Overcoming Guilt in Depression
There is a voice that says I’m doing something terribly wrong and that I’m a horrible person.
I can list many things we feel guilty for, everything from not cleaning the house to letting our kids eat more candy to worrying too much to not being a good human. If you also have depression, you, too, probably have a list. And you, too, probably can relate to the gnawing, stubborn and heavyweight nature of guilt.
It’s guilt that can lead to self-doubt or even self-harm. Guilt sparks insecurity, indecision, and even poor decisions. It colors our decisions and conversations and we are always second-guessing ourselves.
Some research may explain why people with depression feel especially guilty. A 2012 study found that individuals with depression respond differently to guilt than people without depression. According to the news article about the study:
Investigators used FMRI to scan the brains of a group of people after remission from major depression for more than a year, and a control group who have never had depression. Both groups were asked to imagine acting badly, for example being “stingy” or “bossy” towards their best friends. They then reported their feelings to the research team.
The scans revealed that the people with a history of depression did not ‘couple’ the brain regions associated with guilt and knowledge of appropriate behavior together as strongly as the never depressed control group do.
Interestingly, this ‘decoupling’ only occurs when people prone to depression feel guilty or blame themselves, but not when they feel angry or blame others. This could reflect a lack of access to details about what exactly was inappropriate about their behavior when feeling guilty, thereby extending guilt to things they are not responsible for and feeling guilty for everything.
Depression dampens a person’s reasoning and problem-solving functions, said Deborah Serani, PsyD, a psychologist, and author of the book Living with Depression. “This is why a person can feel unrealistically negative about himself, feel guilty or responsible for things that he might not truly believe if the depression wasn’t active.”
5 Tips to Help Chip Away at Your Guilt
Of course, guilt isn’t something that simply dissolves with several quick fixes. But you can slowly chip away at your guilt. The below tips may help.
1. Move your body – Dance, Exercise stay busy.
Getting physically busy will lower cortisol, increase endorphin flow and awaken your senses. It also helps people with depression think more clearly and feel better overall.
Want to know more about depression? Read 10 Hidden Traits Of Depression You Might Not Know About
2. Shift your thoughts.
Feelings of guilt can set a depressed individual into a cycle of negative thinking; each thought worsening into a deeper, more hopeless frame of thinking. That’s why working on your thoughts is key. Revising negative thoughts into positive thoughts or using positive imagery. For example such as “I can do this,” or “I’m light and floating on blue beautiful water.”
3. Remember guilty thoughts are not facts.
It’s helpful to remind yourself that guilt is just a voice. Once I say, ‘Oh, there’s the guilt,’ I can put some distance between me and the guilt.
Working towards overcoming guilt in depression? Read Overcoming Depression In Women, One Step At A Time
4. Try humor.
Humor can lighten the heaviness. For instance, I refer to guilt as my ‘mini-Vatican’ or something like that. Always smile back and laugh when your doctor reminds you that, of all the depressive symptoms you may have, guilt will probably be the last to leave you.
5. Try this visualization technique.
Here I will describe a visualization technique a CBT therapist recommends.
I want you to imagine yourself driving a car along the highway. Whenever you get one of those guilty thoughts, your car is out of alignment and it’s dragging to the right. So you need to pull over and assess the problem. You will see if you need to make any adjustments. If you stole something, you should give it back. If you wronged someone, you need to make amends. Then you merge back on to the highway.