Guilt and Depression

Exaggerated truths and false accusations spew up from the bottomless black pit of depression. When you are depressed you become your own judge, jury and prosecutor. You prosecute mercilessly and launch little in the way of defense. Your list of violations is long; you believe your depression flows from your guilt and is deserved. You lie curled in the fetal position, longing for sleep that will not come, while your mind rehearses endless lists of your failures. You do not have to live with guilt. Uncover the lies that lead to false guilt and recognize how the gift of remorse can lead to forgiveness for true guilt.

False guilt
What would you say to a child, who, because of the heavy grey clouds believes the sun no longer exists? You would teach the child where clouds come from, what they are made of and how they prevent him or her from seeing the sun. You may remind the child of all the times smaller clouds hid the sun for a few moments. With a clear explanation the child will ‘know’ the truth, despite the continued presence of the clouds. False guilt comes about when the symptoms of depression lead us to draw conclusions about ourselves based on our present feelings rather than our actions. i.e. ‘I am a terrible parent or spouse.’ You may not be able to roll back the black clouds of depression, but you can learn how it causes you to distort the truth. You can remind yourself that your feelings of guilt come from illness, not reality.60 Second Panic Solution Write what you know to be true so you can reread it when false guilt begins to fill you with doubts about yourself.

True Guilt
Guilt can be a symptom or a cause of depression. True guilt comes from actions that you commit that you know are wrong and may have caused pain for yourself and/or others. For healing to take place, there needs to be genuine remorse. Though painful, genuine remorse shows that you are healthy enough to recognize the true nature of your actions and their impact.60 Second Panic Solution It serves as a protection from repeating the same wrongs. It is also important in the healing process for those you have wronged. Genuine remorse needs to be followed by your willingness to forgive yourself, whether or not others have forgiven you, despite how difficult this may be.

Feeling bad about being caught or having to deal with the consequences of your actions but not for your actions is not remorse. Denial, rationalization, blaming or excusing your actions can delay the uncomfortable feelings that come with remorse, but rarely can you run from these feelings forever. The walls you erect to protect yourself from the pain of remorse imprison you behind shallow thinking, endless activity, and a decreased level of emotional intimacy. This isolation and loneliness ultimately leads to further discontentment and depression.

Searching for triggers
When you are depressed you may need to dig for triggers for guilt feelings that are not immediately apparent to you. First, stop and listen to your ‘self talk’. Is it true or is it distorted by your negative emotions. It is important to not only break the habit of negative self-talk, but to uncover and examine what has triggered the negative thinking at that moment. Then try to think of situations in which you felt this way before, from as far back as you can remember. Look for similarities. This can help you find past responses (that may or may not have been appropriate at the time) that have become negative patterns of thinking. Journaling can be helpful with this process; sometimes the pen or keyboard appear to take on a mind of its own, recounting events you had previously been unconscious of, making connections, shining a light on distorted views and ultimately revealing new ways of seeing things.

Risking openness with others
Depression makes you want to be alone and guilt addresses the things about yourself that you do not like. The thought of exposing these problems with others can leave you feeling fearful and vulnerable. Yet, withholding the information can prevent you from receiving the kind of help that will finally set you free from the pain. Working through these issues with a mental healthcare provider or a trusted, listening, insightful friend can bring you the expertise, wisdom, alternate viewpoints, caring and probing questions that can help you clarify your thinking and develop new insights. Self-help books are valuable additions, but poor substitutes for the face to face support and guidance you can receive from a friend or professional.