Understanding Self Esteem and Guilt
Sonya Randle Counselling Services
Stress Management, couples therapy, individual counseling
Get to Know the Difference Between Healthy and Toxic Guilt
Some forms of guilt can be a positive force, steering people to do the right thing, other forms can be positively toxic, seeping into all areas of an individual’s life and destroying their health and happiness. Toxic guilt causes stress, which compromises the immune system and increases vulnerability to illness. What’s more, people who suffer from toxic guilt surrender their personal autonomy to live life on their own terms.
‘There’s a big difference between good and bad guilt. The former teaches you to consider the needs of others and helps you to choose right from wrong; the latter stems from insecurity, hyper-sensitivity to how others perceive you, and a desperate need to be liked.’
People with toxic guilt are constantly striving to be good enough, bent on pleasing those around them, and enslaved by unreasonably high expectations of themselves.
Warning signs of toxic guilt
To determine if you have toxic guilt, answer these five questions:
1. Is pleasing others the main driver in your life?
2. Does the need to see yourself as “good” motivate you to take on people or projects when you’d really rather not?
3. Do you feel you’re never quite good enough?
4. Would you like to change something about your life -- such as moving to another place or breaking off an unhealthy relationship -- but won’t because you’d feel too guilty?
5. Do you habitually give more than you receive?
If you answered “yes” to at least two of these questions, chances are that toxic guilt is controlling your life.
Setting healthy boundaries
Even if you’ve been plagued by toxic guilt for as long as you can remember, you can free yourself, live a more satisfying life, and know that you’re still a good person. But in order to do so, you first need to understand and establish boundaries or emotional fences.
‘You have to learn that you have a right to your own life and the responsibility to take good care of yourself. This is entirely different from being selfish.’
If you have toxic guilt, you have poor boundaries or maybe no boundaries at all. It’s highly likely that past experiences in your life -- such as a difficult upbringing -- damaged your boundaries to such an extent that other people can simply step over them and trespass.
Next, you need to create new boundaries or repair broken ones. What’s inside the fence belongs to you; what’s outside the fence is someone else’s property. Make it clear to others when, how often, and how much access they may have to your time, energy, and emotional resources. Then, just as a rancher rides fences to monitor their integrity, be vigilant in overseeing and maintaining your boundaries. If you find yourself still struggling with guilt, seek counselling. Because, in the end, Hemingway was spot on: doing the right thing shouldn’t be about feeling bad but about feeling good.
, individual counseling
, Stress Management
, Surrey Counselor