Dealing with Feelings of Guilt and Shame When You're Depressed

Thursday, February 1 2018 Michelle Sedas

Feelings of guilt and shame can overwhelm you when you’re depressed and further harm your mental health. Here are three tips to reduce these feelings.

Feelings of guilt and shame can be intense when we are depressed. Our perception of the past becomes skewed and these guilty and shameful feelings can become such a burden that we feel overwhelmed, unable to see realistically. I’ve spent some time contemplating why we, who battle depression, often feel overwhelmed with feelings of guilt and shame and what we can do about it.

To paraphrase Brene Brown, guilt is about our behavior; shame is about ourselves. Guilt says, “I did something bad.” Shame says, “I am bad.”1

It’s okay to feel guilty when we’ve truly done something that violates our code of ethics. After recognizing and exploring this feeling of guilt, we can make amends by apologizing and correcting our behavior. In this sense, we should welcome guilt.

Excessive Feelings of Guilt and Shame Are Often a Part of Depression

It’s when guilt becomes excessive or is not based on something we actually did wrong that we can get ourselves into trouble. Multiple times a day, I will feel guilty about dumb things I’ve done in my past. I’ll recall a random conversation from seven years ago where I hurt someone’s feelings or I’ll remember a stupid thing I did in the fourth grade. I’ll sometimes even feel guilty for the behaviors of others, thinking I should have stopped them from their wrongdoings.

When I’m feeling more depressed, and because of my obsessive thoughts, I will ruminate on those past events and the constant dwelling will turn my excessive guilty thoughts to thoughts of shame. I become immobilized, and my day is completely thrown off (Getting Through a Day Paralyzed by Anxiety and Depression). This, in turn, leads to more negative thinking and, soon, I’ve spiraled deeper into the pit of depression.

Three Ways to Reduce Feelings of Guilt and Shame

  1. Recognize feelings of guilt and shame are counter-productive. If you’re feeling unreasonably guilty or full of shame, recognize that this is not productive. Remind yourself that you’re being overly self-critical. Be aware of the fact that, because of your depression, your thinking is skewed. No one deserves to feel plagued by guilt and shame, and this thinking will only make things worse.
  2. Learn to forgive and accept imperfection. This one is so difficult for me, but one I’m trying to work on. I tell myself that I can continue to feel guilty about every mistake I’ve ever made in my life, or I can choose acceptance and forgiveness. I can embrace imperfection. With my obsessive thinking, the memories of past mistakes will still intrude, but I’m now trying to accept that, because I’m human, I will never be perfect., and that’s okay.
  3. Use mindfulness to disengage with your feelings of guilt and shame. Because of my obsessive thinking, I’ve learned that it’s helpful when I stop engaging with these thoughts completely and instead use mindfulness to help with depression. While the memories will still come, I try to recognize that I’m thinking them, verbally say “breathe," return to my breath, and shift my focus to what I’m doing at the moment.

Excessive feelings of guilt and shame can be detrimental to your mental health. If you’ve tried to overcome feelings of excessive guilt and shame, and are unable to do so on your own, please seek help from a trusted professional.

Sources:

  1. TED: Ideas Worth Sharing. Brown, Brene. Listening to Shame.

Author: Michelle Sedas

Michelle is a wife and a mother of two children. She is the author of two books and the coauthor of a third. Her book, Welcome The Rain, will inspire you to see beyond life's storms. Find Michelle on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and her personal blog.

View all posts by Michelle Sedas.

Dealing with Feelings of Guilt and Shame When You're Depressed

JohnT
says:
February, 12 2018 at 9:11 pm

Guilt and shame are definitely a waste of time and counterproductive. Not easy to rid of though. Mindfulness helps only if you allow it in and rid of the negativity. Exercise is a must. Exercise helps clear the mind. The more I jog the better I feel. Negativity, anxiety, and depression have a harder time settling in when I exercise. When I don't it comes in very strong. Very strong.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

February, 14 2018 at 2:12 pm

Hello John,
This is an excellent point! Exercise does always seem to help. I haven’t been exercising as much lately, and I need to. Thank you for the reminder!
Michelle Sedas

Bob Castle
says:
February, 24 2018 at 9:31 am

Yes! Thanks for a very good post! Guilt and shame are so destructive!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

February, 28 2018 at 4:46 pm

Hello Bob,
Thank you so much for your comment.
--Michelle Sedas
Co-author "Coping with Depression" blog

Horrible person
says:
July, 11 2018 at 1:57 am

I cant forgive myself for animals that suffered or died because of me. ME. I know now what goes around comes around. God is punishing me for all the bad i did n the pain is unbearable as i cant bring the dead things back n say im sorry... i don’t understand why i was so evil.. im not now but its too late. If anyone goes to Heaven, tell John and amthe calf n Joe im so so sorry and Im suffering and deserve to. Nobody can stop this. I deserve all im feeling. Iwas selfish and a bitch. Im so so sorry to everybody n everything ive hurt. I will not ask for forgiveness as ido not deserve it. Ive never felt such utter pain and i think soon my life will end because if what i did. Whoever reads this please help me find a way to say sorry. I let a puppy die over 20 years ago as i was so ill with pregnancy but hated him n shut him away although he was fed n had a long lead i never once held him n kissed him n the pain i feel weiting this . I cant go on writing

July, 11 2018 at 5:40 pm

It sounds as if you are feeling overwhelmingly burdened by events from the past. I'm sorry you are feeling this way. Please remember that we all make mistakes and do things we wish we could change. Please be kind to yourself and let go of this burden of 20 years. It's a very long time to hold on to something. I hope your heart can find peace.

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