Guilt is what you feel when you’ve done something wrong towards someone and you know it. Guilt is meant to motivate you to repair the damage you’ve caused to an important relationship. It is closely related to the feeling of shame, but is not necessarily related to the feeling of who you are.
Contrary to shame, guilt does not make you want to hide or disappear, but rather to approach the other to repair, show regret, apologize or help the other. Guilt is rather about preserving or restoring the relationship to the other. If you are going to apologize to someone you have hurt, it is therefore important that you actually show genuine remorse, without taking too many reservations or giving rationalizations. This makes it more likely that the other can forgive you. If you want to read more about how you can apologize in a proper manner, click here.
Guilt is a quite common secondary emotion. Many people feel guilt about their emotional reactions. A very common sequence is feeling guilty after having been angry at someone. You might feel secondary simply for feeling angry at someone, even if you didn’t do anything wrong. You might also feel excessive secondary guilt if you are afraid that someone important to you are going to leave you.
Excessive feelings of guilt can be problematic and make you set yourself and your needs aside even when you shouldn’t. This typically happens if you’ve been told in different ways that the feelings and needs of others are more important than your own. An important antidote to problematic guilt is to use assertive anger to stand up for what is important to you. This is what we call changing emotions with emotion..