Guilt is an emotion that stems from either a conscious or an unconscious source. This emotion, although troublesome, can be used for growth, self-awareness, and productivity.
However, if the feeling persists to the degree that it impedes your day to day functioning, it is crucial to take measures to overcome this feeling.
Regardless of its cause, guilt is an emotion that must be resolved. The resolution comes when you acknowledge everything that you are feeling, accept the reason behind why you are feeling a certain way and consequently, work towards forgiving yourself.
Whether your guilt emanates from harming your loved one, or just from requesting someone to do my assignments for me,” accepting it is the foremost initiative that you are required to take. The following guide can help you work through the process to overcome guilt by exonerating yourself form this feeling.
Understand and recognise the types of guilt
Guilt comes in many shapes and forms. It can help you become a better person, or it can eat you up inside until you are no more who you used to be. Generally, there are two types of guilt- adaptive or pro-social guilt and maladaptive guilt. The former category of guilt is healthy. An individual experiencing adaptive guilt has a sense of responsibility as well as sense of transgression.
On the other hand, the latter category of guilt can be painful for the experiencer. This type of guilt can drive you to feel hopeless and ashamed. It can crush your self-esteem and how you perceive yourself to be. This guilt should be immediately dealt with.
Maladaptive guilt has three types:
Reactive guilt occurs when you feel that you have acted against something that you and society have deemed as moral.
Anticipatory guilt happens when you engage in the thought of acting against something you or the society has deemed as a moral act. Thus, based on anticipatory guilt, you make your own choices.
Existential guilt stems from the knowledge of the fact that the world is doomed. The presence of injustice in the system mainly invokes this type of guilt. It has further subdivision such as:
- Exaggerated guilt – occurs when the degree of guilt experienced surpasses the degree of the immorality of the crime.
- Miss-assigned guilt – this type of guilt occurs when you feel remorse after engaging in an act that is not immoral.
- Recurrent guilt – This form of guilt occurs on an on and off basis. You may feel that you have resolved your feeling of remorse; however, any similar event can trigger an episode of guilt, thus leaving you to experience the coinciding shame all over again.
The source of guilt must be identified. You are required to introspect and understand what is causing the guilt. If the act you committed ended up harming someone, you can openly communicate with the individual and apologise to them. In case the apology does not make you feel better you are required to take an initiative that can help you reverse the crime that you initially committed.
For instance, if you ended up destroying someone’s friendship, you can come clean to both parties and help them make amends.
On the other hand, if the damage is irreversible, you can seek forgiveness and know that you did your part. This might not make you feel better instantly; however, you must tell yourself that you have done everything in your power to make it right.
An example of this can be engaging in an act which would otherwise go against your religious or moral belief. As the act is already committed, you can’t go back to undo it. Hence, you can ask your God for forgiveness and hope that they absolve your sins.
Use guilt as an opportunity to learn
The feeling of remorse can drive you insane because you are giving it that power. Even if you have done everything to undo your actions, you may find that guilt crawling up inside you and preventing you from living your day to day life.
In such cases, the next step that you can take is to use your guilt as an opportunity to learn and grow as a human. You can use your guilt as a reminder which empowers you to move forward with everything you do in life. It can push you to avoid engaging in acts that you may believe are immoral. It can be the driving force that guides you in the right direction. Turn the negativity into something positive, and it will provide you the opportunity to resolve it!
Learn to let go
Guilt that results for legitimately immoral action is an essential factor for growth. With that said, you need to move on from that emotion without letting it hold you back. If you feel that you deserved to be punished, you probably will be. However, if you let y our guilt become the most powerful emotion that you feel, your life will become imbalanced, lonely and cold.
Considering this, it is vital to realise the moment when you need to let it go. Allow yourself to say goodbye to the pain that you are feeling. It does not make you a bad person; rather it makes you a rational individual. So, learn to let go of these negativities.
Invoke the feeling of hope
If guilt is the emotion that weighs you down, hope is the counter force that can lift you. Hoping that things will get better, or that the damage you have caused will be resolved soon, will help you cut away the shards of guilt inside you.
Hope can also work as a self-fulfilling prophecy. The moment you truly start to believe that things will get better, you will automatically observe the shift of negative events to positive events.
Guilt is a powerful emotion. It can help you or break you. If the latter starts to take place, make sure you take the necessary actions to resolve this feeling.