How often have you felt a heavy burden of guilt? With the New Year approaching, maybe now is the time to let go of some guilt. Researchers from the University of Waterloo and Princeton University concluded that feeling guilt increases our subjective body weight. The study, which was published in the journal PLOS ONE July 31, included four separate experiments which had participants recall either unethical or ethical actions and then asked them to rate their subjective body weight. The findings suggest another way that unresolved guilt can impact us. Guilt is often associated with feelings of tension and regret, but this study implies a broader impact from guilt. Although guilt can play a role in regulating our moral behavior, unresolved or excessive guilt can be detrimental.
Guilt can consume us and lead to self-punishment, depression, and resentment. But there is a difference between positive and negative guilt. Positive guilt helps us maintain our moral compass, while negative guilt festers like a cancer inside of us. Bad guilt can result in rumination, obsessiveness, and paralysis. Many of my patients live with this type of guilt which they learned early in their lives. Certain personality types like obsessive-compulsive, insecure, and passive people are more prone to experiencing excessive guilt. Our childhood experiences can also impact our guilt factor. Victims of abuse have a greater tendency to experience guilt and shame, despite the fact that they were victimized.
Healthy guilt enables us to learn from our behaviors, accept wrongdoing, and make amends. Unfortunately, many of us deal with unhealthy and excessive guilt either related to our actions or thoughts. Some beat up on themselves and have a difficult time with self-forgiveness, letting go, and putting the past in the past. Excessive guilt impacts self-esteem and often results in codependent relationships. Guilt doesn’t have to consume you and releasing this emotional pain can enable you to experience fulfillment in relationships and life. Next week I will discuss ways to let go of residual, unhealthy guilt.