Inadvertently incurring violations or causing distress to others can take a toll on a person emotionally. That seemingly nagging voice in your head and that sort of heavy feeling that you feel when you do something wrong is called guilt. It’s something like an emotional reflex that reminds a person to stay on the right path. The problem comes when the guilt become magnified exaggeratedly. Guilt, when left unchecked, can do more harm than good and the combination of this guilt and anxiety can be deadly. The Vice Chairman of the Cleveland Clinic’s psychiatry and psychology department, Micheal McKee, PhD, posits that there are some people who rarely experience moments of peace because of their guilt. Instead of a positive guilt that drives them to become better people, they are antagonized by their excessive guilt.
Guilt can also be molded by the society over the time. Society tends to place expectations on people even at an early age. When these expectations are not met, a person can feel guilt. Often times, these societal pressures revolve around gender-based roles. In most of the societies, men are expected to be physically strong, intellectual and very masculine. Women or girls, on the other hand, are expected to be more submissive and feminine. Failure to meet these standards can cause a person to feel inadequate and guilty of not doing more.
A Vicious Cycle
People suffering from anxiety also suffer from excessive and convoluted guilt. Self-blaming, self-criticizing and fear of inflicting more harm or damage is the characteristic of guilt that is magnified by anxiety. Anxiety tends to distort your positive guilt by making it torture you emotionally further worsening anxiety itself. It is distressing and wrong.
Commonly diagnosed anxiety disorders include Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety disorder. People suffering from any of the three tend to suffer from excessive guilt as well. Anxiety and guilt have a give and take relationship. Guilt can cause anxiety and also vice versa. This vicious cycle is dangerous to mental health. When these two become worse, you are in great trouble.
Guilt and anxiety can invite physical and mental illness. Since unhealthy stress accompanies guilt and anxiety, you could suffer from headaches, back pains, body pain, gastrointestinal diseases and cardiovascular diseases. It can also attack your immune system in the long run which renders you susceptible to other diseases. The mental torture of anxiety and excessive guilt can drive you to depression.
It is good to keep a good amount of guilt. It allows a person to feel empathy towards others, to take things into perspective and to correct what was wrongfully done. Guilt is supposed to nurture and mend relationships. Without it, society can fall apart but having too much of it can be just as harmful. Although dealing with anxiety goes a long way, you can deal with guilt in simple different ways. Experts cite the practice of saying “No” as a sound advice. Learn to prioritize and avoid taking in too much responsibilities that you may not be able to handle. Do not neglect yourself. Care for others but always care for yourself as well. Truly accept the fact that nobody is perfect and that everyone makes a mistake every now and then. Turning excessive guilt into positive guilt is not easy but doing your best to manage it is something worth it.