A guilty conscience can be a result of various psychological mechanisms. In this article we present an overview of some of them, what you yourself can do and what you can expect if you contact us for therapy.
We hope we can contribute a step in the right direction - free from the guilt trap.
No one is perfect on every level and everything can always be handled better. Thus, a feeling of guilt is unavoidable for any sentient being. But for some it can prove to be extra burdensome.
In this article we will give an overview of the common mechanisms - but you can get started right away by clicking on more specific sections in our series concerning guilty consciences:
If you wish to learn more about our psychologists and schedule an appointment for help, please click the button below. We also provide video therapy for people across Norway.
A guilty conscience - an introduction
A guilty conscience must be the most misused of our basic emotions. It is actually a feeling that can help guide us back to the right path when we have actually done something wrong.
But in our time, it is largely abused as a tool for psychological warfare on ourselves.
When we speak of a guilty conscience, we must therefore immediately separate between healthy and unhealthy feelings of guilt.
We can get a healthy feeling of guilt simply because we have done something wrong. In these instances, the feeling of guilt is meant to help motivate us to engage in reparative actions.
All too often, a temporary guilty conscience is an unhealthy expression of self-punishment. Often over not being able to meet impossible inner demands and expectations.
Imagination is the only limitation for which parts of reality one can abuse to keep oneself down.
Guilt for eating - not to mention eating candy or something unhealthy.
Guilt for not exercising, guilt after the end of a relationship, guilt for ending things, guilt for not staying in a relationship, guilt in relation to your significant other, your ex, your children and your parents - especially if they are elderly.
Guilt for being sick, on a leave of absence from work or for infecting others. Guilt about saying no or guilt about not saying no. Guilt about your own thoughts or feelings, guilt about feelings you do not feel.
Guilt about infidelity or lack of libido or having too much libido.
There can be an almost endless number of reasons to feel guilty.
A guilty conscience / feelings of guilt - caught in the maelstrom of the times?
How can it have become so common to go around feeling like you are never enough? Why can't we give ourselves permission to be as we are, to just live life in all our human imperfection?
Why can we sometimes see the irrationality of our self-accusations but still be unable to shed the painful emotions?
You may have come across various advice and tips online already. “Tell yourself you are good enough”, “lower your standards” or similar expressions are often employed. These are completely right and in some cases reminders such as these can be of help.
But sometimes you may not be aware that you are driving yourself far too hard. Things may have always been this way and you don’t even think about it.
Fish don’t believe in water.
In situations like these, awareness and active work with your inner dialogue can be enough to create more space within yourself.
This can be especially true for those who have a somewhat healthy sense of self-esteem at their foundation but find themselves being drawn into the “hamster-wheel”, stuck in time constraints and the eternal demands of modern life.
Chronic or constant guilt for everything - for no reason?
In many cases we find that the problem goes deeper. A chronic guilty conscience, often for no reason, is commonly linked with a vulnerability in an individual’s self-esteem.
Rationally you can understand that you are too hard on yourself, but it feels like you just aren't good enough and should step it up anyway.
When things feel like this there is an emotional block in place somewhere, often unconsciously.
In situations such as these, therapy can be helpful in getting to the bottom of what the driving force behind the difficulties is and attempt to weaken the inner mechanisms of self-sabotage
Preferably pulled up by the root.
Psychologists as early as Freud were preoccupied with the central role an indeterminate feeling of guilt can play.
Once such a feeling has first entered the psyche, it can become a driving force for a variety of symptoms, including anxiety and depression.
The mind can become preoccupied with seeking out confirmations in everyday situations of such basic assumptions.
Thus, chronic feelings of guilt in everyday life can begin not only in the maelstrom of the times but also in disturbed internalized relational experiences from childhood.
This does not necessarily have to mean great traumas; often the driving force is a more subtle, emotional tension.
The child who grows up with suffering around them develops basic feelings of guilt for their own inability to help.
The child who does not have their negative feelings towards others acknowledged will still feel cruel and guilty and continue to direct such feelings inward.
Other times the induction of guilt can occur via various forms of conditional love, such as high expectations and demands.
Sometimes difficulties with guilt can be rooted in growing up with accusation, criticism and disapproval. There can be many reasons for the formation of a chronically guilty conscience.
One is often unaware that such basic conditions can become the driving force for chronic guilt, and simply becoming aware of this can help.
Other times one is aware but driven by chronic guilt just the same.
In situations such as these, emotion-focused therapy, where you work through layers of anxiety and guilt-containing emotions (especially repressed anger) can be an effective means of breaking the pattern.
In our experience, a lot of anxiety and guilt are connected to contradictory emotions related to figures central in one’s upbringing.
In some cases, adaptation to one's environment goes so far as to become purely self-destructive.
Simply saying no or having an opinion, want, thought or feeling that conflicts with the needs of others can create a feeling of guilt.
Then therapy with a psychologist can often be necessary. If you wish to give therapy for a guilty conscience a try, you can quickly and easily schedule an appointment online in two minutes here.
Keep in mind that we also offer video therapy for people across Norway. In our experience it works just as well as in-person therapy for most people.
Therapy for a guilty conscience with trained psychologists in Oslo
If you at any time want to give therapy a go, we will begin by examining your problems as you experience them here and now and work with concrete examples from your everyday life in which guilt, or other symptoms, are intensified.
These concrete examples often carry within them a larger narrative. We will actively work to understand the specific driving mechanisms behind your symptoms, not least of all the unconscious ones.
Often through this sort of work, relevant links to the past can come up and when this happens we work closely with these as well.
We endeavor to not just “talk about it” or “dwell on the past” but to work actively to help you form a healing relationship where you can be yourself and you can react as an entire organism to what you have experienced.
Thus, you can resolve eventual remnants from your past that have gotten “stuck”, become aware of your patterns and achieve lasting change going forward.
This is how we endeavor to combine an in-depth psychological perspective with an active work method. We try not to dig up the past just for the sake of it while not just superficially skimming the surface.
The degree to which your self-liberation process is successful is greatly dependent on the cooperation we manage to establish.
Gaining a common understanding for the mechanisms that have led to your difficulties and finding a helpful way to cooperate are our natural goals at the start of therapy.
You will quickly discover if therapy is something for you. Keep in mind that we also offer video therapy right in your own home. It can be worth trying.
If you cannot afford to pay for a private psychologist and are also not covered by your employer’s insurance this guide to psychology providers in Oslo may help.
Click this link to learn more about what to expect from therapy with us.
Guilty conscience / feelings of guilt - self help
Perhaps it is enough, or at least helpful, to work on this on your own. We hope that this miniseries of articles concerning guilt is a good place to start.
We are attempting to delve more deeply than traditional advice while simultaneously making things as tangible as we can. Click here for an article in KK in which we have spoken about guilty consciences.
In the articles linked to below, you can read more about the psychological mechanisms that can be involved when one suffers from a guilty conscience, so you can learn more about what is most relevant for you.
We wish you the best with the important work you are embarking upon.
Shame and Guilt - Trapped in the Maelstrom of the Times - This article looks at common sources of guilt in modern society, where expectations are so high you are guaranteed to reach your breaking point.
12 Tips for Chronic Guilt for No Reason - This article contains many tips to separate healthy feelings of guilt from a guilty conscience, with some coping advice. A number of possible mechanisms that lead to development of guilt are explained.
Do you have a guilty conscience about someone? Psychological first aid for those of you who have actually done something wrong - This article primarily deals with cases where you have actually done something wrong, have a guilty conscience of the healthy varietybut misuse this in order to punish yourself rather than reach out to others.
Then you will never be using the healthy feeling of guilt to bring yourself back on the course you want to be on. Rather, you get “stuck” in the bad things you have done and use it to keep yourself down.
It is helpful to do a team effort and utilize your healthy capacity for guilt. This also touches on the theme of the next blog post:
Feeling Guilty About Everything and Anything? This is How to Break the Pattern of the “Blame Game” - This blog post deals with when someone “gives you” a guilty conscience. When someone around you has placed you, or constantly places you, under pressure to take responsibility for things that really are not yours - and you give in.
Did you have parents who constantly “gave” you a guilty conscience? Either directly or subtly, through accusations or hints about their own pain? Someone around you that constantly plays the role of “victim”?
Or maybe a partner that has started to pick on you and criticize you daily? And you have started to believe that it actually is about YOU? Then this blog post may prove helpful.
Many people have difficulties believing that a psychologist can help specifically them. Others have tried without getting results.
Remember that we are experts in our field with many years of continued education. We are accustomed to helping people who have previously not gotten much out of therapy.
You will quickly find out if this is something for you. We do not think you will regret giving it a try.