Why Do I Feel Guilty all the Time? | Here’s our hunch and what you can do about it
Do you often question, “Why do I feel guilty all the time?” Feeling guilty is a common issue we support our clients with. It seems “feeling bad” about something can be the result that comes up in any aspect of our lives and can often drive a person to feeling shameful, depressed and/or anxious. From experiences such as worrying about our work performance, setting boundaries with friends or family, or trying to ask for what we need in a relationship, guilt has an interesting way of rearing its ugly head.
So why do I feel guilty all the time?
Well, to start, we (as in all of us) are all really just figuring this whole “life” thing out, right? We all make mistakes, we all learn from lessons, we all have moments of extreme internal conflict when making decisions. You can’t blame us when you look at all the conflicting and heavy messaging we receive from society, culture, family, religion, friends, social media, etc about what is “good” or “bad” or “right” or “wrong.” Sometimes this messaging is not align with how we truly feel, thus making life more complicated and unpleasant feelings such as guilt and anxiety manifest in such uncomfortable ways.
Because Modern Love Counseling comprises of a group of therapists that support issues (and desires) specifically centered around relationships, intimacy and sexuality, the topic of guilt and shame come up quite often. No matter how progressive and accepting people’s frames of thought are becoming, unfortunately the topics our practice focuses on can inherently breed guilt because there isn’t often a 100% correct or “normal” answer.
It is pretty “human” of us to experience the most internal conflicts about being our authentic selves in the context of our relationships and in our sexualities. This is because we need to expose our vulnerabilities and this is never something that comes easily. When we perceive that we are risking losing people or hurting people that we love or care about, it can be very overwhelming. It is easy for our hearts and our conditioned minds to be at bats with each other.
As an example, we often hear one person of a monogamous couple expressing feelings of guilt when they turn their partner down for sex, all while hearing the other partner express feelings of guilt for wanting sex. It is also common for us to hear singles to discuss feeling guilty about not wanting to be social every weekend; about wanting to set a boundary with a parent or about wanting to end a toxic relationship with a friend, co-worker/job or lover. In almost any scenario a client comes in with, we most likely have heard repeating themes that lead to the question, why do I feel guilty all the time?
Here are some reasons you may feel guilty all the time and what you can do about it:
Reason #1: You struggle with self care.
If you struggle with taking the time to take care of you in a way that is solely for you, then most likely you will be experiencing constant guilt. This is because you are operating out of someone else’s expectations/needs (or your perception of someone’s expectations/needs) and trying to force something onto yourself that is inauthentic. Symptoms of this can look like being grumpy or reactive, apologizing constantly, not being present or engaged, conflict about spending money on yourself, etc. You may also experience guilt for taking up too much time, guilt for not doing enough, guilt for “overindulging”, guilt for saying something, guilt for having sex with someone, guilt for letting stuff pile up, etc. When you struggle to take care of yourself in a genuine way, you are neglecting a big part of yourself that is desperately needing some attention. If you are a people pleaser who tries to fix everything and you are realizing that every time you try to take care of yourself you feel guilty, it’s time to practice some serious self love. Start by telling yourself that you deserve self care, why? Because it is imperative to your growth and overall health. Ways to start taking care of yourself in genuine ways can look like taking solo time to do nothing, taking time to do an exercise that is fulfilling to your soul and not to your ego, taking a moment to journal out your thoughts a feelings, take a mid day nap, etc.
Reason #2: You are afraid of failure.
Many of us assume that we can bully ourselves into achieving anything. Many of us are so hard on ourselves that we don’t realize that it’s natural and quite important to struggle/fail sometimes. This is part of life. If we never allow ourselves to fail or to appreciate the moments of “failure” or disappointment as lessons, we can develop a sense of shame with every perceived challenge we face. Symptoms of this can look like having too high of expectations of yourself and others, being constantly disappointed in yourself and others, perceiving you let people down often, feeling self punishment for not being perfect or for needing help, guilt or depression when you sense you aren’t good enough or we aren’t doing enough, etc. Take time to sit down and process where your fear of failure comes from as well as evaluate if the fear you are experiencing is disproportionate to what is actually going on. List ways that your “failures,” disappointments, and/or setbacks may actually have a positive sandwiched in the anxiety. What can you learn from them?
Reason #3: You have unresolved trauma.
Feeling guilty from time to time is a natural emotion. As we mentioned, it can be the response of over committing yourself, having too high of expectations, etc; but if you are struggling with guilt constantly and about every little occurrence, maybe its the response of a deep seeded wound of not feeling worthy. This response can often come from trauma. Neglect, abuse of all kind, accidents, etc, can make a person believe that they are unworthy or lovable. If this be the case for you, therapy is can be a hugely profound resource to helping you uncover your why, as well as help you reestablish a more loving belief system about yourself.
Reason #4: You are worried you are morally wrong.
Reason 3 and 4 can often be interconnected. If you experience anxiety about being morally wrong, this could be the result of growing up with strict authoritative parents, strong religious messaging, racial/ethnic or gender related oppression, etc. If you struggle with asking yourself if you are being a “good person” or struggle with anxiety around identifying what is right or wrong, you may need space to explore more of your hidden desires, needs and feelings to help you determine what path you morally feel is align. Try having more conversations with friends or peers around topics that feel heavy to you to gain different perspectives.