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How is guilt affecting your life?

by Dr. Leta Livoti
| February 26, 2020 1:25 PM

This is a two part series. In this article we will explore the concept of guilt and how it affects a person’s life. Next week I will discuss how to manage guilt.

Guilt is the inability to forgive oneself for a perceived wrongdoing. Perceived wrongdoing means you believe you have done something wrong. The wrongdoing may or may not have had negative consequences for yourself and/or others.

A perceived wrongdoing may be an action, a thought or a feeling. If the wrongdoing was an action, you probably think of it as a mistake. You feel guilty because you cannot forgive yourself.

Guilt may also be feelings of obligation for not pleasing, not helping or accepting responsibility for someone’s else misfortune. You cannot let it go. If you cannot forgive yourself, you will not overcome the guilt.

For some people guilt may be a mask behind which irrational beliefs hide.

What irrational beliefs or negative self scripts are involved in guilt?

- I do not deserve to be happy.

- I am responsible for my family’s (spouse’s) happiness

- My kid’s should have more material things than I did.

- People are constantly judging me, and this is important to me.

- I must be responsible, conscientious, and giving to others.

What can guilt do to you?

Guilt can:

- Make you become over responsible, striving to make your life “right.” You overwork. You over give of yourself. You are willing to give anything in your attempt to make everyone happy.

- Make you become overconscientious. You fret over every action you take as to its possible negative consequence to others.

- Make you oversensitive. You see decisions about right and wrong in every aspect of your life and become obsessed with the tenuous nature of all your personal actions, words and decisions.

Immobilize you. You can become so overcome by the fear of doing, acting, saying or being “wrong” that you eventually collapse, give in, and choose inactivity, silence, and the status quo.

- Interfere in your decision making. It is so important to always to be “right” that you become unable to make a decision in case it be a wrong one.

- Be hidden by the mask of self denial. Because it is less guilt inducing to take care of others first, instead of yourself, you hide behind the mask of self denial. You honestly believe it is better to serve others first, unaware that “guilt is the motivator for such “generous” behavior.

- Be a motivator to change. Because you feel guilt and the discomfort it brings, you can use it as a barometer of the need to change things in your life and rid yourself of the guilt.

- Be a mask for negative self belief. You may actually have low self esteem, but claim the reason for your negativity is the overwhelming sense of guilt you experience.

- Mislead or misdirect you. Because many irrational beliefs lie behind guilt, you may be unable to sort you feelings.

- It is important to be objective with yourself when you are experiencing guilt; be sure you decisions are based on sound rational thinking.

- How has guilt affected you? Are these some of the thoughts, feelings and behaviors you demonstrate?

Dr. Leta A Livoti Ph.D., LCSW, LCPC is a psychotherapist in Thompson Falls. She can be contacted at 827-0700.

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