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How to Protect Your Family From Your Own Guilty Conscience

Updated on June 5, 2018
denise.w.anderson profile image

Denise speaks from her own experience. She has had many trials and difficulties in her own life and seeks to help others through theirs.

When feelings of guilt permeate the individual, even though there has been no wrong doing, there is a problem.
When feelings of guilt permeate the individual, even though there has been no wrong doing, there is a problem. | Source

"I shouldn't have done it, I feel terrible."

Guilt is the body's red flag letting you know you have done something wrong. The feelings of darkness are real. They do not go away until you have made things right, in other words, retraced your footsteps, said you are sorry, and repaired the damage as much as possible.

When the guilt triggering mechanism malfunctions, feelings of guilt come even when there has been no wrong doing. The resulting "guilty conscience" leaves a person confused and frustrated, unable to act in a productive manner due to overwhelming negative feelings.

This malfunction may be the result of being accused of wrong doing on a regular basis during childhood, repeated physical punishment, distorted thinking patterns, or a perfectionist personality. All have the same effect, the adoption of self-critical attitudes that carry into adulthood.

Self-criticism triggers the guilt response each time the person makes a choice that is perceived as being below a certain standard of conduct. The feelings of darkness come from thought processes that include such statements as "You should have," "You shouldn't have," "You had better not" or "If you do, you'll be sorry." These statements have been programmed into the brain repeatedly over time to the point that they have become automatic.

Self-criticism ends up being expressed in harmful ways toward others. This is considered abuse.
Self-criticism ends up being expressed in harmful ways toward others. This is considered abuse. | Source

How Your Guilty Conscience Can Affect Your Family

Unfortunately, self-criticism spills over into every relationship and manifests itself as criticism of spouse, children, and extended family members. Rather than giving and receiving unconditional love, feelings of contempt, hatred, and contention permeate the home. Fault-finding, blame, threats, and even abuse are experienced by all.

In an effort to build oneself up, many people use "put-downs" or sarcastic remarks, specifically calculated to make someone else suffer in an effort to show power and control over that person. A temporary high is experienced, however, the overall effect is damage to the relationship and feelings of fear due to being hurt repeatedly. A victim mentally may also be the result.

This vicious cycle of unproductive guilt may even lead to mental health issues such as depression, rage, and anxiety. Physical symptoms associated with these types of issues are many and varied, and may result in chronic headaches, panic attacks, and stomach ulcers. Some even turn to drugs, alcohol, and other addictions, in an effort to drown the pain, only to find out that it increases when the drug wears off. Families are destroyed as financial reserves are drained and people abused.

Conscientious individuals who recognize that they are having these types of problems seek for answers in spiritual enlightenment, self-improvement programs, and even addiction recovery programs. These have at their root a recognition that as an individual, one is powerless to change who they are. Rather, it is necessary to accept themselves as flawed, and find a source of unconditional love. This source is often seen as a "higher power" or "God."

A recognition that life is something more than what happens in the current moment is necessary. Once this realization is internalized, past history can be set aside in lieu of living in the present. Positive self-talk replaces self-criticism, and the individual is allowed to heal.

Transform Your Guilty Conscience

In order to reverse the downward spiral, it is necessary to focus on your emotional health.

The "Emotional Survival Kit." outlines several steps.

  • Learn the Tools for changing your thoughts feelings, and actions.
  • Recognize and Stop negative feelings before you express them in ways that hurt yourself and others
  • Learn to Look for thinking patterns that lead to negative emotions
  • Listen for positive statements and actions that increase your feelings of self-worth

The tools enable you to change your thoughts, feelings, and actions, and get rid of the aura of negativity that has permeated your life. As you use them, you will grow in your understanding of how your body works and how you can change what is happening in your life.

Stopping the negative emotions is a necessary part of change. Focusing on the opposite emotion enables you to change your focus and change how you feel The opposite of anger is gratitude. The opposite of fear is faith; the opposite of stress is simplicity, and so forth. You will know that you have found the opposite when the negative emotion dissipates.

Looking for thinking patterns that are the seeds of negative emotions gives you additional ability to ward them off. You realize that your own distorted thinking patterns are the roots of the emotions that you are experiencing. "Should" statements, "If only..." ruminations, "I don't care," exaggeration, and unrealistic expectations are only a few.


Once thought patterns are changed, unproductive guilt gives way to positive feelings of self-worth.
Once thought patterns are changed, unproductive guilt gives way to positive feelings of self-worth. | Source

The final step is to recognize the good that is happening in your life. Listen for positive statements and actions of others that help build up your feelings of worth. Simple things like people saying your name, asking you to do things, offering to be of help, and the giving of gifts. Each time someone does something kind, they are expressing that you are loved and that you belong.

As you follow these steps, you will find that your unproductive guilt melts away, and you become a person that you are proud of. You find happiness and joy that you never felt before, and you are able to enjoy your relationships with your spouse, family, and others.

© 2013 Denise W Anderson

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    • denise.w.anderson profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise W Anderson 

      5 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      It is especially difficult when you want to be a peacekeeper or please other people. When they get their feathers ruffled, you immediately turn inward to see what you have done. I had a tough time with this, too, L. L. Woodward. I had to learn how to own my own problems and let others own theirs. Sometimes, it was and still is necessary for me to turn off my heart toward those people, so that I can continue on guilt free. It is a tough thing to have to do, but it is necessary to protect your own feelings.

    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 

      5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      I think guilt is one of the strongest and most pervasive emotions a person can experience. As soon as I begin to sense that people in my life are beginning to act the least bit gruff or displeased, I search my mind to determine if there is anything I could have said or done to cause such feelings. Until I am able to determine what the issue is, I'm waiting and anticipating the guilt I will feel if the person is displeased with me.

    • denise.w.anderson profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise W Anderson 

      5 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Nell. Guilt can immobilize us and leave us unable to function appropriately in our relationships with those we love. Once we are able to identify and work through it, we are free to feel good about ourselves and treat others with respect.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      5 years ago from England

      Great advice denise, I know that I have felt guilty over many things in the past, and yes it can affect the family, they tend to know something is wrong and can't quite figure it out, but that feeling of guilt is a horrible thing, nell

    • denise.w.anderson profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise W Anderson 

      5 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      Our state of emotional health affects everything we do in life, our physical well being, our mental state, our social interactions, and our spiritual outlook. Yes, Jrueff, emotions can be both indicators and motivators. They help us know what needs to change in life, or what can be celebrated. Guilt can be good and bad. If you have done something wrong, it helps you make it right. If you haven't done anything wrong, and you still feel guilty, some emotional housecleaning is in order. For more information see my hub titled "Fault Finding and Physical Punishment Leads to Unproductive Guilt in Children." Thanks for reading and commenting!

    • jrueff profile image

      Joshua Rueff 

      5 years ago from Kansas City

      Great hub Denise, thanks! It's interesting the way our emotions work - I've always considered them as firstly indicators, and secondly motivators. Guilt seems to be one of the few emotions that has few positive benefits, although I suppose it can be a good thing if you really have done something wrong and are then motivated by guilt to make things right.

    • denise.w.anderson profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise W Anderson 

      5 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      Thanks, Teaches12345. Attitude is everything! Sometimes, we do not realize that our attitude is like a barometer. If there are things out of place in life that we have not dealt with, it will affect our attitude. Look especially for an "I don't care" attitude. It means that you are carrying emotional baggage that has not been processed. It is necessary to take care of it to get rid of the guilt. Check out my hub "Look-for-Thinking-Patterns-that-Lead-to-Negative-Emotions".

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      5 years ago

      Negative attitude does play a lot into a guilty conscience. Learning how to deal with guilt does help one to handle life's situations better. Great advice on dealing with this emotion.

    • denise.w.anderson profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise W Anderson 

      5 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      @ Careermommy - as a young mother, that is what happened to me. I realized that my children were being hurt by my thoughtlessness. I, like you, had to beg their forgiveness. Children are precious in God's eyes, and how we treat them affects them deeply. You will be blessed for turning to God for help.

      @ MsDora - it took me a long time to understand how the guilt I had harbored for years was affecting my life. The emotional health I experience now is the direct result of using these techniques. Thanks for reading and commenting!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Guilt makes some people want to hide, though it may not be clear to them why. Thanks for lifting the lid off this powerful emotion. "Focusing on the opposite emotion enables you to change your focus and change how you feel." Great advice.

    • Careermommy profile image

      Tirralan Watkins 

      5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Hi Denise, good job with this Hub. I know as a mom, I've definitely had feelings of guilt when it comes to my kids. For me, asking my kids to forgive me, if I was wrong in any way, and releasing it to God has really helped me. Thank you for sharing your insight.

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