Guilt is a normal emotion and at the right levels can be useful in our relationships, but unhealthy guilt has high levels of anxiety, pressure and shame associated with it, which can be toxic to our lives.
Guilt occurs when certain rules are broken. While some rules are universal and need to be upheld, there are certain rules which are self-made or imposed by society:
A natural reaction to guilt can be to compulsively apologize or to distract oneself. Our voice of guilt or conscience can be helpful if we slow down and listen to it. Identify, acknowledge, accept and allow the feeling of guilt. Check what rules were broken, including all the should’s and shouldn’ts that arose out of the consequences of our action.
If we break a realistic rule, we can understand that the guilt is healthy, but if the rule that is broken is rigid, unrealistic, extreme or misaligned with our values, we may have excessive and toxic guilt.
We can turn the unpleasant feelings of guilt into a positive, constructive experience that is beneficial for us and others.
Seeing that we have done something that is totally unacceptable can be taken in both negative and positive terms. We cannot become a better person by attacking, punishing or criticising ourselves. Our improvement depends on our not being harsh on ourselves, bringing in compassion and taking swift action to repair the unpleasant situation.