Tag Archives: Guilt

Strong Feelings Of Guilt In Childhood Can Affect Brain Development

Research suggests that children who are prone to feelings of intense, excessive guilt are at increased risk in adulthood of developing various psychiatric disorders. These include :

   – bipolar disorder

   – depression

   – anxiety

   – obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

A longitudinal study (Belden et al.), published in JAMA Psychiatry, involved a group of 306 children of school age identified (through primary caretaker reports) those from the group who had a propensity towards showing excessive signs of experiencing guilt.

When brain scans of the children were undertaken it was found that, of the original group of 306 children, those who had been identified as being prone to suffering excessive guilty feelings during their childhoods had, on average, SIGNIFICANTLY SMALLER ANTERIOR INSULAE than the children from the group who had NOT shown signs of excessive feelings of guilt during their childhoods.

 

What is the anterior insula and what are its functions?

The anterior insula, part of the brain’s insular cortex and involved in the brain’s limbic system, plays a large role, amongst other functions, in our subjective emotional experience, including compassion and empathy, as well as in our self-awareness and interpersonal experience.

The anterior insula and psychopathology

In relation to its involvement with how we experience our emotions, the anterior insula is also involved in psychopathology (various mental disorders). Indeed, anterior insulae that are of significantly reduced size have been linked to schizophrenia, depression, anxiety disorders.

Implications

It was inferred from the above that extreme feelings of guilt in childhood are associated with smaller anterior insulae which, in turn, increases the risk of the later development of mental disorders such as depression.

Conclusion 

This study adds weight to existing research that has previously shown a link between feelings of extreme guilt in childhood and the later development of psychopathology, especially internalizing mental disorders such as depression and anxiety.

Therefore, if a child is suffering from extreme guilt feelings, early therapeutic intervention is vital in order to reduce the risk of the development of further psychiatric problems in later life.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

 

Feel Guilty About Enjoying Yourself?

A profound sense of guilt and of worthlessness can develop within us if we experienced significant trauma during our childhood as has been written about extensively elsewhere on this site. One way in which this can manifest itself is that it can make us feel guilty and undeserving about experiencing good things in life such as relationships, career success or simply enjoying ourselves.

Occasionally, a kind of irrational, superstitious belief system can develop around this; for example, an individual might think something along the following lines: ‘if I dare to enjoy myself something bad is bound to happen to me.’ Indeed, such  faulty thinking can take on dramatic dimension, such as, ‘there’s no point in me trying to form a relationship with someone – if I do, I’m bound to be immediately struck down by terminal cancer.’

The guilt we feel that produces such distorted thinking is very likely to have its roots in the childhood trauma we experienced; specifically, we may consciously, or subconsciously, irrationally believe that the bad things we experienced in childhood ‘were our own fault.’ This phenomenon is sometimes referred to by psychologists as ‘MAGICAL GUILT.’ (Click here to read my article about overcoming the guilt that is linked to the experience of childhood trauma.)

 

guilt_self_sabotage

 

SELF-SABOTAGE

If we do become successful, and such guilt has not been resolved, we may unconsciously punish ourselves by, for example, by becoming depressed or developing psychosomatic illnesses. In my own case, as I have written about elsewhere, I gambled away the money my father had left me after his death almost immediately upon receipt of it (click here to read my article about this experience).

 

SURVIVOR GUILT

Another cause of this ‘magical guilt’ may be that we feel luckier than another member of our family. For example, if, say, one of our parents is suffering from serious clinical depression during a period of our lives when we feel relatively well, we may develop the false belief that we are only well at their expense. Again, this leads us to believe we are not entitled to our relative good fortune.

 

THE BURDEN OF GUILT

The burden of guilt that we take on in the ways explained above leads to us constantly denying ourselves pleasure or unconsciously spoiling it should we inadvertently stumble upon it.

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

 

Overcoming Guilt Caused by Childhood Trauma

childhood trauma and guilt

If we have been mistreated as children, we may well grow up with a pervasive feeling that we are irredeemably ‘bad’ people (click here to read my article on why this happens). This can lead to what has been termed ‘neurotic guilt’ ; this occurs when we feel a sense of shame about ourselves and we have a generalized feeling of guilt which is not attached to specific acts (or is attached to acts for which we should not, objectively speaking, feel guilt),

guilt and childhood trauma

Another type of guilt can be termed ‘real guilt’ ; this is guilt attached to a specific act which IT IS objectively reasonable to feel guilt about. The main type of guilt that those who have been mistreated as children tend to feel is of the first type – neurotic guilt (although this can cover some real guilt that has not yet been acknowledged).

A certain level of psychological development needs to have been attained to experience guilt (although some people never develop the capacity to experience it – these are called psychopaths and sociopaths).

overcoming guilt

Of course, feeling a certain amount of guilt is a good thing as it stops us doing things (usually) that are in conflict with our values, or encourages us not to repeat our behaviour if we have transgressed our particular moral boundaries. Paradoxically, guilt can, on one level, make us feel better about ourselves. Our reasoning might be that. because our conscience is bothering us about something we feel we have done wrong, we must be a good person to have such high standards which cause us psychological pain if we fall short of them. We conclude we have a strong conscience which is a moral virtue.

However, excessive guilt is unhelpful to both us and others – at its worst, it can lead to a state of deep depression and almost paralyzed inactivity, suicidal feelings, or, even, actual suicide. It is, therefore, important to be able to process guilt and then move on with our lives.

A MORE DETAILED LOOK AT ‘NEUROTIC’ AND ‘REAL’ GUILT :

1) Neurotic Guilt – because this is a generalized sense of guilt that is unattached to a particular action/actions, it follows that it cannot be resolved by any particular action (or abatement of action).

It is a deep sense of guilt which seems to penetrate to the very core of our being – it is a reflection of how we feel about ourselves as a person : we feel we are thoroughly bad, intrinsically evil, even.

It is a feeling closely linked to a sense of profound shame. However, it is an irrational guilt and one that is not based on objective reality. Psychoanalysis frequently reveals that this irrational, or neurotic guilt, is actually a defense mechanism against feelings of anxiety, fear and anger. The example below illustrates how this might work :

Say a child grows up in a household in which his/her parents have frequent, violent arguments (involving physical blows, smashing objects, making threats etc). This will clearly disturb the child and cause him/her to feel acute anxiety and fear. The child then develops a psychological coping strategy as follows :

a) the violence of my parents towards one another fills me with fear

b) I need to control the situation so that I am no longer frightened

c) But I have no control over my parents, only over myself

d) I must be the cause of their violent arguing (this thinking occurs because it is psychologically less painful for the child to think of himself as the cause of the arguing – and therefore to have some control over it – than to acknowledge he has no control over it, which would be psychologically overwhelming)

e) Because I am the cause, I must be a very bad person

f) Because I am a very bad person, I feel extremely guilty.

This all occurs on an unconscious level, according to psychoanalytic theory

So it is this coping mechanism, developed in childhood, that can lead to neurotic guilt.

People who suffer from neurotic guilt also tend to have extremely low self-esteem and are prone to blame themselves for all manner of things that go wrong even if they had nothing to do with them. They are also likely to be prone to severe depression.

2) ‘Real Guilt’ : As we have seen, this type of guilt has a definite and valid cause. It is not irrational and it relates to our moral code. If we do something that contravenes our moral code, we will feel guilty about it (unless we happen to be a psychopath). Therefore, the only way of avoiding a recurrence of this painful feeling in the future is to either adjust our moral code, or ensure we do not repeat our original error.

One way of helping ourselves to resolve feelings of ‘real guilt’ is to openly and frankly admit to somebody what we have done (for example,  a counsellor or close friend) and acknowledge what we did was wrong. We also need to articulate the fact that we take the moral responsibility for our transgression. Ideally, this will then lead to forgiveness – from both the person we wronged and, importantly, from ourselves (self-forgiveness).

DETERMINING WHETHER GUILT IS ‘REAL’ OR ‘NEUROTIC :

In order to make this determination, it is necessary for us to pose certain questions to ourselves; these are :

  1. is what happened really my responsibility?
  2. if so, what factors actually make me responsible?
  3. which of my moral rules have I broken?
  4. are such moral rules appropriate/reasonable?
  5. can I ensure what I did does not recur?
  6. can I make amends ; if so, how?

Overcoming Guilt

To rid ourselves of ‘neurotic guilt’ we need to concentrate on resolving our ‘real  guilt’. We can only do this, of course, once we have identified which of our guilty feelings have a basis in neurosis and which are genuine.

Once we identify our’ real guilt’ (which we may not have so far acknowledged) we can address and resolve it in the ways mentioned above (for example, taking responsibility, making amends, verbally acknowledging we were wrong).

In relation to our ‘neurotic guilt’, we need to accept it is not rational and has materialized due to psychological processes we underwent as a child. Often, too, when we see ourselves as’ bad’, it is  because we have internalized the view of someone who treated us as ‘bad’ when we were also a child (for example, a parent, primary carer, or someone else who was important to us). Becoming aware of this will also help us to rid ourselves of our neurotic guilt.

Once ‘real guilt’ has been uncovered and resolved, and we have formed a clearer understanding of what has caused our ‘neurotic guilt’, both should start to fade away.

RESOURCE :

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Childhood Trauma: How The Child’s View Of Their Own ‘Badness’ Is Perpetuated.

am-i-a-bad-person

childhood-trauma-fact-sheet

Do You Ever Ask Yourself The Question : Am I A Bad Person?

When a child is continually mistreated, s/he will inevitably conclude that s/he must be innately bad. This is because s/he has a need (at an unconscious level) to preserve the illusion that her/his parents are good; this can only be achieved by taking the view that the mistreatment is deserved.

The child develops a fixed pattern of self-blame, and a belief that their mistreatment is due to their ‘own faults’. As the parent/s continue to mistreat the child, perhaps taking out their own stresses and frustrations on her/him, the child’s negative self-view becomes continually reinforced. Indeed, the child may become the FAMILY SCAPEGOAT, blamed for all the family’s problems.

am-i-a-bad-person

The child will often become full of anger, rage and aggression towards the parent/s and may not have developed sufficient articulacy to resolve the conflict verbally. A vicious circle then develops: each time the child rages against the parent/s, the child blames her/himself for the rage and the self-view of being ‘innately bad’ is further deepened.

This negative self-view may be made worse if one of the child’s unconscious coping mechanisms is to take out (technically known as DISPLACEMENT) her/his anger with the parent/s on others who may be less feared but do not deserve it (particularly disturbed children will sometimes take out their rage against their parent/s by tormenting animals; if the parent finds out that the child is doing this, it will be taken as further ‘evidence’ of the child’s ‘badness’, rather than as a major symptom of extreme psychological distress, as, in fact,it should be).

The more the child is badly treated, the more s/he will believe s/he is bringing the treatment on her/himself (at least at an unconscious level), confirming the child’s FALSE self-view of being innately ‘bad’, even ‘evil’ (especially if the parent/s are religious).

What is happening is that the child is identifying with the abusive parent/s, believing, wrongly, that the ‘badness’ in the parent/s actually resides within themselves. This has the effect of actually preserving the relationship and attachment with the parent (the internal thought process might be something like: ‘it is not my parent who is bad, it is me. I am being treated in this way because I deserve it.’ This thought process may well be, as I have said, unconscious).

Eventually the child will come to completely INTERNALIZE the belief that s/he is ‘bad’ and the false belief will come to fundamentally underpin the child’s self-view, creating a sense of worthlessness and self-loathing.

Often, even when mental health experts intervene and explain to the child it is not her/his fault that they have been ill-treated and that they are, in fact, in no way to blame, the child’s negative self-view can be so profoundly entrenched that it is extremely difficult to erase.

In such cases, a lot of therapeutic work is required in order to reprogram the child’s self-view so that it more accurately reflects reality. Without proper treatment, a deep sense of guilt and shame (which is, in reality, completely unwarranted) may persist over a lifetime with catastrophic results.

Any individual affected in such a way would be extremely well advised to seek psychotherapy and other professional advice as even very deep rooted negative self-views as a result of childhood trauma can be very effectively treated.

RESOURCE :

STOP SELF-HATRED : SELF HYPNOSIS DOWNLOADS 

 

 

OTHER ARTICLES ON SHAME AND SELF-HATRED :

RETURN HOME TO ABOUT CHILDHOOD TRAUMA RECOVERY. 

E-books :

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Above eBooks now available on Amazon for instant download. (Other titles available).CLICK HERE.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).