Does Guilt Serve a Purpose?

Therapy is a time of personal exploration, and often times in my therapy sessions, we talk about the issues that seem to bother the person the most. So often, the emotion that seems to have one of the greatest impacts on a person’s quality of life is not sadness or anger. It is guilt.

Frequently, someone will talk about what they feel is hurting them the most, and it is something they feel guilty over. Guilt is a powerful emotion. The question that I like to ask in my therapy sessions is whether or not guilt is an emotion that is worth experiencing.

Emotions Serve to Drive Behavior

All emotions – happy, sad, angry, etc. – are there to tell us something. When we’re happy, we know that we’re feeling good and that things are going well. When we experience sadness, we know that we made a mistake or there is something we need to change.

All of these can be healthy emotions, and while some – like sadness – can go overboard (as in the case of depression), the ability to feel sadness in a general sense is a useful emotion.

Guilt, however, is not so easily categorized as a healthy emotion.

Feeling bad that you did something wrong can be useful in a general sense, only because it helps you empathize with the person you wronged. But guilt by itself doesn’t necessarily have a purpose, especially if all you are experiencing is the negative emotions caused by guilt.

It is possible for guilt to be a positive emotion, however. But you cannot simply “just” feel guilty. Guilt can be a productive emotion when it:

  • Motivates Change – If the guilt motivates you to make important personal and behavioral changes, then the guilt serves a clear purpose.
  • Short Lived – If the guilt is also not chronic, but one that you can relieve yourself of after you’ve made those changes, then the guilt served its purpose.

It is the absence of these where guilt becomes a more serious problem. For those that find themselves struggling with persistent guilt, but have either not used it to motivate change, or have changed themselves and still are unable to rid themselves of that guilty feeling, then it’s possible the emotion is simply allowing itself to overwhelm you.

For Guilt Therapy in Long Island, Call Today

I am a Long Island psychologist, and I would love an opportunity to help you overcome these and other negative emotions, and start feeling like your life can move forward happily. If you are interested in learning more, please fill out our form or give me a call today.