Who Are You Guilt?

By Kat Giles BSW, MSW, RSW  |  April 18th

I remember a time when I lied to my mom. 

It was years ago, and I don’t remember exactly what I lied about, but I do remember lying in my bed with the feeling of guilt overwhelming me, keeping me awake.  Unable to sleep, I slowly walked downstairs to confess what I had done.

A lot of us have an experience of guilt overwhelming us. Like my story above, we often don’t recall the exact events, but we clearly remember the emotions and feelings we experienced around the event.  Like our other blogs in this series, let’s look at ways to recognize, regulate and respond to this emotion when we do experience it.

First, Externalizing the Emotion.  What Does Your Guilt Look Like?

Does it have wide, tired eyes from sleepless nights? Is it a creature of squiggly lines, a racing mind, unsure of what to do? Does it pace back and forth? Is it little or is it huge?

Take some time to externalize what guilt looks like for you. You could draw a picture or think of an object that represents guilt – perhaps a pit, a tornado, or an approaching storm.

Next, Recognize Guilt and What It is Saying to You

Take some time to hear what guilt is trying to communicate to you.  Guilt says I did something wrong or I can do things better.

It is important to notice the difference between what guilt says and what shame says.

Guilt says that I did something wrong, whereas shame says I am something wrong.

Guilt comes in and attacks our actions.  Shame attacks ourselves. Guilt can often shift into shame, telling us, I did bad, so I am bad.

Acknowledge that guilt is present in the situation that you find yourself in. Notice where guilt is attempting to become shame.

Regulate Your Body and Mind

Take some time to regulate. Throughout this series, we have talked about many ways to regulate ourselves. I hope that you have found a strategy that works well for you. In our next post, we will talk about some regulating strategies.

Lastly, Respond to Guilt

Once you have regulated, it is time to do something. Some ways that you may choose to respond to guilt might include:

  • writing a letter or calling a person whom you wronged.
  • journal about what you can learn about this situation – how will you grow from this experience
  • give back to the person – choose to do things differently and better next time

We know guilt and shame are tough emotions to recognize and respond to.  Connect with us if you are looking for some additional support or strategies, we are here when you need us.