How Chronic Guilt Gives You a False Sense of Responsibility

by | Dec 5, 2018

If you were raised to feel chronically guilty you were told as a child that things you couldn’t possibly help were your fault. You weren’t perfect enough. You made mistakes. You didn’t do what you were supposed to do. Your parents or whoever was in charge—and who were probably responsible for the issues you were being blamed for—made sure you were blamed instead.

As a child, you were dependent on this person who held you to impossible standards, and you accepted the idea that you ought to feel guilty. After all, isn’t it right that you should be punished for making your mother sad? Or for hurting her feelings? Or for not doing what she told you to do?


How Chronic Guilt Gives You A False Sense Of Responsibility Nancy'S Counseling Corner

Lifetime of Manufactured Guilt

But the fact is you were powerless and dependent on this person who made you feel guilt. Worse yet, this person framed how you thought about yourself, and shaped your emotional responses of guilt and shame and loneliness and remorse and hurt and anxiety and unhappiness with yourself. All together, these are the feelings of guilt that become your default emotions—chronic guilt. This situation, formed in your childhood, can last a lifetime.

If you feel chronic guilt, you are likely to feel guilty about just about anything that goes awry. Therefore you feel responsible for just about anything, too. Even when it’s not you’re your fault, you accept blame. You may volunteer that it’s your fault, even when you know it isn’t. Children even learn to blame themselves for being abused by adults.

The Devil You Know

Children who grow up with this toxic, perpetual guilt seek out individuals in their adult relationships who will let them continue this familiar, comfortable feeling of guilt that they learned in childhood. This often results in a codependent relationship where the guilt child enables a person with unhealthy behavior, like addiction, abuse, or epic irresponsibility.

The guilt child is used to blaming himself for everything, so why not include his partner’s dysfunctional behavior? Which, of course, makes the guilt child, now an adult, a party to a dysfunctional relationship. But if feels okay because it’s the devil he knows. It’s familiar. He’s used to being the fall guy. This tendency to seek out a replica of childhood dysfunctional relationships in adulthood is known as repetition compulsion.

Protect Yourself

If you recognize yourself as a guilt child, know that you are a target for people who find you easy to manipulate. You are susceptible because they can shame or guilt you into doing what they want. And they can make you feel it’s your responsibility to get them what they want. You must learn to stop enabling them and doing what other people want when it’s not in your best interest. You must learn to protect yourself instead of the person who is using you. You must learn to stop minimizing your hurt and start realizing you are only responsible for your own well being.


Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here:



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