Welcome to the final part of my six part series where each week we will talk about the upside of what are generally referred to as negative emotions. These are emotions that are uncomfortable, that we attempt to deny and avoid at all costs. Yet as humans we cannot live in a state of constant bliss. And believe it or not, these negative emotions, in moderation, can actually be positive, they serve a purpose and have a function. So we are going to explore these various emotions rather than run and hide under the covers.

We have already talked about sadness, anger, jealousy, fear, and frustration, now we are going to talk about guilt. Guilt is an emotional response to a real or perceived error or misconduct or a feeling of responsibility for hurting others.

Guilt motivates us to fix whatever problem we have contributed to. Once in error, I left a really small tip for my server at lunch. Now, I waited tables through graduate school, so I felt truly terrible and actually called the restaurant the next day to add an additional tip to my bill. Guilt drives us to apologize and take necessary actions to remedy a wrong, no matter how small or large.

Guilt shows us to be human and humble to others. When we apologize or when we make amends for errors, it shows that we are not perfect and that we do not believe ourselves to be so. We are showing ourselves to be humble and insightful and it helps to form human connections and empathy.

Guilt can help us reflect upon our inner selves. When we feel guilty, we should step back and think about what is triggering this guilt. Sometimes we truly are in the wrong. Sometimes this is in our head. Guilt helps us to gain insight into our personal beliefs, values, and biases that drive our behavior.

Guilt drives us to uphold social norms and advocate for social justice. Without guilt, we would most likely be driven only by our own egocentric wishes and desires. Guilt helps us to act in socially acceptable ways and to work towards equity and justice.

“Guilt: The gift that keeps on giving.” Erma Bombeck