Are you plagued with guilt? There is a big difference between healthy guilt and toxic guilt. In this article, learn what creates toxic guilt and how to heal it.
It is important
Guilt is an important feeling. It is the appropriate feeling to have when we have deliberately done something hurtful or harmful to others. People who can harm others without any feelings of guilt or remorse were formerly called sociopaths or psychopathic personalities, and are now defined as suffering from Anti-social Personality Disorder.
Anti-social Personality Disorder is a severe disorder that includes – along with many other symptoms – the lack of a conscience. Without a conscience, people can deliberately harm others without ever feeling guilt or remorse.
While it is very important to feel guilt at deliberately harming others, many people feel toxic guilt. Toxic guilt is inappropriate guilt – guilt that comes from self-judgments regarding having done something wrong when is no actual wrongdoing.
A true story
For example Fran, one of my clients, was exploring the guilt she feels when she speaks with her mother.
Feelings of guilt
“No matter what I say, my mother always seems to feel hurt and then I feel guilty at hurting her. Sometimes I wish I never had to talk with my mother. I don’t want to not have a relationship with her, but I hate feeling guilty all the time.”
Fran’s feelings of guilt are not coming from actually inflicting harm on her mother. Her feelings are coming from the self-judgment that she absorbed from her mother’s judgments of her.
Her guilt is coming from the fact that she is telling herself she is doing something wrong. Fran falsely believes that if someone feels hurt, it must be her fault.
Fran’s mother taught him that when her mother was feeling hurt, it was his fault. Now Fran feels guilty whenever someone she is involved with feels hurt or angry.
It is in the beliefs
However, it is not the other person’s feelings, nor their blame, anger or judgment toward her that is causing Fran to feel guilty. It is her own self-judgment that is causing her feelings of guilt.
If Fran did not believe that she was responsible for causing others’ feelings, she would not feel guilty when her mother or others blamed her for their feelings.