6 Types of Toxic Guilt and 6 Tips to Help and Heal

6 Types of Toxic Guilt and 6 Tips to Help Heal

Orlando Counselor Providing Anxiety Therapy

Tired of feeling ripped apart by guilt? Does making decisions feel like anxiety and guilt volleyball? “If I work late, I will feel bad about not being with my family, but if I go home, I will feel bad about not getting more work done.” No matter what you decide to do, you are plagued with anxiety and guilt? Does it feel impossible to do things that will allow you to take care of yourself, because the burden of guilt is just too much to bare? If toxic guilt has attached itself to you like the Bubonic Plague, read on to find the type of toxic guilt you struggle with and tips for dealing and healing so you can have peace of mind.

The kind of guilt I am talking about here isn’t the healthy kind. Healthy guilt is when you’ve done something out of alignment with your personal ethics and then you are motivated to behave differently in the future. This kind of guilt guides you to stay in-bounds with ideals for yourself and do what is right for you and others.

As an anxiety and trauma therapist in Orlando, I work with clients every day that struggle with toxic guilt and anxiety. It’s similar to pollution in the air, at first you will notice a stench, a gross film in the air, and the impulse is to recoil. But after enough exposure, you start to get use to it. Toxic guilt is similar, after enough exposure, you get use to feeling bad about yourself. Just like polluted air damages your heart, lungs, and brain; toxic guilt damages your thoughts, emotions, and relationships.

With prolonged exposure to toxic guilt, there is the risk of shame setting in. Guilt is believing “I did something wrong.” Shame is believing “I am bad. There is something wrong with me.” Both toxic guilt and shame are painful to experience, however, shame reaches down into the center of the soul and has you believing you are rotten to the core. Guilt is less personal and is more about the behavior. Shame is about the self. Guilt is easier to heal from and move through than shame, so it’s important to work through toxic guilt sooner rather than later.

6 Types of Toxic Guilt and 6 Tips to Help and Heal

  1. Believing you have to be perfect

    A Google search of perfectionism is defined as a “refusal to accept any standard short of perfection”. If you have a perfectionist standard for yourself, you will fall short of your goals. It is not humanly possible to be the best at everything all the time. There just aren’t enough hours in a day to be the best employee, the best mom, the best yogi, the best friend, the best spouse, and the best dog mom. If your standard is perfection, no matter where you are or what you are doing, it won’t feel like enough. You will feel pulled to be somewhere else or to be doing something else. All of this internal struggle has you feeling anxious while you’re attending to one thing and guilty because you’re not attending to the other thing.

    Tips: Do your best without having to be the best. Accept your imperfections and be kind to yourself. Acknowledge yourself for all that you have done and all that you do. Treat yourself as you would treat a friend that has a lot on their plate. Say things to yourself like, “Look at all the things you do daily. You are a rockstar.”

  2. Comparing yourself to others

    Comparing yourself to others is really never a good idea, especially when it creates thoughts like, “Wow, they really have it together and my life is falling apart”. This type of comparison can make you feel bad about yourself and trigger toxic guilty feelings of not being good enough. Often times when we are comparing ourselves to others, we are actually comparing the way we feel on the inside to what others look like on the outside. Social media is like putting gasoline on stoked flame when it comes to this kind toxic guilt.

    Tip: Resist the impulse to compare your insides to someone else’s outsides. If after you put your phone down from scrolling through Facebook or Instagram you feel yucky, it’s time for a social media sabbatical. If you can’t help yourself and find yourself comparing, make sure you aren’t projecting perfection onto the other person. They are human with their trials and tribulations too, no matter what their Facebook reveals.

  3. Believing self-care is selfish

    Can you say “mom-guilt” or “dad-guilt,” or “family-guilt,” in general? This particular flavor of toxic guilt runs rampant where your needs conflict with someone else’s that you care about. Self-care is not selfish. Let me repeat, “SELF-CARE IS NOT SELFISH!” Yes, I am shouting. Seriously, y’all, I wish I could climb up to the top of Bank of America building in Orlando and shout it out for the world to hear.

    Tip: I like to use the old airplane air analogy. They recommend putting the oxygen on you before your child, which makes sense because if you’re dead, you can’t do much to help your child. Self-care is the same. If you haven’t inhaled some love-oxygen into yourself, what do you really have left to give to others? The quality of care you give to your family and friends is going to be exponentially better when it’s coming from a full tank rather than an empty tank.

  4. Continuing to punish yourself for things of the past

    We’ve all made mistakes in the past. We’ve hurt people and we’ve hurt ourselves. When you continue to relive your transgressions in your mind, you’re punishing yourself for no good reason.

    Tip: Take your screw up and learn from it. What did you learn about yourself? How have you grown from the situation? What would you do differently? Take all this information and put it into action in how you show up today. Channel the mental energy you were using to beat up on yourself into doing the right thing for yourself and others. Change how you talk to yourself about the past transgression. Use encouraging and support words toward yourself, much like you would to a child that failed a test or wrecked his bike.

  5. Taking responsibility for other’s feelings

    This genre of toxic guilt comes from taking too much responsibility for other people’s emotions. Seeing someone else’s struggle and believing you can and should do something to fix them will certainly lead you down the path of toxic guilt. With this type of toxic guilt, you will feel bad when someone else feels bad and you will have the impulse to take care them. This will quickly empty your tank, so to speak, because you will need other people to be ok for you to feel ok. This leads to exhaustion.

    Tip: Picture this: There is a giant hula hoop and you are standing at the center. All things inside the hula hoop are you, your energy, your emotions, and they are your responsibility. All the things on the outside of that hula hoop are not yours to manage or control. Take a big breath and yes, let everything go that is not inside your hula hoop. Having the inclination to fix someone else’s emotional issues is a boundary issue. For more on this, check out the series I wrote on boundaries.

  6. Being manipulated

    This is similar to one above, but here, the other person is aware that you can be “guilted” and they use that to manipulate you. This is a problem in toxic relationships and can be very confusing.

    Tip: If you’re in a toxic relationship, you will need a great deal of support to work through the confusion, as well as find the strength to either set new boundaries with the person or to get out of the relationship. Find friends or family that you can trust while you navigate this, as they will be your sounding board when confusion sets in. For more information on troubleshooting your boundary setting, check out this post.

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Lauran is an anxiety and trauma therapist providing counseling in Orlando, FL. She also specializes in helping people heal old broken relationship patterns that keep them from finding, creating, and keeping healthy relationships with partners, friends, and family. Lauran uses a down to earth approach infused with cutting-edge therapies that go beyond traditional talking to help clients feel calm in their body and mind and find peace within themselves.