Everyone can relate to guilt. Whether it’s from lying to a loved one, insulting a close friend, cheating on a partner, or making a wrong decision, it cuts more deeply than any other emotion.
We agonize over the misdeed, replaying it over and over in our minds, trying to rationalize it, planning what we would have done differently if we had the chance to go back to that crossroad. Yet we know there is no time machine to fix the action. We are stuck in the present, wringing our hands in angst. “I wish… should’ve… could’ve… would’ve… if…” become mainstays in our vocabulary.
When we resolve we had enough of this pain, we bury it. In other words, we throw a sheet over a big, ugly vat of guilt. The torment still exists, but we banish it so we can cope.
The guilt may be out of sight, but it is still in our subconscious mind. Then the real trouble begins.
Sign 1: Strained Professional Relationships
Suppressed guilt ruins your self-image thereby tainting your interactions with people. When stigma is flared into your psyche, you become aware that you are hiding something shameful, and you feel as if your essence is on display for others’ judgment.
The key to a professional relationship is consistency. If one employee is off his rocker, yet lovable, his peers will adapt and accept him.
However, this is not the case if you are composed on Monday, moody on Tuesday, manic on Wednesday, and anxious on Thursday.
This behavior stimulates mistrust since no once in business will interact long-term with an unpredictable associate.
Sign 2: Tired, Distracted, and Late
Subduing guilt scorches a lot of mental energy. As a result, you become disconcerted. A wide-eyed “wait, sorry, what?” becomes increasingly often until you cannot attribute this haze to a bad night’s sleep, an oncoming cold, anxiety about politics, or stress about a future zombie apocalypse.
While you should be at optimal functioning, working hard, being bold, you are stuck in a daze fighting away an onslaught of remorseful thoughts.
Sign 3: Offensive Jokes
Everyone has something that makes them laugh, from slapstick to dry humor. According to Plato, a manifestation of superiority over people who are less fortunate than we are is what makes us laugh. Philosophers can debate this, but it is definitely true for those who are guilt-ridden. They never seem to have a punchline to their ridiculing banter. They insist it was a joke, but in the end, it was a jibe.
If you are jesting at another person’s expense and the jokes always seem to fail, there’s a good chance your guilt is showing. You have the need to lift yourself by pushing down others. This is a primitive defense. You want to point out how flawed others are in the face of your own blemishes.
Sign 4: Can’t Handle Minor Criticism
Imagine being verbally whipped every time you make a move. That is what suppressed guilt feels like, as you are insecure and doubting every action you choose. Therefore, you are raw and sensitive, and any slight critique or jab will feel like you are in the eye of a nuclear explosion. It’s crushing, and you tend to overreact.
As Tacitus, an ancient Roman senator, once said, “To show resentment at a reproach is to acknowledge that one may have deserved it.”
Sign 5: Paranoia
William Shakespeare explains this very eloquently: “Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind…”
A law-abiding man will not be as terrified as a runaway felon if he is stopped by a police officer. The felon will fear every pedestrian to be an uncover cop with his wanted face hanging in their offices.
Similarly, if you are guilty, it’s common to feel distressed that everyone is out to get you. This is another coping mechanism, projecting the unease within you onto others so you can temporarily dismiss them. “I’m not dishonest. It’s the other guy who is a two-faced con man.”
Sign 6: Crippled Success
This is perhaps the most devastating of the other signs. A guilt-ridden person does not allow himself to succeed.
If you did something horrible to someone else and you regret it, you fill with self-hate. To rationalize the distress you brought upon the other person, you begin to subconsciously afflict yourself.
So you deny yourself satisfaction and achievement. It’s like the guilt is saying, “If I punished that person, it’s only fair that I punish myself too.”
The worst part about this mindset is that it does not work. Your guilt is still unresolved, and you will fall into a vicious cycle on self-torture and never move on in life.
If some these behaviors apply to you, you must be wondering how to cleanse yourself of the guilt once and for all. Time travel is not an option and suppressing it is harmful.
The answer is simple yet difficult: Confession.
Declare your wrongdoing, and make a resolution to improve for the future. Gaining a life lesson from your misdeed can possibly turn it into something beneficial. You can feel free again.
The choice is yours.