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What is guilt?

Guilt, like shame, embarrassment, and even pride, is a “self-conscious” emotion. This means that it affects our self-esteem or the way we feel about ourselves. When we hurt someone else or do something bad, we may experience an uncomfortable, negative feeling. We may experience regret or even think negatively of ourselves. Despite how uncomfortable it may feel to experience guilt, the discomfort we feel may actually do some good. We may try to apologize or right the wrong in order to overcome the guilt. Guilt is often confused with shame, and though the two are similar, they are different emotions. Guilt is often associated with a specific action, whereas shame is typically associated with more global feelings about oneself.

How does guilt affect me?

If you’ve ever experienced guilt, you are aware of how powerful and complex of an emotion it can be. Guilt can often feel like several emotions like anger, frustration, worry, and sadness. It can also lead to physiological symptoms like insomnia and changes in appetite or eating habits. For example, someone who cheated on a test may feel guilty, lose their appetite, have trouble sleeping, and even feel anxious or depressed. It’s common for everyone to experience some guilt from time to time. However, severe or persistent guilt has often been associated with mental health issues such as OCD, anxiety, and depression.

How can I combat guilt?

If you find that you are consistently experiencing guilt, it’s quite possible that there may be an underlying issue. There are several ways that we can manage feelings of guilt. If your guilt is stemming from something bad you did, apologizing can be helpful. If your guilt is related to self-esteem, journaling and practicing self-forgiveness can be effective ways to let go of some of the guilt you may be dealing with. Finally, working with your therapist can help with this as well. They can teach you different ways to cope and combat guilt.

This page is also part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.

While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.