Turning Toxic Guilt Upside Down

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.

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Self Improvement

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Guilt Gone Wrong

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:

  1. Don’t disappoint others.
  2. Never get angry.
  3. Always say Yes.

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.

  1. Healthy guilt occurs when you break a reasonable rule, but if you break an unrealistic or unreasonable rule, you experience unhealthy guilt.
  2. If someone is upset, it does not necessarily mean they are really hurt by your behaviour.
  3. Unhealthy guilt often comes with a lingering shame.
  4. The purpose of healthy guilt is to guide you, but unhealthy guilt is there to punish and mentally abuse you.

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Doing something you shouldn't

Guilt is considered to be a negative emotion - a sense that you've done something wrong.

But, there is a special kind of enjoyment that comes from doing something you shouldn't do. For example, eating a forbidden chocolate bar can boost pleasure.

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IDEAS

Rules and beliefs interact. Your beliefs are something you accept to be true. Your rules govern your behaviour. Your rules can limit or expand your beliefs.

Confronting your personal beliefs is about identifying the rules you live by, then considering if they are still rules you want to follow. If a rule doesn't serve you well, write one out that could replace it.

The downward spiral of overthinking

When we spend too much of our time analysing problems, we often end up with more questions than answers. Consistently overthinking can cause a range of symptoms such as insomnia, trouble concentrating and a lack of energy. In turn, it leads to further worries and finally becomes so unbearable that we look for ways to calm down.

Metacognitive strategies can help you reduce overthinking and help you realise that overthinking is within your control.

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