Why guilt is the most self-destructive emotional response

Many emotions sting, divide, confuse, and can leave you incapacitated; unable to do things you would normally enjoy on any given day. However, no other emotion is as destructive to the human cognitive psyche than guilt.

Guilt is the most destructive emotion. It opens up the possibility of feeling every other negative emotion whilst simultaneously crippling self-esteem and leading to wild underestimations of your self-worth. Guilt is normally cultivated as a result of past wrongdoing or a mistake or accident with horrendous consequences. Increasingly, in our ever more connecting societies, guilt is an emotion we’re feeling more and more under the wrong circumstances or completely unnecessarily.

Simple things such as taking well-earned time off from work, controlling your social schedule, and looking out for number 1 are all situations that many of us battle with daily.

The dangerous thing about guilt is that the smallest of things can trigger the wildest of deteriorations in an individual’s cognitive state. To throw in an example, I have a confessed issue of being upfront with people. Whenever people ask me a question, whether that be asking if I want to do something or go somewhere, I struggle to be upfront and say no if I don’t want to.

This often leads to burying my head in the sand; I’d rather just not reply and avoid the consequences of saying no. Avoiding these replies and effectively ‘ghosting’ those closest to you leads to feelings of self-isolation and sorrow when you believe there’s now nobody to turn to. In their mind, an ignored message is normal or maybe slightly out of character. In your rapidly dramatized world, you’re burning bridges, weakening bonds, and pushing those closest to you away. Dramatic as it may seem, it leads to a whole host of predicaments.

For me, it makes it harder to reach out again. When you’ve ‘left them on read’ for so long, initial feelings of isolation wither but in its place creeps in a tougher adversary, guilt-induced anxiety. Your mind can be quickly plagued by panic and concern as you picture how they’ll react to you ‘crawling back’ after ignoring them for so long.
All mental health issues are chain reactions in some way shape or form. One mental health issue is usually not an isolated case. For example, anxiety can lead to poor rationalisation of uncomfortable situations which leads to self-deprecating thoughts that are associated more with depression or low mood. In a nutshell, if you run into one issue, you’ll likely encounter them all along the way at some stage.

The problem with guilt in particular is the often-insurmountable number of chain reactions it can trigger over other emotions leading and the rapidity of how this mental overwhelming can engulf the chances of remaining positive. Guilt is my Achilles heel, it leads to a rapid onset of mental health deterioration than any other personal qualms or emotions I feel regularly.

I feel guilty for ignoring my friends which causes an instant spike in anxiety. The anxiety leads to anger at my inability to act or to change followed by an inability to rationalise the bigger picture leading to sadness and self-deprecating thoughts. No other emotion has that kind of ability to send you down a mental sinkhole quite like guilt. The scary thing is it can be triggered by something seemingly little or insignificant. That’s why it’s so dangerous.
In most cases, guilt is caused by overthinking and is often self-induced by overcomplicating and poorly interpreting situations. This can be alleviated by overcoming that initial anxiety barrier and reaching out. Coronavirus lockdown has ruined me mentally and I’m in the process of reaching out to my friends, slowly but surely. Reaching out is key. Not only does being honest ‘help them to help you’, but it also helps take the burden off your mind and it lets them know for future reference that hiding away is something you do when you’re down – so it will be easier to handle emotionally if you ever find yourself falling back into old habits.

It’s a hard thing to do. Just having a simple chat about how you’re doing is very tough. More often than not, the responses are glowing, and you realise how willing people are to help you. It can be quite touching and sometimes overwhelming the amount of support you don’t realise you have. It’s about taking the first step.

It’s also about realising it’s not only ok to look out for number one, but it’s also essential. As the old saying goes, “you only get one go around and when it’s over, it’s over”. Doing what you want to do is what you should be doing. You shouldn’t feel guilty about not working that bit of overtime or saying no to a friend. It’s hard not to sometimes but understand, looking after yourself is a need, not just another option.

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