Feeling Guilty and Excessive Worrying

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

I used to have a fulfilling life with my husband and our baby (I did experience some long depressed periods as a teen). My problems began a year ago when a series of traumas, accidents and health issues occurred in a row (none of them were because of my family). I feel that I’m going to collapse under the weight of all the “baggage” I’ve been carrying since then. I don’t feel I deserve to live anymore and I’m confused about my future. I used to have clear goals in life but not anymore. I would never cause harm to myself or anyone else but I’m afraid I have a severe anxiety disorder.

A feeling has been preventing me from performing my daily activities for 2 months: I’ve somehow become obsessed with feeling guilty for doing things and not doing things. Everything I do is wrong and bad. I’ve started to become very careful with what I say to people as though any word could have a detrimental effect and I’m afraid that if I made the slightest negative remark, there would be serious consequences. I’ve been constantly worried about getting arrested/getting into trouble for saying/doing anything. I used to be straightforward (not rude) but now I get so worried about saying a simple sentence that I think about the situation for days afterwards. I have the kind of personality that wants to please and help everybody. Ironically enough, I can’t say that I have any friends other than my husband. I find it difficult to fall asleep every night. I blame myself for everything, I think about the mistakes I’ve made and what consequences they could possibly have on my life at any moment. I get angry at myself as though I subconsciously wanted to deprive myself of the freedom of speech so that I wouldn’t hurt other people’s feelings. I don’t say bad stuff to people but I can’t stop worrying about something all the time. I tried counseling when I was having emotional meltdowns a year ago after a car accident but I felt absolutely worse afterwards. I have problems with socialization. I have too much empathy and think from other people’s perspectives all the time. Is this a mental “illness”? Is it worth feeling “guilty” and worrying about the past (what could’ve been done differently)? Or should we just live without regrets no matter what?

English is not my first language. I’m sorry about any mistakes I made. I’d appreciate your opinion! I can’t share my thoughts with anyone other than my significant other.

A. It is possible that you may have an anxiety disorder. That possibility may frighten you but you have nothing to be afraid of. Anxiety disorders are very treatable conditions. Hundreds, if not thousands, of books are available on the subject. In addition, many individuals who undergo treatment learn how to control their anxiety and others become symptom-free. For those willing to seek treatment, the prognosis is excellent.

You have been dealing with excessive feelings of guilt. One aspect of the problem is knowing when it is appropriate to feel guilty and when it isn’t.

There are times when feelings of guilt are appropriate. For instance, if you have done something wrong, then it would make sense to feel guilty. If you have done nothing wrong, then you should not feel guilty. It is either appropriate to feel guilty in a situation or it isn’t.

It is important to analyze every situation from a logical perspective to determine if your feelings are in line with reality. Accurately perceiving the reality of a situation would significantly reduce or eliminate your anxiety. A therapist could greatly assist you with this. He or she would analyze situations that prompt your guilty feelings and help you to determine if they are appropriate.

Worrying about past situations is not useful. Worrying changes nothing. No amount of worrying will change or alter the past. Analyzing one’s behavior to determine if mistakes were made is a worthwhile effort. You cannot change the past but it could help you to know how to behave in future situations.

You mentioned that you have tried therapy. It was not successful but you should try again. Not all therapists are created equally. That therapist may not have been helpful but another one might be. The find help tab at the top of this page can help you to locate a mental health professional in your community. It would be wise to choose a therapist who specializes in treating anxiety disorders. I wish you the best. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 28 Jan 2012

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2012). Feeling Guilty and Excessive Worrying. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 21, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2012/01/28/feeling-guilty-and-excessive-worrying/