Guilt or guilty conscience is one of the most common negative or sad emotions that people experience almost every day. If not addressed properly, a guilty conscience can destroy your relationship, steal your joy, your happiness, and even your future. Yet, the majority of us don't know how to deal with it in a healthy way.
According to the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 - 1900). A guilty conscience can push a person to become very cruel and do horrible things as a result. Horrible things like killing, committing suicide, etc.
Yet, just like any other emotions, there's not a clear definition for a "guilty conscience". So to better understand what it is, one has to explore the concept of right and wrong within society.
In psychology, for Sigmund Freud guilt resides under the surface veneer of a person's behavior (1856 - 1939). With that says, guilt is a self-conscious emotion that signals a person when his/her actions or behaviors may have caused or will cause harm to others either physically, emotionally or both. So to feel guilty is to feel painful regret for something wrong one thinks he/she might have done.
Why Feeling Guilty is important?
Last week I wrote about Psychological Deflection and the major role our ego plays in it. In that article, I said that our ego builds a self-defense system designed to protect us from feeling guilty or remorseful for our bad behaviors or actions in order to keep our self-esteem, self-worth, etc intact...I further said that over time, that same self-defense system will start having negative effects on our self-image and the way we view the world.
This means no one can buy himself/herself a "get-out-jail-free card" in this universe. To maintain emotional and psychological balance, it is necessary to experience guilt for our bad behavior or actions. Besides, a guilty conscience is like having a snooze alarm in your head that won't shut off until it is addressed and it has to be addressed in a healthy way.
If not addressed properly, a guilty conscience will make it very hard for you to think straight and make the right decisions when necessary, a guilty conscience can also trigger shame, anger, emptiness, and in many cases, sabotage your entire life and your relationship with others.
A guilty conscience that is not addressed properly will also make you become very paranoid and delusional. For example; a guilty conscience may make you feel that everything people say or write in their social media pages is about you and then consider it as a personal attack against, therefore, you feel the urgency to respond to them defensively. Such behavior will eventually throw you off balance emotionally and psychologically and make you a good candidate for anxiety, depression, or much worse.
A guilty conscience can also make you hate and punish yourself, avoid hearing nor seeing the person that you've wronged, it will also push you to talk negatively about that person in order to justify your bad behavior or actions, and in many cases, it can even make you feel resentful towards him/her because every time you hear or see him/her it reminds you what you have done.
Guilt can also make you hate that person you've wronged and try to do more harm to him/her should you get the opportunity.
How to Effectively Deal with a Guilty Conscience?
1) The first step in dealing with a guilty conscience is always to surrender to the truth (Repentance). This means to stop fighting or denying your guilt because the more you deny it the more intense the pain will become.
Never deny your guilt nor try to blame it on someone else because, as I've said before, no one can buy himself/herself a get-out-jail-free card in this universe. This means denying your guilt will have other effects.
2) The second step is to stop punishing yourself. Understand that no one is perfect including you, which leaves the avenue of life wide open before you to make plenty of mistakes. So own your mistakes and learn from them. If you're in an environment where you feel like you're constantly being judged, remove yourself from that environment as soon as you can.
3) The third step in dealing with a guilty conscience is to keep your emotions and behavior in check at all time. There's nothing more embarrassing for a person than not being unable to control his/her emotions or behavior. Such a person can easily snap at others for no justifiable reason (s) and it does not look good at all.
4) The fourth step is forgiveness and this is very, very important.
Through my personal and professional experience, I come to the conclusion that the hardest part of forgiveness is not forgiving someone who've wronged you, it is forgiving ourselves, in other words, self-forgiveness. But here's the thing, to take that pressure off your back, to enjoy life once again, to build high self-esteem and confidence in oneself, self-forgiveness is vital.
So seek forgiveness from the person you've wronged, forgive yourself, and then let it go.
5) The fifth step is to focus on the "now", rather than the past. I often hear people said to others that they can't live in the past or repeat the past. Whenever I hear that I smile because it's easier said than done.
In fact, the majority of us are actually living in the past emotionally and psychologically. And the sad thing is, they're not even aware of it.
If you don't own your past, in other words, take responsibility and be mindful about it, I can tell you right now that your life is on a repeat mode and there's not much difference between your past and your current situation.
This means, your past keeps repeating itself in your present and if you don't change your way of doing things it will repeat itself in your future also.
6) The sixth and final step is to always seek professional help (psychologist) if feel like you're overwhelmed by a guilty conscience because it can lead to more severe emotional or psychological situations, even suicide.