Pathological guilt and its network

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Louise Hay
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Pathological guilt and its network

Last update: June 04, 2018

Guilt is, in principle, healthy. Although it involves regret, it remains a mechanism associated with self-criticism. It is inevitable, sometimes we act inappropriately and end up hurting others. In these cases, the sense of guilt warns us of the need to remedy. However, there are circumstances where self-reproach goes beyond what is reasonable, in this case it is referred to as pathological guilt..



The sense of guilt implies a call of conscience. It appears when a principle or value has been violated. It is a sentiment strongly associated with ideology. Moral conscience or duty always are.

“You go from innocent to guilty in a flash. The weather is like this, turtledoves singing above a tired tree ”.

-Juan Gelman-

In psychological terms, it is practically impossible to define whether a behavior is "good" or "bad". Even those who deliberately injure could be motivated by distortions of thought or emotions, a consequence of an altered, sick or dysfunctional environment.

However, each of us individually makes this kind of assessment, in terms of right and wrong. And when we feel we have overcome our belief or value system, we feel remorse. What is the line between normal and pathological guilt? Let's deepen.

Normal guilt and pathological guilt

It is not always clear the difference between the sense of guilt that we could define "normal" and the sense of pathological guilt. A first clue that helps us to distinguish them involves an assessment of frequency and intensity. If it is experienced habitually, as a very strong and devastating feeling, we can speak of pathological guilt.



There are psychic disorders characterized by the presence of a sense of guilt. One of the most common is depression. A person in this state tends to constantly blame himself, even feeling guilty of being depressed and not feeling as good as others.

Pathological guilt is also present in obsessive-compulsive disorders, phobias and addictions. In these cases, the guilt acts as part of the problem. This is not a healthy sense of guilt that leads to repairing damage or changing behavior. It functions more as an omnipresent factor of emotional retribution which, generally, exacerbates the central problem.

The faces of guilt

Sometimes the feeling of guilt comes in disguise. This is not the typical stinging of the conscience following an action or phrase that we consider reprehensible. There is, for example, the traumatic sense of guilt, one of the faces assumed by pathological guilt.

Its mechanism works like this: a person is the victim of an arbitrariness, an abuse or an extremely painful and fortuitous event. The emotional impact is very high. Then what is called "trauma" takes shape. Although the person is the victim of the circumstance, he develops a sense of guilt. This is one of the effects of the trauma. In this case, a pathological sense of guilt arises.

Likewise, there are cases where the person comes to feel guilty simply for imagining harm, an action that he would never put into practice. There should be no repentance, since no harm has been caused. However, if this person's morality or superego is extremely restrictive, he will interpret reality as if he really did a bad deed.



Overcoming the pathological sense of guilt

Pathological guilt can have a major impact. Little by little he asks us for the bill and filters into the different layers of life. It undermines self-esteem, it is itself a product of low self-esteem. For example, those with little self-love believe they always have to please others and if they can't, they feel guilty.


In these cases it is necessary to implement a process that allows you to open your mind and see everything from another perspective. It is important to reflect on the meaning of one's own system of values, rules and beliefs. Above all, evaluate its reason for being, its logic. Most of the time they are too strict rules that don't really make us better people or members of society. They have the sole function of tormenting us.


In many cases it will be necessary to get out of this dynamic with the help of a psychotherapist. Guilt may have such deep roots that it is difficult to approach it unaided. However, it is worth making an effort to get rid of it. It is a force that sometimes becomes overwhelming, capable of ruining our lives.

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