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“Why am I always feeling like I’ve done something wrong?”
Times and time again I have asked myself this question with no answer following it.
I would be up at 4 a.m., thinking about a word I said to my mom that might or might not have upset her. Then, my mind wanders to a few days earlier when I told my sister I was too tired or busy to help her with the kids. Images of my nephews growing up to resent me for not spending enough time with them start to take over, and I’d lose all possibility of sleeping again.
The next day, I spend time being there for my mom and apologizing for things I’ve said that she can’t even remember and spending quality time with my nephews.
Aside from the all-nighters that I pull, I always find myself as the one who’s done something wrong, not the other way around.
And that’s exhausting. It truly is f*cking exhausting.
Worrying about every single thing and having this pang in my chest are not easy to live with.
When I was with my friends, I felt guilty for not spending enough time with my parents. When I was with my parents, I felt guilty for wasting away a beautiful day staying at home. When I decided to take a break and watch a comedy on Netflix, I felt guilty for wasting that time and not writing my novel. When I was writing my novel, I felt guilty for feeling pressured and pushing myself to burnout.
Eventually, after a lot of thinking and research, I realized that there is such a thing as the guilt complex.
According to Better Help, a guilt complex is “a strong feeling of guilt, often present, whether or not you’re responsible for the wrongs or inadequacies. The sense of guilt the individual feels about normal activities is excessive and difficult to control despite the person’s efforts. Sometimes, it could bring up past mistakes and manifests as unresolved guilt, further making it difficult for you to cope with your daily activities.”
Here are five signs that we are suffering from the guilt complex according to Very Well Mind:
>> Anxiety and worry
>> Preoccupation with past mistakes
>> Crying and regret
>> Muscle tension and upset stomach
While we might not be suffering from all of the symptoms at once, it is still good to pay attention to them when we are overthinking certain situations and feeling guilty for something that shouldn’t be a big deal.
The types of guilt may be either natural guilt (if we truly did something wrong), maladaptive guilt (if we are feeling bad for something that’s beyond our control), guilty thoughts (if we feel guilty for having inappropriate thoughts), and existential guilt (if we feel guilty for surviving and thriving while other people didn’t and aren’t).
While sometimes the feeling of guilt may become overbearing and requires the necessity to reach for professional help, there are a few things we could do to deal with this constant, consuming feeling.
Healthline offers eight ways to deal with it:
>> Name our guilt and accept it because ignoring it will only make things worse.
>> Try to see where the guilt comes from so you can assess if the situation is actually grave or you’re just making it so.
>> Apologize to the people we believe we’ve hurt but only after acknowledging our role in the event that’s passed. Were we the cause of the problem? Could we have done something different?
>> Take the past as a learning experience and examine it to see what led to the “mistake” that we believe has happened.
>> Practice gratitude instead of feeling guilty about something beyond our control.
>> Replace negatively pestering ourselves with practicing self-compassion because everyone makes mistakes, and as we forgive others, we should learn to forgive ourselves at some point.
>> Sometimes, we could use guilt as motivation to do something we’ve been postponing for quite a while. If we are feeling guilty for not writing that report card, we could use this guilt to get ourselves to actually finish the task.
>> Be honest with the people we thought we hurt. Or, in case we are feeling guilty about something personal, we could get another perspective from someone else. Talking to someone can be of great benefit.
Eventually, overthinking something might make the situation worse than it actually is. Sometimes, it’s not as bad as we think it is.
For a long time, I felt guilty to the core because I truly believed that I was not using my time effectively and that I was lazy. Then I had a talk with a close friend of mine, and she listed the things I do throughout the day/week/month. She was shocked that I thought I was unproductive because the truth is that I was doing way more than what was healthy for my mental health.
That’s when I learned to slow down and breathe.
We can’t waste our years away, feeling guilty about silly things that have passed and forgetting to live in the present moment.