Guilt is an incredibly powerful emotion. There is a wide range of things to feel guilty about – from feeling guilty about eating the last piece of pizza to feeling guilty about someone you hurt in your childhood. Some may wonder how guilt affects our mental health. Can it affect us long term, and just how bad can it get? Let’s take a closer look.
The feeling of guilt is unique from feeling sad or upset – guilt often combines feelings of shame, anxiety, frustration, and humiliation. These emotions can well up inside and build over time, most especially if we never admit to ourselves that we were at fault. Guilt can majorly affect our sense of self-worth and self-esteem.
Guilt can be an elusive and hard-to-predict beast. Some feel it much stronger than others. Feelings of guilt are quite common among those with mental disorders – particularly anxiety, depression, and OCD. The origin of one’s guilty feelings could be anything, but the cause is typically much more minor than would merit such an extreme emotional reaction. For example – let’s say someone with severe anxiety finds themselves feeling guilty about gossiping about a friend. The anxiety fuels the feelings of guilt, and this person could end up feeling guilty for days, weeks, months, and even years for this one incident. The guilt takes on a life of its own long after the incident has lost its relevance. They might want to find a way to somehow repent for their mistake – or they might stay in hiding until the feeling subsides. Some people are even manipulated into feeling guilty by particularly abusive friends, significant others, bosses, or family members.
Regardless of where the guilt comes from, the stress of the guilt itself can have a serious effect on some people. While mostly psychological, some physical effects can include insomnia, a loss of appetite, and an overall dreary feeling. Guilt happens to share a lot of symptoms with depression; and depression can develop within someone with severe guilt issues. This is why it is incredibly important for people having issues with guilt to seek help. If you’re having trouble with the nasty feeling of guilt – talk to a professional! Seek out one-on-one or group therapy, and practice being mindful about what actually happened to cause your negative opinion of yourself. Chances are, if you were to think about yourself in a calm and rational light, you would agree that you don’t deserve to feel as badly as you do.