Experiencing guilt is a part of being human. Guilt is the feeling that we have acted against our personal standards or values in some way. We tend to feel guilty if we’ve hurt someone or broken a rule. Guilt can be an uncomfortable emotion to experience but it has an important role to play in our lives and it can be very useful. But what exactly is the purpose of this emotion? And what can we do if we find ourselves stuck with a sense of guilt that we can’t let go?
The Purpose of Feeling Guilty
All emotions tell us some useful information. Even emotions that can cause us discomfort have wisdom to share. The purpose of guilt is to prompt us to reflect on our actions so we can ensure we’re living in line with our personal values. For example, if we feel guilty about the words we said in an argument, the emotion of guilt prompts us to examine ourselves. We might pause to think if that was unkind, or if really meant what we said. If needed, feeling guilty would prompt us to make amends to the relationship. Therefore, guilt can be a very healthy emotion when it helps us learn from our mistakes. It can act as a compass that gives us direction for how we want to behave as a human being.
The Difference Between Guilt and Shame
It can be confusing to distinguish the feelings of guilt and shame, as both can occur when we don’t act in line with our values. But there is a difference: while guilt focuses on how our actions have not measured up in some way, shame focuses on how one’s self is flawed or not good enough. Therefore, if you are feeling guilty it can be helpful to review what actions can be taken to correct a mistake. But if you are feeling ashamed, it may help to acknowledge that you are human and allowed to make mistakes. That does not make you any less of a person.
How Can I Resolve My Guilt?
Although guilt can be healthy, people can experience a type of guilt that lingers even when they have done everything they can to make amends. This sort of guilt can be a heavy burden to carry on your own. To work towards resolution, it’s important to understand why we are feeling guilty. Here are some questions that can been helpful for this:
- What specific action of mine am I feeling guilty about?
- Whose standards/values were violated? Were they my own? Or do they belong to others?
- Where did these standards come from? Did I develop these standards from my family, peer group, society, the media, or my own values?
- Are these standards true to my own values? Or are they unrealistic, such as “I must never make any mistakes”?
Guilt can be a heavy burden to carry on your own. But a burden shared can be a burden halved. Our team of Psychologists are here to help you carry this burden if you need it.
Lauren Chee (M Clin Psych, BSc (Hons – First Class)) is a psychologist who understands the importance of forming a genuine and caring therapeutic relationship with each individual she sees. Lauren is registered with Medicare and is also an approved practitioner in the NSW Workers Compensation System.
Lauren has experience working with both children and adults within schools, private clinics, and inpatient and outpatient hospital settings. Her warm and supportive approach helps her clients feel comfortable exploring their concerns in order to develop practical strategies to reach their goals. Some of the issues she has helped her clients with include depression, anxiety, perfectionism, adjustment to significant life change, self-esteem, grief, learning difficulties, and school and work-related stress.
In her work, Lauren recognises the individuality of each person and their story, and provides uniquely tailored treatments to support her clients. By being committed to the latest psychological research, she is able to equip her clients with evidence-based skills and knowledge that can lead to positive and lasting change. Lauren is a dedicated and approachable psychologist with a passion for helping her clients live a life in line with their personal values.
Lauren has a special interest in:
Anxiety Disorders e.g. Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Social Phobia, Health Anxiety
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Social Skills and Assertiveness
Parenting and Attachment
Child Mental Health and Wellbeing
Learning Difficulties e.g. ADHD, specific learning disorders
Outside of work, Lauren enjoys spending time in nature, discovering new music, and sharing delicious meals with her friends and family.