Margie is the official and primary caretaker for her brother, Louis, who has a cognitive disability and lives in an assisted living facility receiving state of the art care for his physical, mental, and emotional needs. Margie recognizes Louis is well-cared-for, but constantly feels guilty that she can’t care for him in her own home. What’s more, as the single mother of 3 children under the age of 15 working no less than 50 hours a week, she often feels guilty that she can’t care for her children more fully either. Everyone she knows tells her to let herself off the hook, but she just can’t shake the feeling she isn’t doing everything that needs to be done. When she is with her kids she feels like she should be working or checking on Louis. When she is with Louis she feels like she should be with her children or crossing off a to-do list item. The cycle of guilt is unending.
Matthew and his best friend James were inseparable growing up. They played sports together, were in the same Boy Scout troupe, and lived 3 houses down from one another. But there were some differences as well — Matthew was always very popular and attractive, whereas James struggled to find a girlfriend and judged himself to be average in appearance. James also struggled deeply with depression and anxiety, whereas Matthew was usually happy-go-lucky and difficult to rattle. James talked openly with Matthew about his struggles, but Matthew never could seem to impart enough to help. Six months ago, James committed suicide and Matthew was devastated. Now, in addition to his grief over his best friend, Matthew is struggling with intense guilt about what he could have done to help save James. He doesn’t know if he’ll ever be able to forgive himself for James’s death even though he’s been told repeatedly and convincingly that it wasn’t his fault.
Catherine is a single mom and works incredibly hard to provide for her children. However, one night when her little boy refused to go to sleep and she had a major presentation to prepare for, she lashed out at him verbally, causing him to hide in his room and lock the door. The next morning when she tried to make up with him, he told her through tears that she was sometimes a “scary Mommy,” and that he wanted to be alone. Catherine immediately began sobbing and felt absolutely horrible about her actions. She had no idea she was capable of yelling at her little boy and making him feel so scared. Since then, she is plagued by guilt and shame for her actions and is terrified to ever act that way again.
Guilt is the emotion people experience when they believe they have done something wrong or have caused a negative circumstance to occur. A person who feels guilty is taking responsibility for the “bad” thing that happened or could potentially happen.
Is guilt good or bad?
The exact nature of guilt is perhaps a question better left to philosophers or theologians. From a mental health perspective, what we can say is that while taking responsibility for one’s actions is fruitful, there are some people who do not stop at feeling remorse, instead internalizing guilt and experiencing shame. It’s hard to see that as being productive. According to Dr. Brene Brown, one of our nation’s foremost researchers in the areas of shame and vulnerability, shame occurs anytime we feel we are less worthy because of something we have done. This too seems counterproductive to healthy and vibrant living.
Do you use guilt in a destructive way?
If you are considering Nashville guilt counseling, it is possible that you’re be using guilt in a destructive way take note of the examples and symptoms listed below.
Here are some examples of ways that guilt can become destructive…
- A parent who had several sexual partners in college and is overly protective of their child causing a strain on the relationship
- An individual who wants to stop drinking, but beats themselves up so badly that they’re driven to drink just to cope
- An adult who struggles to care for a parent that is aging and then in turn makes extreme demands on their children to take care of themselves
If you are experiencing any of the signs or symptoms above then you may be experiencing more shame than guilt. This means that you would benefit from seeking out a skilled therapist at Change, Inc. Nashville counseling to support you. Consider taking action if you’re experiencing any of the following:
- Fast heart palpitations as if nervous or anxious
- Low energy level, feeling bogged down by life or emotions
- Nausea or feeling sick to your stomach
- Feeling hot, flushed, or sweaty
- Negative self-talk: “I’m an idiot and no one loves me.”
- Seeing yourself as the root of problems that aren’t directly related to you
- Low self-worth
- All or nothing thinking: “Either I’m doing everything or none of this is worth it.”
- Needing to be needed
- Desire to “rescue” people: “Maybe if I am nice to him he’ll stop…”
- Being victim to abuse or disrespect
- Fearful of criticism or losing approval of someone
- Desire to control other’s behaviors
What to do about unhealthy guilt or shame?
- Empathetic Connection – According to Dr. Brene Brown, the antidote to shame is empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings of another. Connecting with a trusted friend can be helpful, but might not be enough — we often need to learn how to show empathy to ourselves. Seek out a Nashville shame therapist who can provide you with the empathy training you need to move through the shame.
- Know the Triggers – Become aware of what triggers your feelings of intense guilt or shame. Is it a person or something you say to yourself? Write down what you understand to be the triggers so you can be clear about the root of the problem. Focus on the facts, free of value judgment.
- Boundaries and Self-Care – Setting boundaries and engaging in self-care can be very difficult for people experiencing guilt or shame, precisely because they often don’t believe they’re worth caring for at their very core (even though they may sometimes deny feeling that way). This is key for being able to develop healthy relationships when shame is present.
- Acceptance – If you have done something that you feel remorse over. it is important to accept this part of your story — just your part. Acceptance doesn’t mean that you are pretending like nothing happened or that you can just forget that you wronged someone. In fact, it is about more fully admitting what actually happened, in proportion to what didn’t happen (all that extra stuff you put on yourself). Acceptance is about showing love to all parts of you, even the challenging parts. When you do this you will be much more likely to make decisions that make you proud and to not be immobilized by the shame or guilt.
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