GUILT – Healthy or Unhealthy?



The purpose of feeling guilt is to help us to reassess our actions, and change the things we do that may be harmful or unreasonable to others. When we feel guilty about something we have done, it means that we can try and think what we are going to do about it.  This may mean considering the choices we have,  and the decisions and actions we take.   Healthy guilt enables us to  learn from our mistakes (a normal way of learning), and make amends or do what we can to put something right.



It is not healthy or helpful to feel guilt long term, or when we try to do something positive for ourselves.   Experiencing guilt long term means we can endure a miserable existence, and this is not serving any obvious positive function.  However, if we have become attached to guilt it may feel difficult to change, guilt may be serving an irrational function that we are no longer aware of.

Sometimes when we try to make healthy changes (ie behaviours with other people like saying no), we can feel guilty because we think we are doing wrong to others, when in fact we are trying to foster self care, and just doing something different to what we are familiar with.  When people make these kind of changes, friends and family may be accepting or react with negativity or manipulative guilt trips.  If we have learnt to be people-pleasers, we may have irrational and negative thoughts when we try to do what is best for ourselves. Counselling can help provide support in addressing healthy and unhealthy guilt, and the irrational thoughts and beliefs which can get in the way of positive changes.

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