilt appeals in popular magazine advertisements. Journal of Advertising, 26(2). Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00913367.1997.10673521

Peterson, T. J. (2016, July 7). Guilt: A distressing effect of anxiety. Retrieved from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2016/07/guilt-a-distressing-effect-of-anxiety

Schafler, K. (n.d.). The difference between guilt and shame. Retrieved from https://www.katherineschafler.com/blog/the-difference-between-guilt-and-shame

Tilghman-Osborne, C., Cole, D. A., & Felton, J. W. (2014, August 3). Definition and measurement of guilt: Implications for clinical research and practice. Clinical Psychology Review, 30(5). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4119878/

Understanding guilt. (n.d.). Mental Illness Fellowship Australia. Retrieved from http://www.sharc.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Understanding-guilt-Wellways.pdf

Excitement VS Fear

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I am standing in line for a amusement ride and I am becoming more conscious of the tightening of my chest and becoming more apprehensive by the minute as we wait. My friend on the other hand is positively bursting with apprehension and excitement.

On the ride we both sense the intensity of what is to come, hearts racing, muscles tensing, adrenaline rushing…yet we are both feeling very different emotions???

How does someone have exactly the same experience as you yet will have completely different feeling about it?  It is not what you feel but what meaning you attach to the feeling.

Excitement and Fear are closely aligned in the brain. They share similar physiological responses. The difference is not how the body reacts but what meaning we attach to that feeling. My friend had decided she was going to enjoy that ride and she did. I chose (subconsciously) to have a bad time…and I did! Self fulfilling prophecy.

The mind is a powerful thing however, imagine if you could reframe fear as excitement? The good news is this is totally achievable!

There are a number of ways to do this. For example if you have self belief in your abilities you can choose to embrace the experience and utilise calming techniques if needed. However there is another more counter intuitive approach that studies have shown to be effective. Blocking out or avoiding undesirable sensations or even trying to calm down can be at times not helpful in addressing the issue. Instead practising to embrace the idea that fear is not the enemy.

In a study called Get Excited: Reappraising Pre performance Anxiety as Excitement by Professor Allison Wood Brooks explored how people reframed to get excited rather than relax before a difficult situation and noted that this improved their performance.

Professor Wood Brooks surmises that why this is an effective approach is because de regulating anxiety when it is very heightened is extremely difficult and often ineffective. Instead by challenging yourself the feelings in your body are positive you are more likely to be able to use that energy to your advantage in that situation.

Initially it may be a “fake to you make it” approach but eventually your brain will become used the those bodily sensations of adrenaline and will not become threatened by them in those situations.

Ultimately you can take charge of your brain and go from fear into excitement. If you convince your brain to perceive situations differently you can finally see challenges not threats, opportunities rather than obstacles and hopefully experience more fun!

Look for a challenge in your life and next time you are confronted with it use it as a chance to practice this mind of matter technique.

Check out the link below for more information.

Click to access xge-a0035325.pdf