People who are more empathetic that others can be strongly tuned in to the thoughts and feelings of those around them. They’re great at noticing changes in people’s behaviour, facial expressions and voice tone. They can easily place themselves in the other person’s shoes – being able to experience their pain and happiness.
Are you a highly sensitive person who seeks to please others and is always there to pick them up when they fall? If so, then you might be prone to experiencing toxic guilt.
What is guilt and is it always bad?
Guilt is a feeling we experience when;
1. We’ve done something that we shouldn’t have done
2. We failed to do something that we should have done
For example, when we feel responsible another person’s wellbeing, health or happiness, when we feel guilty for the events that occur in other people’s lives or for not meeting another person’s expectations, judgments or standards. This includes feeling guilty for your own feelings, such as “I don’t love my husband anymore”. Put simply, toxic guilt is when we experience guilt without having done anything wrong. It occurs when:
· You’re a people pleaser. You need others to like you and you can’t stand it when someone thinks badly of you. Other people may have more control over you than you’d like them to and can easily manipulate you into feeling guilty.
· You find it hard to say no and as a result you struggle to prioritise your own health and wellbeing. You constantly find yourself serving and saving others and sacrificing your own needs.
· You’re sensitive and compassionate. You may feel responsible for other people’s happiness and/or health. As a result, you may constantly obsess over another person’s circumstances and wellbeing. You may obsessively research ways to help them and shower them with advice even when they fail to listen.
· You feel guilty for having things in your life that another person (e.g. parent) doesn’t have. E.g. money, happiness, a caring partner. You may obsess over how you could change their situation. You may also feel like you don’t deserve to have those things in your life or like the other person deserves them more than you do. This can ultimately stop you from enjoying your life.
How to overcome toxic guilt and regain control
A licensed counsellor and therapist, Susan Carrell (author of Escaping Toxic Guilt), came up with a 3-step-method to overcoming toxic guilt: speak your truth, claim territory and brace for the storm. In this blog post, we’ll explore these and more steps you can take to help you regain control of your life and emotions.
Not all victims need to be saved
There are people in your life who will exploit you for your empathy and compassion. This isn’t to say that they’re bad people who want to hurt you. In fact, most are people with their own deeply rooted issues, who are unaware of the effect they have on your wellbeing. Have compassion for them but learn to recognise when you’re not the one responsible. Here’s two types of people you should look out for:
· Pseudo-victims. According to Carrell, there are two types of victims out there: real victims and pseudo-victims. Real victims are people that both need and deserve our help. Pseudo-victims are those that pretend to be real victims. “Pseudo-victims are those who could overcome the adversities of their lives and move forward but choose not to. Rather than take responsibility for improving their lot in life, they look to others to make life easier for them”. You can’t help a pseudo-victim, as they’re either not willing or ready to be helped.