I’ve been thinking a lot lately about guilt. Why we feel it, how we feel it, when we feel it. I think I’m just as susceptible to being guilty of things as anyone else, but I’ve also learned something about myself in the past few years: when I feel guilty, I feel really guilty. The physical effects that guilt have on me can send me into a spin and mess with me for the rest of the day. Even though I’ve learned that this happens to me, it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. But I’ve also accepted the connection between my anxiety and these feelings of guilt, and making that connection has been extremely helpful.
I’d been dealing with anxiety issues for a few years the first time someone asked me how my anxiety manifested itself. And I had no idea what they were talking about. I didn’t enjoy the physical toll that anxiety took on me, and some of those physical symptoms (lots of sweat, lightheadedness, dry mouth, shaky legs) were easy to connect to anxiety. But when I researched this phrase a little more, it made more sense to me. While many people have anxiety, it can have many different looks. And what anxiety might make one person feel will be different from someone else.
So that’s how I learned that one of the ways my anxiety manifests itself is by feeling overly guilty. Take the guilt a person might feel about making a huge mistake and apply it to everything, and you’ll see what I’m working with. It doesn’t matter how small a mistake it is, anything I do wrong makes me feel as guilty as making the biggest mistake in my life. At it’s worst, it can lead me down a road to an anxiety attack because I don’t always know how to manage the feeling. But sometimes, I’m able to jump out in front of the guilt, recognize it for what it is, and try to contain it as much as I can.
My relationship with guilt is very tricky, and I know my anxiety plays a big role in that. What I needed to work on, and what I continue to work on, is how I manage my guilt. I used to think that as long as I limited the number of times I felt guilty, I’d be helping myself. But everyone feels guilt; in fact, it’s one of the signs of healthy psychological development. However, we feel guilt for many different reasons. Some people have the Fear Of Missing Out (aka FOMO); others feel guilty when they tell people no. There are a million ways guilt can try to eat us alive, but knowing what guilt does to us, physically and mentally, is important.
I feel guilty when I make mistakes or mess up, and I know that’s because of my issues with anxiety and self-worth. There’s not much rational about it, but the feelings it brings up are real. And to me, there’s nothing wrong with admitting that, because that means I’m acknowledging that there’s something I can work on and improve. Mental health has many different looks, and this is just one of them. I prefer to look at it as another tool in my mental health toolbox.