Stress is everywhere in our fast-paced worlds today, but did you ever stop to consider that the cause of your stress could be guilt?
Guilt is a powerful emotion that is easy to ignore or neglect. Yet the side effects of burying even small amounts of guilt can take a serious toll on your mental health and physical health.
If you suffer from constant stress or anxiety, it’s important to evaluate whether or not guilt is playing a role, so you can tackle this emotion head on.
How Guilt Can Impact Your Mental and Physical Health
Everybody experiences guilt from time to time, whether it’s from telling a white lie to avoid hurting a friend’s feelings or hiding infidelity in a relationship.
When secrets are revealed, they can lead to serious backlash, but they allow an opportunity for honesty and to clear the air.
Guilt can set in, however, when lies or feelings of shame remain buried, no matter how small. That $20 you stole from your sister five years ago might still be eating away at your conscious. Hiding small secrets, as well as large ones, can lead to a stressful amount of guilt.
Mentally, people harboring guilt are likely to experience higher levels of stress, anxiety, or depression. This guilt can also manifest in physical ways, through ulcers and muscle aches. That’s why it’s important to always apologize and take responsibility for your mistakes.
Why Is Apologizing Hard For Some People?
Saying “I’m sorry” is almost always the right thing to do, yet many people struggle to apologize. There are a few reasons why apologizing seem impossible for you.
It Changes Your Self View
If you believe you’re an honest and moral person, admitting you made a mistake or hurt someone you care about can be a challenge. In this case, apologizing may seem like the worst possible decision, since it will lead to hurt and alter your personal view of yourself. It also causes you to question whether you’re really the person you thought you were.
However, burying guilt and avoiding an apology will likely make the situation and mental stress worse for yourself, and the person owed the apology, down the line.
It Admits Fault
This factor is common in relationships, when an apology is generally in reference to a conflict caused by both people.
It can be difficult to apologize for your role in a massive fight that stemmed from your partner missing a family dinner, because it can feel like you’re admitting the blame for the entire situation.
When a disagreement or conflict is caused by two people, one apology generally prompts the other. It may be hard to say you’re sorry first, but taking this step will remove this stress from your life and likely lead to a much-deserved apology in return.
It Places Focus on a Problem
Many people struggle with apologizing for problems that would otherwise remain hidden. For instance, if you hung out with a friend’s ex or did something you feel guilty about, but know there’s little chance of your friend finding out, you may feel weird about apologizing for something that isn’t hurting them. Saying “I’m sorry” would bring the problem to their attention and might seem to do more harm than good.
On the other side of this, if your friend were to somehow find out what happened through someone else, like her ex, you’d likely end up feeling worse and cause your friend more pain than if you had admitted your mistake and apologized.
The Healing Power of Apologizing
While it makes sense that an apology benefits the person who was wronged, it also has healing benefits for the person who made the mistake. When you apologize, you’re able to let go of that pent-up stress.
Apologizing can also lead to other benefits, such as:
- Feeling humble – Apologizing is difficult, so saying “sorry” is an action that can help us focus more on what we did wrong, to prevent us from making the same mistake again.
- Keeping you connected – When you apologize, you’re maintaining an emotional connection to a person. Even though it can be hard to do, nurturing this connection shows them that you care about them and can help develop your own sense of self-respect.
- Overcoming guilt – You may still feel guilty after apologizing, but your feelings of guilt will lessen significantly. Guilt can cause many people to suffer from physical, emotional, and psychological grief that can be fixed by owning up to your wrongdoing.
What to Expect When Apologizing
Apologizing can be healing, but it doesn’t always fix every situation. Saying you’re sorry is important in helping you and the person you hurt to move on, but it doesn’t mean they have to forgive you.
While forgiveness is always the hope with any apology, you should never apologize with the expectation that this will happen.
If you’ve really hurt someone, it could take time for them to come to terms with what happened. They may even decide they’d prefer to not have you in their lives for a time.
Still, it’s important to apologize so you’re not burdened with regret and guilt. Even if the apology doesn’t go as planned, you’ll feel better knowing you admitted your mistake and did everything you could to repair the damaged relationship.