I’ve been thinking about guilt a lot lately. Why we feel it, how we feel it when we feel it. I think I’m just as prone to guilty feelings as anyone, but I’ve also learned something about myself over the past few years: When I feel guilty, I really feel guilty. The physical impact that guilt has on me can get me excited for the rest of the day. Although I’ve learned this is happening to me, it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. But I also accepted the connection between my fear and this feeling of guilt, and it was extremely helpful to make that connection.
I have been studying anxiety issues for a number of years when someone first asked me how my anxiety manifests itself. And I had no idea what they were talking about. I did not enjoy the physical toll that fear took on me, and some of these physical symptoms (excessive sweat, lightheadedness, dry mouth, wobbly legs) were easily associated with fear. But when I researched this phrase a little more closely, it made more sense to me. While many people are scared, it can have many different looks. And what fear one person might feel will be different from another person.
In this way, I learned that one of the manifestations of my fear is feeling overly guilty. Take the guilt a person may have when they make a big mistake and apply it to everything and you will see what I am working with. It doesn’t matter how small a mistake is, everything I do wrong makes me just as guilty as the biggest mistake in my life. In the worst case, it can lead me to an anxiety attack because I don’t always know how to deal with the feeling. But sometimes I can jump out of the guilt, recognize it for what it is, and try to contain it as much as possible.
My relationship with guilt is very difficult, and I know my fear plays a big part in it. What I had to work on, and what I continue to work on, is how to deal with my guilt. I used to think that as long as I felt limited guilt, I would help myself. But everyone feels guilty; in fact, it is one of the signs of healthy psychological development. However, we feel guilty for many different reasons. Some people fear missing out on something (also known as FOMO); others feel guilty when they say no to people. There are a million ways that guilt can try to eat us alive, but knowing what guilt is doing to us physically and mentally is important.
I feel guilty when I make mistakes or make mistakes, and I know that this is because of my problems with fear and self-worth. It’s not much rational, but the feelings it evokes are real. And for me there is nothing wrong with admitting that, because it means that I acknowledge that there is something that I can work on and improve. Mental health comes in many different forms, and this is just one of them. I prefer to think of it as just another tool in my mental health toolbox.