People With A 'Guilt Complex' Share 13 Sad Traits

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woman hugging someone

It is pretty normal to have a guilty conscience when you have done something wrong. The feelings of guilt and shame can eat you up inside until you make amends.

Natural guilt is perfectly okay. As a matter of fact, the American Psychological Association says that guilt is closely associated with the ability to feel empathy for others. The temporary types of guilt can be avoided or healed by taking appropriate actions.

But when you have constant feelings of guilt and negative thoughts about yourself, it can be detrimental to your health and wellbeing. Feeling guilty all the time can cause an individual to develop a guilt complex.

What is a guilt complex?

A guilt complex is when a person feels guilty for an extended period of time. It is the pervasive feeling that you have done wrong and have not been accountable for your actions despite evidence to the contrary.

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Though mental health professionals have not formally labeled a guilt complex as a mental illness, it has been connected with mental health conditions such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

Those with a guilt complex have a sense of angst or unhappiness and feel responsible for something negative, real or imagined. It can make them unsure of themselves and lead to a dependency on unhealthy ways of coping.

What causes someone to develop a guilt complex?

There are several theories about what causes one to have a guilt complex.

One theory is that it starts in childhood with an unhealthy attitude toward guilt and how they were taught to deal with it.

Another theory is that guilt is a normal part of the cognitive process, but that some are able to move through the cycle normally, while others are unable to complete the entire processing due to other issues.

Other reasons one might end up with a guilt complex include going against cultural norms, religion or a lack thereof, and social pressure.

A guilt complex can also be the result of misinterpreting situations or communication, overthinking, lack of context, or a fear of consequences.

13 Signs You Have A Guilt Complex

1. You have regret and are preoccupied with the past.

Wishing that you could change something that has already happened is one cause of a guilt complex. Instead of making the necessary amends, you are stuck on the situation and are unable to move on.

2. You have frequent headaches and migraines.

Guilt is bad on the psyche. It creates stress hormones in the body that can result in headaches or migraines. As a matter of fact, guilt can impact your entire immune system negatively.

3. You're worried and anxious.

The feeling of guilt naturally results in worrying about what will happen if your supposed misdeeds are uncovered. You become anxious about what other people will think and feel because of your actions.

4. You experience muscle pain.

If you have ever taken notice of how your body reacts to stress and tension, you might have found that your body stiffens in reaction. The tensing up can cause soreness in your muscles.

5. You're prone to nausea and other stomach issues.

We already know that guilt is bad for your immune system. Because of that, it can show up as gastrointestinal problems, resulting in nausea, indigestion, heartburn, or vomiting.

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6. You cry easily.

Crying is another symptom of having a guilt complex. Because you lack the ability to solve your feelings, you are tearful and saddened. This is especially true in cases of survivor’s guilt.

Until you can get past the guilt and shame, you will continue to cry.

7. You're unable to sleep.

People with a guilt complex have trouble getting to sleep and staying there. They toss and turn at night, engulfed in worry about their wrongs, and usually get little to no rest.

8. You're tired.

Fatigue is a direct result of not getting enough meaningful rest. If negative feelings are keeping you up at night, you will awaken more exhausted than ever. It is a vicious cycle that is hard to overcome.

9. You feel depressed.

Depression is another sign of having a guilt complex.

These intense and deeply rooted feelings may be hard to navigate. That negativity can cause you to fall into a depression that you might need to seek help for.

10. You're passive.

When someone feels extremely guilty, they can become unsure of themselves and lose confidence in their ability to make good decisions. This leads to acting and communicating passively, allowing others to take the lead.

11. You become isolated.

The shame and regret of a guilt complex can cause you to distance yourself from other people. You might be afraid to find out if they feel as badly about you as you feel about yourself, so you go into hiding.

12. You have low self-esteem.

A guilt complex will create negative self-talk in your head that can affect your self-esteem and sense of worth. Until you can overcome the guilt, you will feel as if you are never enough.

13. You've tried to harm yourself.

Guilty feelings can also lead people to "punish" themselves by self-harming. This can be seemingly minor things like not taking things you have earned, or as major as suicidal thoughts or actions.

How to Deal with a Guilt Complex

If you are having feelings depression, suicidal ideation, or any other side effects of a guilt complex, you should seek professional help right away. The Suicide and Crisis Lifeline can help.

Even if it has not graduated to those extremes, a mental health professional can assist with working your way through those issues. There are options such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that can help get you back on track, and many doctors provide online therapy.

If you or somebody you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or text "HELLO" to 741741 to be connected with the Crisis Text Line. You can also call The National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255.

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NyRee Ausler is a writer from Seattle, Washington, and author of seven books. She covers lifestyle and entertainment and news, as well as navigating the workplace and social issues.