All of us have at some time faced a situation that we have managed as we could, perhaps without having the necessary information or patience, causing someone else to feel uneasy.

In situations like this it is common for guilt to appear. But… what is guilt? It is a negative emotion that has a great psychological function: it helps us to reflect on our behaviour and attitudes in order to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

Although it has a positive side, guilt can turn against us when it provokes intrusive thoughts that tie us to some unfortunate moment in our lives.

Guilt feelings: why do they appear?

Guilt can have different causes and origins . In some people, it may be due to an emotion that debuted in childhood because of certain dysfunctional relationships with other family members or peers. As a result of this bad psychological experience, the individual may crystallize this feeling of guilt even in adulthood.

At the extreme of this feeling we find ‘extreme guilt’. This is a dysfunctional and unnecessary discomfort that creates our own mind and thoughts. It is vital, in these cases, to know how to identify the causes that provoke this discomfort.

The blame may lie with certain cognitive distortions that make our thinking work on the basis of biases and partial and irrational interpretations of reality. These thought patterns push us to take certain day-to-day situations to the extreme, ordering them as good or bad, which can lead to extreme interpretations that cause us emotional damage.

In addition, people who tend to feel guilty often simplify their experiences and are unable to take perspective and/or relativize what is happening to them, so they are often especially negative when evaluating these experiences.

Low self-esteem, a factor explaining guilt

Different studies have pointed out that a common factor among people with guilt feelings is low self-esteem . This problem is cause and effect of poorly functional social relations, with a submissive relationship scheme.

How we deal with this emotion is also a key point in understanding guilt, which can lead to a negative experience, or a positive one.

How to overcome feelings of guilt?

First of all, when we experience feelings of guilt we must be aware that we are dealing with a feeling that plays a role in our psyche, since it helps us to learn from the mistakes we have made and not repeat them in the future.

In addition, psychologists point out that trying to suppress this experience of pain and guilt is not an effective coping strategy. For these reasons it is crucial that we know how to reflect and have certain tools to understand guilt and overcome it.

1. Facing the situation objectively

In order to control this obsessive thinking derived from guilt, it is important to face each situation in a positive way, understanding the part of responsibility that we have but also knowing how to weigh the different variables that may have influenced what happened.

2. Understand that it is all part of learning

Guilt is the way our mind tells us there’s something we’ve done wrong. This should not make us sad, but rather make us think about how we can improve in the future. We must use guilt to learn and improve as people.

3. Practice self-pity

To get rid of feelings of guilt we must also practice self-pity, that is, know how to forgive ourselves for the mistakes we may have made in the past. It is not a question of falling into victim to this, but simply to weigh up the situations in order to understand what we could have done better.

4. Understanding the complexity of circumstances

There are situations in which the circumstances cannot be controlled and we are overcome by a number of factors . This is a key point: assessing the influence of variables beyond our control will also make us put each situation into perspective, and therefore our responsibility will be much more limited.

5. Apologize (if necessary)

Taking responsibility can mean taking certain concrete actions. For example, if you have the feeling that you did wrong to someone, it is a good idea not to let time pass in vain and apologize . This will give us a better view of ourselves, and help us to reconcile ourselves with this episode from the past.

6. Turn the page

And even if we are sure that we have acted unethically and feel guilty about something, we must have the courage to turn the page . We all make mistakes in life, and if it is not in our hands to correct them, the most sensible thing is to learn from the mistake and move on, forgiving ourselves.

7. Explain the situation to someone close to you

To gain perspective on the situation it may be a good idea to explain your concerns to someone close to you, such as a friend or family member . This way they can give you their opinion, and you may realise that the situation that is upsetting you is beyond your control, so that the feeling of guilt can be alleviated.

8. Going to psychological therapy

Sometimes, these feelings of guilt can settle in our minds and plunge us into a state of sadness, anxiety and invasive thoughts. In these cases, it is highly recommended that you seek the services of a mental health professional.

If you are in a spiral of negativity, a psychologist can offer you a number of resources to help you get back to being yourself.