5 Ways to Differentiate Between Healthy and Unhealthy Guilt

Navigating the Balance for Personal Growth and Mental Wellness

From your RAFT Counseling Team

Guilt is a normal human emotion that everyone experiences from time to time. Maybe you’ve done something wrong. Maybe a situation turned out in a less than favorable manner. 

Guilt is that feeling in the pit of your stomach that makes you take a moment to check yourself. So often guilt is associated with a negative connotation…because something went wrong. 

Not all guilt is considered bad. There is such a thing as healthy guilt that can be used as a learning opportunity. You’ve got to find that middle ground between healthy and unhealthy guilt. 

Healthy vs Unhealthy

A main differentiating factor between healthy and unhealthy guilt is where it comes from. Why are you feeling this way? Both elicit a sense of discomfort, but healthy guilt will be helpful to you while unhealthy guilt is more of a nuisance. 

Healthy guilt is going to give you positive outcomes and teach you something. Unhealthy guilt leans towards more negative outcomes and ongoing problems. Understanding the difference between healthy and unhealthy guilt can aide in being able to better navigate your emotions and control your behaviors. 

1. Personal Growth

When you’ve done something wrong or acted in a way that goes against your values and beliefs, guilt steps in and acts as a moral compass. Healthy guilt presents you with an opportunity to self-reflect and take responsibility for your actions. It’s a chance for you to learn and grow.

Feeling guilty is a nudge that you might need to re-evaluate how you respond to things or what you’re interacting with. When you do self-reflection, you’re giving yourself the chance to do better the next time. You’re able to gain an understanding of how your actions affected this specific outcome. 

2. Encouraging Accountability

Healthy guilt will also encourage accountability on your part. An event took place and the outcome wasn’t the most ideal. You experience that uneasy gut feeling and acknowledge something isn’t right. 

Rather than blaming someone or something else for the outcome, healthy guilt will prompt you to take responsibility. It reminds you that you make your choices and can change whatever didn’t work or serve you well. Guilt will push you to make a conscious effort to do and be better, taking responsibility and maintaining a good level of integrity. 

3. Increasing Empathy

When you’re feeling guilty, if it’s healthy, it will encourage your to be empathetic. The reason you’re feeling guilty is because there was an unfavorable outcome. You’re able to recognize that someone else may have been harmed and your guilt gives you a reason to view the situation from their side. 

Being empathetic and improving your ability to empathize creates stronger connections with others and to approach challenging situations more meaningfully. 

4. Disruptions

Unhealthy guilt will sit with you and fester until it becomes an emotional burden. It’s a voice in your head telling you that you’re at fault that won’t go away. It’s a feeling of a heavy weight on your shoulders. It isn’t productive and isn’t nudging you into becoming a better version of yourself. 

Instead, that burden starts to interfere with your everyday life. It holds you back from any type of personal growth. When a new challenge arises, it hasn’t really forced you to be better or learn how to respond more effectively. 

5. Effects on Mental Health

When you’re dealing with unhealthy guilt, it makes you blame yourself and be extra critical of your own actions — to the point of you casting a negative view of yourself. This type of guilt occurs even when matters were outside of your control and there truly wasn’t much you could do to sway the outcome. 

When you keep ruminating over your guilt, you may start to lose sleep, feel hopeless, feel anxious, or become disinterested. It puts you in a bad mental space. 

Are you having difficulty managing your guilt? Contact us to learn more and address any feelings you’re experiencing. If we can help, we'd love to hear from you. Kind and compassionate therapists at RAFT Counseling would love to connect with you about guilt and other goals you have to live your best life. We have online sessions available as well as in office sessions in our Parker office. Reach out today!

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