How To Deal With Guilt When You Hurt Someone
The feeling of guilt can be horrible. It’s a place none of us wishes to find ourselves. But unfortunately, things happen, and it’s not uncommon to discover we’ve hurt someone so terribly that we become trapped with guilt.
But how do you cope with guilt after hurting someone, and why does it matter? To deal with guilt, you must not only seek forgiveness but learn to forgive yourself, and this is crucial to your mental health and well-being.
How guilt affects your mind—the guilt complex
Have you ever heard the term guilt complex? Guilt complex refers to an inappropriate and persistent belief that you have done or will do something wrong.
Now, this is how excessive guilt affects your mind. When you are trapped in guilt, it may cause your mind to believe you’ll also do something terrible in the future. You also tend to think that you’ve caused more harm than you actually have. This can lead to anxiety, paranoia, shame, and depression.
This is not to say that your feelings of guilt are unfounded. You may have indeed caused some irredeemable harm to someone you love, and you have no idea how to correct things.
Perhaps, this will soothe you a bit: we all screw up!
We mess up all the time as humans. However, it’s another thing to not own up to our mistakes and get past the guilt.
Steps to deal with guilt
Maybe you’ve always swum in your guilt as a way to punish yourself for doing something horrible. You feel like you don’t deserve to move on. But harming your mental health wouldn’t redeem things.
Here are steps to take to stop feeling guilty, for your good and the other party’s:
Acknowledge your guilt
The first step to dealing with guilt is owning up to the fact that you have done something wrong and feel guilty about it. Ignoring it won’t help!
Refusing to acknowledge your guilt is the worst thing you can do now. It’s like wearing a shoe on a wounded foot. It’s covered, but the hurt remains, and healing becomes almost impossible.
When feeling guilty after hurting someone, apologize immediately and unconditionally without trying to justify your actions. Acknowledging that the person has a right to be offended by your inappropriate action will make it easier for them to forgive you.
For some people, asking for forgiveness doesn’t come so naturally. Some get too overcome in grief that they perceive that no amount of apology would suffice.
You feel bad, but you have to verbalize it. An effective apology won’t always repair a broken relationship or nullify your wrong actions. Still, it can show the other person that you’re remorseful and willing not to repeat such acts. Even when you lock up yourself in guilt without verbally taking responsibility for your mistake, the victim might think you don’t care. And that’s worse.
But what if the person isn’t willing to forgive?
...Forgive yourself regardless
Learning to forgive yourself is essential to coping with guilt. Forgiving yourself doesn’t mean taking light of your wrong actions; instead, it means taking responsibility and allowing yourself to express remorse for a while and then moving on.
Commit yourself to amendment
Forgiveness doesn’t always come immediately after an apology. By apologizing, you convey remorse, but the victim may need time to process and see proof that you’re actively trying to avoid making the same mistake going forward.
Now, it would help if you reinforce the sincerity in your apology by actively committing yourself to making amends. For example, if you’ve not spent time with the kids, you should do your best to create time for that now.
Making amends is crucial to dealing with guilt as it helps you heal. You feel better knowing you’re doing the right thing now.
Learn from your mistakes
Now that you know what you did wrong, it might help to explore what led to it. Of course, not every mistake was a mistake at the moment it was done. At that point, it may feel like the best thing to do.
So you want to explore things like:
- What led to the mistake?
- How would I act differently now if found in a similar situation?
- Is your behavior something you can work on going forward?
Guilt can be a good thing
Guilt can lead to shame, paranoia, anxiety, and depression, but it can also compel you to behave better in the future. That’s because you become conscious of making the same mistake. It’s all in the brain.
“When we act in a way we are not proud of, the brain broadcasts a signal that prompts us to alter our conduct,” says Daniel Sznycer, a social psychologist and assistant professor at the University of Montreal.