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How to Protect Your Family From Your Own Guilty Conscience

Updated on May 25, 2023
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. 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 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 Affects 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, 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, including 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 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.

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

Transform Your Guilty Conscience

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

  1. Learn the tools for changing your thoughts, feelings and actions. 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.
  2. Recognize and stop negative feelings before you express them in ways that hurt yourself and others. 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.
  3. Learn to look for thinking patterns that lead to negative emotions. 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.
  4. Listen for positive statements and actions that increase your feelings of self-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.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Denise W Anderson


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