Meaning and Concept of Guilt

“Guilt refers to the feeling of regret or a sense of accountability as a consequence of thoughts or actions taken by oneself”.

“It refers to a feeling of worry or grief on committing an unethical or immoral act”.

“It refers to the verity of having done something inaccurate or committed an offense”.


Guilty usually refers to the feeling of shame or fault, an experience that occurs when an individual believe having violated ethical standard. It is a cognitive or an emotionally arousing experience that occurs when an individual believes or realizes sometimes precisely that they have compromised their own values of behavior or have violated a universal ethical standard and bear major accountability for that violation or breach.


Both in specific and in regular language, guilt is an sentimental state in which one experiences disagreement at having done something that one believes one should not have committed (or on the contrary, having not done something one believes one should have committed). It gives rise to a feeling which does not go away easily, driven by ‘ethics’.

There is another related concept in which a person is made realized that whatever he/she do is never good enough or he/she always lacks out of something which one must be fulfilled. It is termed as ‘Guilt complex’.




Factors associating with Guilt

1. It is closely related to the concept of remorse.
Remorse is a distressing emotion experienced by an individual who regrets actions which they consider to be disgraceful, upsetting, or violent. Remorse is closely associated to guilt and self-directed anger. When a person regrets a previous action or failure to act, it may be because of remorse or in response to various other consequences, including being punished for the act or omission. People may express remorse through apologies, trying to mend the damage they have caused, or self-imposed punishments.


2. It is often associated with anxiety.
Anxiety is a feeling characterized by a disgraceful state of inner chaos, often accompanied by nervous behavior. Anxiety is a sense of restlessness and worry, usually generalized and unfocused as an overreaction to a condition that is only individually seen as threatening.

3. It is often related to depression.
Constant feeling of guilt can lead to depression because a person is constantly putting himself/herself down. Guilt sparks uncertainty, insecurity, indecisiveness, and poor decisions.



  • It protects the relationships.
  • It  can result to self-punishment.
  • Guilty feelings make one feel literally heavier and unbalanced.
  • Unresolved guilt is like having a snooze alarm in one’s head that won’t shut off till one resolves it.
  • It can make one avoid the person he/she has victimized.
  • Guilt-prone people presume they have harmed others even if they haven’t.
  • An individual generally experience five hours of guilt feelings in a week.
  • Guilty feelings make it complicated to think straight in a forward manner.
  • Guilt trips not only make one feel guilty but also offended.
  • It makes one unwilling to enjoy life.

Signs and symptoms

  • Self doubt
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Feeling of shame
  • Feeling of inadequacy
  • Destructive actions (sometimes self harm or suicide)
  • Stomachache
  • Headache (sometimes severe)
  • Body aches
  • Muscle tension
  • Dilemma or confusion
  • Crying or weeping behavior
  • Upset stomach or constipation
  • Nausea
  • Insomnia or troubled sleeping
  • Overthinking behavior
  • Defensive
  • Irritability
  • Sorrowful
  • Desperation to apologize




  • Feeling of unworthiness
  • Isolation
  • Feeling of anxiousness
  • Guilt complex
  • Depression
  • Emotional and mental stress or trauma
  • Frustration and agitation
  • Bring changes in one’s behavior (positive or negative)
  • Unfulfilled or unsatisfied relationships
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Self punishment and other potentially harmful behaviors


1. Anticipatory guilt: It is the consequence of thoughts about acting against personal ethical values or the standards of society. An individual may choose not to take a certain action since they know it is incorrect or it may hurt others.

2. Reactive guilt: It takes place when an individual believes that he/she have acted against either his/her own personal beliefs and perspective of what is ethically good or against the values which society has for suitable and acceptable behavior.

3. Existential guilt: It can be described as a person’s feelings and emotions for general discrimination, or the idea that “Life is not fair.” It is the guilt an individual feels for the negative impact he/she may have on the lives of others.

4. Adaptive or pro-social guilt: It is the guilt which is assumed to be helpful and cooperative, as it relates to an individual’s understanding of doing wrong and responsibility.

5. Maladaptive guilt: It refers to the guilt which often has a negative or unhelpful impact on life. It might consist of chronic guilt and other situations that leads to mental or emotional distress.



There are majorly 5 stages which a person witness:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance


Therapeutic treatment

1. Cognitive Behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT works by replacing the irrational thought process with rational one. It can be used to replace false thinking and ultimately to reduce the feeling of guilt.

2. Thought stopping: Thought stopping is a technique in which an individual control his/her thoughts and feelings by uttering the word; ‘Stop!’ With the help of this technique, the unwanted and bizarre thoughts of guilt can be controlled.

3. Mindfulness meditation: It is another therapy in which an individual needs to sit, close his/her eyes, control his breath and whenever the mind wanders, he/she needs to take it back to the same concentration. This therapy works vitally in dropping a person’s overthinking.


4. Desensitization: It refers to the process of desensitizing of one’s feelings or emotions regarding a person or an event by recurring or repetitive exposures of such feelings or emotions. This makes a person used to and also lowers down his/her guilty feelings.


5. Exposure therapy: This is another therapy which includes repeated exposures of the distressing stimuli and developing knowledge about it in order to lower down the related guilt.


6. Talk therapy: Talk therapy is used to develop an insight and make the individual realize regarding the actual scenario with the help of convincing and influential positive thoughts and proper counseling.

Defense Mechanism to combat the feeling of Guilt

1. Displacement: It involves taking out the frustrations, unwanted feelings, and impulses on people or objects that are less threatening and hostile.

2. Denial: It is perhaps one of the best-known defense mechanisms, used frequently to depict situations in which people seem unable to face reality or confess an evident truth.

3. Repression and Suppression: It is a defense mechanism which acts to keep information out of conscious awareness. Sometimes it is performed consciously by forcing the unnecessary information out of one’s consciousness, which is termed as suppression.

4. Sublimation: It is a defense mechanism that allows a person to act out intolerable impulses by converting these behaviors into a more acceptable or tolerable form.

5. Projection: It is a defense mechanism that involves taking one’s own unacceptable traits or feelings and projecting them onto other people.

6. Intellectualization: Intellectualization works to reduce guilt by thinking about events in a cold, calm and clinical way. This defense mechanism allows us to avoid thinking about the worrying, stressful and emotional aspect of the situation and instead focus only on the rational element.


7. Rationalization: It is a defense mechanism that involves explaining an undesirable behavior or feeling in a balanced or rational manner, avoiding the true and factual reasons for the behavior.

8. Regression: When confronted by traumatic events people sometimes compromise their coping strategies and relapse to patterns of behavior used earlier in development. This act of going back to earlier stages of life is termed as regression.

9. Reaction formation: It refers to a defense mechanism which reduces anxiety by taking up the contradictory (opposite) feeling, impulse, or behavior.

10. Affiliation: It is a defense mechanism which involves turning towards other people for support.

11. Aim Inhibition: It is a type of defense mechanism in which the individual accepts a customized form of their original goal.

12. Avoidance: It is a defense mechanism in which a person refuses to deal with or come across unpleasant people, objects or situations.

13. Fantasy: It is a defense mechanism in which a person avoids reality by moving back to a safe place within one’s mind.



Techniques to resolve Guilt

  • Recognizing that some guilt feelings are for our betterment
  • Recognizing the root cause of self generated guilt so that one can avoid such unhelpful situations
  • Do not magnify your mistakes
  • Never think in a pessimistic way since thinking that you are a bad person will make you a bad person
  • Clearing up one’s conscience and sorting out the misunderstanding and acknowledging others regarding one’s mistake
  • Never judge yourself with your incorrect actions
  • Forgive yourself and others in order to over the guilt trip and to feel better


Conclusively, this was a brief understanding, meaning, concept,  signs and symptoms, causes and treatment of Guilt.

Hope you find the above information beneficial.

If in case, you or your loved one is suffering from any such issue, you can contact us or visit our website.


For more details, you can visit Verywell Mind

Conquer your guilt!

Seek professional help!

Stay good, stay happy!

Thank you!

Categories: CounsellingTherapies

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