The Good Side of Guilt

It’s a funny feeling, isn’t it? We feel yuck when we experience guilt, yet often we keep going back again and again to that familiar old sting. Are we masochists? Why do we do it to ourselves? And then when there’s kids involved, guilt skyrockets in all ways. Inadvertently we can pass it onto our kids and then they too get in the guilt cycle.

Time and time again we are told ‘get rid of the guilt’, ‘guilt is a useless emotion’ and for the most part it is, but what if we need guilt? What if it’s not the evil enemy we’re told that it is?

What even is guilt? It’s often seen as an emotion that crops up when we either feel like we’ve done something we shouldn’t have, or we didn’t do something we think we should have.

guilt meme dexter
Be like a sociopath! Except for the killing and lack of remorse stuff…

Guilt can be useful sometimes. It can alert us to something a bit deeper within ourselves that we’re not happy with. Maybe we snapped at our cherubs in the rush to get them off to school, when it was really the shitty traffic that made us run late (*cough* thatmighthavebeenmethismorning *cough*), maybe we forgot to send that important email, maybe we scoffed that last chocolate down. It’s not guilt that’s the issue here, but rather dissatisfaction in the way we’ve handled something- could be anxiety operating at the core, could be self-esteem, could be almost anything. But guilt is what alerts us to something not being right. It’s that discomfort we need so that we can reassess and make a change.

Guilt can be shit too. That’s when it becomes shame. Shame is that more internalised, personalised crud- where we think we’re bad for doing something, rather than just feeling cruddy for doing or not doing something. Shame can colour our everything, and if we leave it to grow, it can transform into even ickier things like anxiety, depression and other difficulties.

The difference here is function. Guilt often jumps us into action, whereas shame halts our process. It gets us stuck. So we need to stop bagging guilt out, and instead label the healthy stuff guilt, and the unhealthy stuff shame. Makes the world of difference when you’re grappling with the ick.

guilt meme cartoon
More like a shame trip… they suck balls

If you’re feeling guilty about something, don’t beat yourself up about it. You know that the ick feeling is an indicator that something has to change, so review what it is that you want to do/ don’t want to do and then make plans to rectify it. That’s it. Talk it over, allow yourself to feel ick for 13.45 minutes and then take action. The longer you hold onto guilt, the less useful it is and the more it turns into shame. Ain’t nobody got time for that shit.

Are you a guilt hoarder? Or are you all up in that ‘let it go’ zen mode?

  • I try really hard to rectify and move on but I admit, I avoid it at times.

  • Like all ‘negative’ emotions, it’s when guilt is misplaced that there’s a problem. As you say, when it turns into shame you’ve got an issue!

    I often feel guilty about completely random things that I have no control over – I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not responsible for other people or their actions.

    It’s definitely a work in progress for me…

  • Ah very good to describe it like that. guilt we can learn from and you are so right that ick feeling is shame I had never thought about it like that before.

  • I’m a fan of guilt I find it keeps me on track, thankfully, I’ve learned to give it some space and then let it go.

  • I struggle A LOT with guilt but do see that sometimes it can keep us on the straight and narrow.

  • I’m guilty of feeling guilty all the time {is that a double negative?}. I love this perspective, I’m going to try and keep it in mind whenever I feel guilty and hopefully I’ll be able to move past it a lot quicker. #teamIBOT

  • I find I move all too quickly from guilt to shame, and it’s a good thing to be aware of. There is a purpose in guilt, but like you said, shame just stops you. Thanks for writing this. It’s good to be reminded. xx

  • Natalie @ Our Parallel Connect

    I hold onto guilt if I feel I have upset someone. It is silly because even if I can rationally say that I have NOT hurt someone but they are still feeling that way, I can’t help but feel the guilt anyway. OMG I am not even sure if I made sense.

  • I’m a bit of an expert on guilt, passed down in my Irish Catholic genes and finding it in many circumstances and sometimes I call it guilt rather than carry/face the burden of shame. And you are right – shame doesn’t do any good at all. it is so stupid that sometimes I feel guilty for feeling shame – as though I’m wallowing and weak. Yep, it’s an ugly cycle.

  • I hoard guilt as if it’s going out of fashion if I’ve upset someone but in most other situations, I just channel my inner Elsa and let it go. I haven’t got the time or the headspace for all that!

  • Tash from Gift Grapevine

    I don’t like that ick feeling one bit but I tend to hoard at times so need to learn to let it go (without saying the words “let it go” if I can because then I’ll have that damn song stuck in my head again). “Dissatisfaction in the way we’ve handled something” is such a great way to describe feelings of what we think is guilt. Getting the kids out the door in time for school is enough to make me feel dissatisfied most mornings!

  • If I was a house and my guilt was my junk… I would be a health risk to the surrounding suburbs. Yep – guilty as charged lol xx

  • Mom guilt! When I’m sick and can only keep my son alive. TV on all day. :(