Understanding Guilt – Causes, Effects, Overcoming Techniques and Advice


Guilt is the emotion that is ‘imposed’ upon a person for having committed a ‘supposed’ crime. In the definition of guilt, we have two important words to notice upon, ‘imposed’ and ‘supposed’. We have used the word ‘imposed’ in the definition of guilt because it does arise by itself within a person rather the people around us make us realize our ‘supposed’ crime. Now, the word ‘supposed’ has been used in the definition of guilt because this guilt may not actual rather it arises from certain standards that are set in the society. In this respect guilt is one that does not come from our consciousness rather from our conscience. We are burdened with the ethics of our society and breaking any of the principles gives a feeling of guilt in us. As an instance, in Jain religion, having dinner after seven in evening is considered to be unethical. Therefore any person following that religion would be carried away in guilt if someday he eats after seven. But in this procedure, his awareness has not disturbed him rather his conscience has. On the other hand, if we hurt someone and later we realize that we were wrong and we should not have behaved in that manner. Then we are aware, this awareness arises from our consciousness.

Effect of Guilt in our life and relationships:

If the conscious beliefs and measures of a person start hindering the private space of the other person or the thoughts of oneself then the feeling of guilt arises in oneself. Being judged or judging oneself else on the basis of the principles of the society is the worst feeling ever. This gives a sense of guilt in that person. Interesting thing about this emotion is that it is not genuine rather conditioned. Children commit mistakes, but they would not feel guilt until we ask them to do so by telling them what they were wrong.

However when limited to children this behavior may be acceptable. But several times we observe the same behavior with people around us especially with our partners by doing so we wish to control their behavior and attitude. In fact the guilt was given birth in this with same intention, to control the behavior of people. When we can make people do things the way we like, we transform into a powerful person and they transform into a weak person and they are not left with a choice but to follow the stronger. However every person is grown up with certain principles in his mind and these principles become stronger and stronger with time and we tend to forget that and this where the problem starts creeping in.

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We all expect a certain behavior from our loved ones and when this is not accomplished we tend to complain. This is natural tendency of humans and acceptable also to a certain limit. But we cannot alter the individuality of a person and when that individuality is in danger, we retaliate. The initial signs begin with compliance with umbrage. They then try to absorb the expected behavior but when this crosses a certain limit, dismantling the self esteem of the person, the compliance turns into retaliation with fuming incongruity. This especially is even dangerous if it is intentional rather than being accidental. Understanding the disparity between expressions of guilt and feeling it from within is very important. This can help control the behavior at the initial stage itself. But in our ignorance we usually fail to do so and repent at the end.

Guilt v/s Shame:

There is a huge difference between guilt and shame. Guilt on one hand concerns, our deeds while shame concerns our very being. A simple sentence would make the things clear, if you feel guilt an obvious reaction would be, “I have done wrong” while if you shameful of yourself the sentence would be modified to, “I am wrong”. Superficially the two sentences may seem to be same but to do something wrong means to blame our deeds and to be wrong is to blame our individuality. We can survive by blaming our deeds but not by blaming ourselves since deeds can be corrected but not individuality. Usually people suffering from low self worth blame them rather blaming their deeds or circumstances. Such people can never rise because they underestimate themselves for everything that happens in their life and finally crush down under the burden of the society.

Therefore the obvious reaction of a person feeling guilt is to correct their mistake while the obvious reaction of a person feeling shameful may be quite dangerous. Such people may sink into depression, self doubts, and compulsive disorder or at its worst may even commit suicide. Such people may even lose their way and choose the wrong track. This is why never say you should be ashamed of yourself since it is a serious allegation and condemnation of a person. Instead say you should be feeling guilty.

Causes of guilt:

Guilt arises from society and so does die with it. We say we live in a society and there are certain standards of living in a society. These standards in fact cause the guilt to arouse. Time changes, and along with it the standards of the society too modifies. Doing wrong thing may cause guilt in you, and interestingly not doing the right thing also does the same. We have developed a tendency to punish the one who does not behave expectedly and this punishment is to feed them with guilt. However if we fail to do so, we offend them. Guilt is a superficial emotion that is subjected upon a person and a social crime. When a child is born he is all blank he has numerous directions to proceed and act upon. But gradually the society feeds him with its perceptions and cut down his directions and he is left only with one main stream that is of the patterns of society. Violence of this law is considered to be a crime and the person has to face the condemnation of the people around him and he is made to realize that what he did was wrong.

There used to be numerous customs in the ancient Indian society, one among them was ‘Sati’. Countless women died because of this atrocious law of the society, even young women whose husbands died early and if any women refused to practice she used to suffer from critical condemnation and was forcefully subjective to the fire along with the carcass of her husband. This force was more of emotional rather than physical. The tortures that she faced because of her decision made her feel the guilt and she found it better to die with her husband rather than stay alive in this society.

Merits/ Demerits of guilt:

Guilt can cause severe damages to the individuality of a person. Although it is a superficial subjection of emotions upon a person but the person in his ignorance fails to realize this part and this creates conflicts between the actual personality and thoughts of person with that subjected upon him. This creates a split personality of the person. We start living in a delusion, one that is created by the society. However the continuous strive between the inner personality and the outer one is never ending and finally we end up living two people in a single body. This is common scene in today’s society and the tag plastic person is perfect in current situation. We behave differently while we are at home and while we go out for a dinner because we think that people are watching us and we need to behave in a sophisticated manner. That is right, the ancient societies used to set its standards in the name of traditions and culture while the modern society do it in the name of sophistication and we all fear to abandon such standards because we fear the condemnation of the society. However fear cannot we stupid, fear is always intelligent and we, in our ignorance do not realize it and sway away in the standards of the society.

The initial outbreak of the guilt in a person is with embarrassment and distress. However, if the circumstances are worse or if we fail to place everything at its right place then this guilt may even supersede the entire individuality of that person.

To deal with guilt:

Guilt can only be overcome after understanding the nature and the cause of the guilt. Once you understand it try to make suitable amendments. However it is just a superficial remedy to the problem. You can say that guilt is like a disease that has rooted itself deep into your conscience and only deep meditation can help us overcome this guilt. There is no exercise or any specific pattern for this thing because it is not an ailment nor it is an emotions, it is something that has be engraved into our conscience from early childhood. A child is adolescent he does not understand anything and whatever is taught to him becomes the principles of his life. However this does not prove those teachings to be correct. Very few actually overcome such superficial principles to understand the truth of life. Guilt conscience is one among such problems of the society.

Whenever you feel guilt within you, try to analyze whether it is coming from your consciousness or from your conscience. This may be difficult for you at start because the society standards has almost rooted within you therefore this false guilt may actually seem to be the genuine one and coming from you consciousness. However your very consciousness will help you to do this, try to understand the difference between the right and the wrong and then it may seem to be clearer. Once you have reached to this depth, analyze this guilt, see the effects that it brought to your life and relationships look at the ugliness of it. Only after you do that, you will be able to overcome it.


Guilt arises from our conscience, but this does not mean that every guilt that we feel is superficial some is even genuine and we should immediately work upon correcting our wrong deeds to get over such guilt. Though our consciousness always guides us to the correct path but that does not mean our conscience always speaks wrong. Therefore it does not mean that whenever we feel guilty we should hold the society and the people around us responsible for it. It is very important to analyze it before reaching a conclusion. Some people have parched conscience and they do not understand the difference between right and wrong. Such people do not realize their mistakes. It is very important for such people to strengthen their weak conscience.






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