Making Peace with a Guilty Conscience

A bored woman, twirling her hair on a blind date

We all regret having done something to hurt someone. Yes, it was a mistake that went against the grain of what it is to be a loving or honest person. Chalk it up to emotional immaturity at the time, being selfish, letting your anger get the best of you or thinking the person deserved it somehow. Now you are burdened with a guilty conscience and feel undeserving, regretful and even punished.

A guilty conscience is definitely punishing, sometimes brutal. The guilt and shame seems to bleed into many areas of your life especially social situations where you ordinarily seek the trust of friends. In addition to not being able to look in the eye the person you hurt, all eyes seem to be on you and you may feel judged, unwelcomed and under suspicion by others. With the person you hurt and betrayed you resort to avoidance, thinking there is nothing you can do to make amends. It sometimes becomes less about how you hurt them and more about how hurt and ashamed you feel inside. Sometimes it makes you all the angrier at them, because now you feel punished. You are suffering from a guilty conscience.

Your conscience serves you. Without a conscience you would be deemed soulless and a sociopath, someone who breaks the rules of society and has little regard for anyone. Your conscience, superego in psychoanalytical terms, can be rational, understanding that you are after all human and as a human being you make mistakes, lose your cool or neglect someone you love from time to time. Or your conscience can be irrational, perfectionistic, ridiculing and punitive. We tend to judge our actions based on how much we love ourselves and by how much we derive our self-worth from the approval of others. When we have a healthy conscience we value good above all, consider the well-being of others as well as our own, can differentiate between good and bad and make choices that are for the greater good of all.

A moral compass is set early in childhood and as you grew up, your moral conscience was there to guide your decisions and interactions with others. As a child, when you did something to hurt someone else you were likely scolded or even punished by your parents whose job it was to instill in you a sense of right and wrong. As an adult, you have an internalized parent that either rewards or punishes you. Sometimes this internalized parental authority judges you too harshly and you find yourself feeling guilty for the most infinitesimal mistakes.

  • When you can make amends, just do it.

    If you have really done something that hurt someone and you haven’t yet apologized and tried to make amends, rather than letting your heart swim in guilt do the most loving thing for yourself and the person you hurt: make amends. If it is as simple as a sincere apology, it will take a load of your chest to say the one thing that may redeem you in the eyes of the person you hurt. If the harm you caused was substantial and the remedy involves some form of compensation, ask how you might make up for their loss. In this way, you clear the slate for your redemption.

  • Does what you feel guilty about pass the test of reason?

    Sometimes we feel guilty for things we really didn’t cause. A friend got a divorce soon after you mentioned you saw his or her mate flirting. Or you saw the neighbor’s dog running up the street and you didn’t drop everything to run after him. Now you can’t look your friend or neighbor in the eye without feeling you are the one to blame. Even though you didn’t cause the situation you have accepted the brunt of the blame. The burden rests on your shoulders, because you put it there. Most often this tendency in an individual arises out of childhood wounds caused by being punitively punished. You may want to do some inner child work to uncover the memories that still haunt you. Seek out a compassionate healer and advisor who can help you pinpoint the origins of your guilt. (link to psychic advisor☺)

  • Existential guilt is a stubborn spot on the soul.

    I am, therefore, I am guilty. As irrational as this phrase sounds, it represents a common existential proposition held by many. The notion of original sin is part of our legacy, conditioned into the souls of humanity. Whether or not one consciously adheres to the tenets of Christianity, the burden of the soul still exists. Existential guilt is pervasive, seems deeply imbedded in the marrow of the soul, permeates the psyche, and has no easy remedy. For some the guilt originates from transgressions in previous incarnations, especially when there were heinous crimes against many. In this case, the past life needs to be brought to consciousness, reconciled and forgiven. If you are plagued by existential guilt, the solution is a spiritual one. Only through self-forgiveness and spiritual upliftment can the burden of shame be laid down and put to rest.

  • Dark secrets never let you rest.

    When you have done something that was so embarrassing and out of character that you have kept it secret from those you love, the shame is doubled. You feel terrible about what you did and terrible for not disclosing your secret. Your superego is protecting you and you think you are protecting those you love from your dark history. But a secret can emit negative shame-laden energy that can affect the ones you love. For example, my mother kept the secret that she had a five year affair with a married man. At the age of 35, I had a dream in which I was a child about 5 years of age and was kept prisoner in a room by a man who had a mistress. In the dream, I was pathetic looking, disheveled, rumpled and dirty. The dream troubled me so much that I asked my mother what she thought about it, thinking she might have a clue about what memory my subconscious was clinging to. My mother confessed her dark secret and with that confession the heaviness from both our souls lifted. It is true; confession is good for the soul.

When guilt consumes your thinking and overrides your love for yourself, you may be suffering beyond the scope of what is reasonable. If you have done what you can to make up for your transgression and learned from your mistake, give yourself the credit you deserve. Let go and let live.

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