During these challenging times, we may find ourselves experiencing an entire spectrum of emotions at any given moment. Understandably we will feel a strong sense of worry regarding our health and the well-being of our loved ones. We will likely feel frustration as we come to terms with the disruptions to our daily routines and encounter new occupational challenges. We may even experience a dash of joy as we get a few more minutes to sleep in place of our long commute to work. But as we are inundated with information of global suffering, we may also find ourselves feeling the heaviness and discomfort of guilt.
Guilt is a particularly fascinating feeling as it is something referred to as a “conditioned emotion”, essentially meaning that it is learned. We are not born having a sense of right and wrong, or at least what to feel bad about; this moral compass is taught to us by caregivers, family, social community, schooling and even religion. Although guilt is a completely natural facet of our emotional range as human beings, for many it can become all-consuming and paralyzing. Many individuals can even end up partaking in self-destructive behaviours as a result. In fact, feelings of chronic guilt have been shown to be a prominent risk factor for mental health concerns including in depression and anxiety—which makes it even more crucial for us to address our own feelings of guilt. In the realm of psychology, there are differing theories regarding the utility of guilt as an experience. Some argue that guilt can indicate the human propensity for feelings of empathy. Meanwhile, others state that it adversely contributes to emotional mental distress.