The emotional experience of guilt occurs when we feel or realise that we have compromised our standards for ourselves or gone against something that we intrinsically believe we should not have. Along with guilt, we are likely also to experience shame and remorse. Guilt is something that humans often repress, much to their detriment, because it is an emotion that is relatively hard to process, which can be very confusing.
Why Do we Experience Guilt?
A side-effect of being human and experiencing empathy may well be that we experience pain because of witnessing others feeling pain. Most of us cannot help feeling guilt, whether we feel responsible for the suffering of others or not. It is also situations where we cannot help others or feel we have done the wrong thing to help. This time of empathetic guilt can lead to broader mental health issues in those who experience it.
Some psychologists believe that guilt is an evolutionary response to events, which encourages us as people to conduct reciprocal altruism, which historically would have benefited our development from an evolutionary perspective. In this sense, we can understand guilt as a survival mechanism that we have developed for our good. But it is important to note that guilt can easily be manipulated as a tool of control and influence. As a result, our awareness of our guilt and the guilt we inflict (intentionally or not) is significant. Overall, guilt is an essential factor in the development of human connections and communities.
How to Handle Guilt
Handling guilt requires a certain amount of level-headedness and an acknowledgement and awareness of accountability in a personal sense. Striking a balance between remorseful awareness of our wrongdoing while not allowing ourselves to be manipulated can be difficult.
Sometimes, when we feel guilt towards a person, we do not have the opportunity to make that right with the person, and often it seems unsuitable to try. That is why forgiving us is also essential in the handling of guilt. If we can process emotions and eventually release the pain they carry, we will be successful in detaching the guilt we feel for specific situations. It helps when you cannot directly address your responsibility to process these cognitively to feel and understand your regret effectively. Try writing out our dilemma, or what we feel guilty about, and exploring the avenues of your accountability free and without the judgement of anybody else. This can be cathartic in aiding your understanding of what went wrong.
Guided meditation can also be an effective tool in aiding our recovery from experiences of guilt. As a tool, guided meditation can develop your self-knowledge while also enabling us to forgive ourselves. Developing the self will provide us greater freedom within the mind and allow us to handle emotions with more clarity and perspective.