How To Deal With Guilt
It may be guilt you feel. It may be felt by someone you love.
Either way, it affects everyone. The person who feels guilt has little to no peace.
The ones who love the guilt-ridden are often pushed away…or feel helpless to help.
If you’re reading this article, you may be wanting to know how to deal with guilt so that you can move on with your life feeling at peace.
Guilt isn’t a bad thing. We actually need it and it has served a purpose evolutionary, stemming from a very basic emotion sadness.
If we never felt it, we’d have no conscience. We’d fake feeling remorse and true emotions about how we affect others, but that’s all it would be – fake.
Let’s look at a few examples of when feeling guilt is beneficial to our species and has been for hundreds of thousands of years.
By feeling guilt…
We are able to prevent things from happening that may have a negative consequence; we are avoiding punishment.
You are quite smitten with the Neanderthal in the next cave over.
You have a partner already and so does your neighbor, but it is very tempting to stray.
After contemplating for a while, you realize it is not worth the headache stirring things up and you definitely don’t want to be murdered by the neighbors.
It also allows us to cooperate with others.
You are a hunter/gatherer and are out searching for food.
A kill is made by you and your family but you are contemplating not telling the other families so that you do not have to share.
Guilt sets in and you know that there will be actions taken upon you by others if you do not share and cooperate as a team.
We can recover from mistakes, such as physically or emotionally hurting someone, by offering an apology.
You steal a chunk of woolly mammoth meat off the fire that your friend has prepared—you get caught being sneaky and everyone is angry.
You don’t want beef between you and your friend so you apologize and give him/her your next kill.
This function of guilt brings people back together in order for the human species to survive.
Guilt can also work against us.
It can lead us to make poor decisions, remove ourselves from others, cause us to lash out at others, or even do things to punish ourselves (whether we realize that we’re doing it or not).
Either of these can help or hurt a relationship.
Guilt can be productive or unproductive depending on the situation and the magnitude of the feeling.
In a marriage, guilt can prevent you from lying, being sneaky, having an affair, etc.
Or it can help you to make up for something that you previously did.
Alternately, a guilty conscious may not work in your favor if you choose to use it to punish yourself or others, such as a guilt trip that never ends.
Guilt and shame can be difficult feelings to feel and can cause anxiety.
How can you get past guilt so that it doesn’t affect your marriage long-term?
Identify why you are feeling guilty or why your partner is feeling so; self-reflect by journaling, praying, or meditating.
Change your mindset and way of thinking; counter any negative thoughts with positive ones. The emotion is not bad but your thoughts may be self-destructive.
Forgive yourself and work on your self-compassion.
Ask for forgiveness if it is needed.
Realize that you are not your actions, nor are other people.
Talk it out with your spouse, whether you are the guilty party or they are.
Stick with the facts and avoid using judgment: “I feel guilty because….” or “I feel ___ about what you did; I’d like to forgive and move past this all.”
Reflect upon what happened and move forward—there is no need to keep bringing up actions that happened in the past.
If you are forgiving someone else, you may forgive and never forget…but don’t rehash what happened again.
If it is difficult to get over guilt or to forgive your spouse, you may want to seek out professional help if the emotions and actions related to them are negatively affecting your marriage and you have tried other avenues.
A marriage and family counselor or religious professional will be able to help you and your spouse pivot.
For whatever reason you are feeling guilty or are the party that needs to do the forgiving, realize that getting past the hurt is possible and with communication and commitment, trust and peace can be restored.
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