The Sneaky Type Of Guilt At The Root Of Your Depression

Some forms of persistent misery come from a surprising source of guilt — even when you've done nothing wrong.

Black woman athlete stretching and looking very serious outdoors Dean Drobot / Shutterstock 

The correlation between depression and the prevalence of guilt in the United States can't be ignored. 

Clinical depression is increasing in America, with one in 10 suffering from this soul-crushing condition. Depression and guilt are tightly linked, according to research.

There may be many reasons to feel guilty. Certainly, guilt for one's actions can be mitigated through genuine apologies and actions to compensate those we have harmed, intentionally or unintentionally.


However, another guilt may be more insidious: It is the prism that inhibits our sense of self-worth and hinders our capacity for gratitude and joy.

That is spiritual guilt for many who are depressed and have low self-worth. You may be carrying a pang of free-floating or toxic guilt — the underlying sense of not being a good person.

There is a way for you to manage it, and it begins with understanding the true source and nature of guilt.

In coaching, we are taught to identify the common tendencies associated with spiritual guilt as "personal gremlins." The lingering belief is that we are not good enough, smart enough, or attractive enough to deserve success or happiness.


By identifying the source of the feeling and naming it, we can develop strategies to reduce the influence of spiritual guilt and become the higher self that we unconsciously aspire to be.

RELATED: 8 Ways To Stop Living In The Past So You Can Finally Move On With Your Life

In pursuit of serenity, purpose, and meaning

Many religious and spiritual traditions recognize common wisdom about our inner soul that can achieve higher levels of awareness and consciousness. Accessible to all, we can harness this power in our lives to move towards our higher self to better weather adversity and to achieve wholeness and serenity.


The Sanskrit word atman (translated in English as soul or the spirit) refers to the self-existent essence of all beings, including the cosmos itself. At the individual level, it represents one's inner self. It symbolizes one's true nature, which is distinct from ego and intelligence etc.

The Hebrew word for soul is nephesh, which means "breath."

In Christianity, grace is the spontaneous, unmerited gift of the divine favor in the salvation of sinners and the divine influence operating in individuals for their regeneration and sanctification.

In the 20th century, during times of great adversity in the Depression and World War II and its upheaval aftermath, Americans were inspired by a blind, deaf woman who, despite her physical impairments, had lived a life of grace, love, and gratitude. Helen Keller was universally known and admired for who she became through her spirit and belief in hope. Her message can inspire us today as it did for our forebears:


"Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible. The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart."

RELATED: 7 Clever Ways To Deal With People Who Constantly Guilt Trip You

Here are seven ways you can conquer spiritual guilt and move toward your higher self

1. Exude the energy you want to attract

We resonate with the energy of other people. If you want to be generous, be with generous people. If you want to see the world positively, then be with positive people. Take inventory of your relationships in terms of their energy and be selective with whom you spend your time.

2. Help others to find your own purpose and meaning 

When we feel needed and useful in being a positive influence or actor in someone else's life, it just feels good. One can be a mentor, teacher, or friend formally or informally. By giving of ourselves, we enhance our sense of self-worth.


3. Be a good listener and give generous compliments

Everyone wants to be heard, understood, and validated. Develop your listening skills and be gracious to acknowledge the good in others.

RELATED: How To Deal With Guilt & Empower Yourself Without Shame

4. Join others to do good works

We can discover our higher selves in concert with others who seek purposeful actions. Whatever your passions and interests are, you can seek out and join organizations and religious institutions that further your goals. The fellowship of endeavors can give you a sense of belonging we all aspire to have.

5. Work on characteristics you want to improve

If you aspire to become your higher self, then take a characteristic such as generosity, gratitude, love, etc. and focus on that dimension for one month and see how each day you can become more aware of opportunities to exercise that quality. We can work on ourselves through awareness and conscious action.


6. Let go of regret and hurt from the past

If someone hurt you or you feel guilt for actions taken or not taken, put it behind you. You need not find closure or resolution. Recognize that regret and hurt sap your energy to live fully and wholeheartedly.

RELATED: A Therapist Shares 10 Tips To Stop Feeling Guilty About Saying "No"

7. Learn how to ask for and receive help

Whether through friendship, family, or professionals, you can seek out others to help you through adversity and decisive moments. Be generous in helping others, and you may find it easier to receive when you feel the need to get help.


The Romans had a great expression: "Life is a cruel teacher. It gives the test first and the lesson afterward." Keep learning and growing through life's ups and downs. Remember, you have infinite worth and can grow in wisdom in the ongoing effort to become your higher self.

RELATED: How To Stop Feeling Guilty For Rest & Self-Care

Jeff Saperstein is an ICF-certified career coach and memoirist who works with business professionals who feel stuck and want a career transition.