“I feel guilty”: What causes someone to experience guilt?

Guilt is an emotion that we experience when we do something that we consider to be ‘wrong’. Our perceptions of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ comprise our values so when we do something that goes against our important values, we experience guilt.
The reason why our mind sends us the feelings of guilt is to make sure that we safeguard our values. So, the appropriate response to the feelings of guilt would be to promise yourself that you won’t repeat the mistake that caused you to feel this guilt. If you were serious enough in convincing your mind that what you won’t let it happen again, then your mind will withdraw the guilt feelings.
Guilt is a good way to recognize your values. For instance, if you stole something and felt guilty later on then you can be sure that not stealing things and being just are your core values. Once you identify your core values then you are less likely to violate them again in the future because you know that can make you feel guilty and who likes guilt trips.

Accumulated and carried over guilt
As with all emotions, if guilt is not duly acknowledged and rightly dealt with whenever it happens, then you might end up suppressing it. If this suppression continues for some time, then these feelings of guilt may get buried in your subconscious mind and get accumulated over time when you repeat your mistakes. Due to this, when you feel bad in the future due to any reason, this guilt will get a chance to leak out and that will intensify your bad emotions.
An example of responding to guilt and not suppressing it can be apologizing to a loved one if you hurt them instead of being passive about it. This will release your guilt and you’ll feel better.
Another interesting aspect of guilt is what we call ‘carried over guilt’.
If you felt guilty because of something that you did in your past and somehow were not able to release it, then this guilt gets carried over into your future life and affects your behavior. The emotions that you somehow were not able to deal with in your past are remembered by your subconscious mind. So whenever it finds you in a similar situation in the future, it tries to release these trapped emotions by making you act accordingly.

Suppose a beggar came to your house and asked for food. You were very busy and you asked him to leave. But the beggar wouldn’t leave because he was dying of hunger, literally. Seeing that, you go inside and try to get some food. When you return, you see the beggar dead on the floor because of extreme hunger.

This scenario can cause you to feel tremendous guilt but since there was no way for you to get rid of this guilt on the spot (you couldn’t obviously revive the beggar), so this guilt gets carried over into your future.

Later on in life, you might find yourself contributing huge sums of money to charitable organizations that feed the poor. Just a way your subconscious mind uses to get rid of carried over guilt! I’m not saying that all those who donate to charity do it because of some carried over guilt but this is a powerful example to make you understand how carried over guilt affects you.

Similarly, if a person did not take care of his grandfather in his dying days, then he might feel a subconscious urge to help senior citizens.

Sometimes the guilt that we did not deal with in the past drives our future behaviors.


Guilt and mind control

Guilt is undoubtedly a powerful mind control tool. No one likes to feel guilty and hence we do our best to avoid it or to get rid of it. People intentionally or unintentionally use guilt to control others.
The parents who scold their child for failing in an exam try to induce guilt in him. If they managed to make him feel guilty, then the child promises that he won’t repeat the mistake and that he’ll do better next time- just to release his feelings of guilt.
The wife who had a fight with her husband tries to make him feel guilty by being sad in front of him. To get rid of this guilt, the husband apologizes and does his best to reconcile.
The friend whom you didn’t offer the help that he asked of you may try to make you feel guilty by saying things like
Our friendship is over

I never expected this from you
If you felt guilty, then you’ll do your best to release these feelings of guilt even if meant complying with your friend’s demands which you initially did not want to do.
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