Bad conscience and guilt: Gaining understanding and treatment

A guilty conscience can be a result of various psychological mechanisms. In this article we present an overview of some of them, what you yourself can do and what you can expect if you contact us for therapy. 

We hope we can contribute a step in the right direction - free from the guilt trap. 

No one is perfect on every level and everything can always be handled better. Thus, a feeling of guilt is unavoidable for any sentient being. But for some it can prove to be extra burdensome.

In this article, we will provide an overview of common mechanisms behind excessive guilty conscience, but if you wish, you can immediately click on more specific articles in our series on guilty conscience.

Shame and guilt - trapped in the maelstrom of the spirit of the times

12 Tips for Chronic Guilt for No Reason

Do you have a guilty conscience about someone? Psychological first aid for those of you who have actually done something wrong

Feeling Guilty About Everything and Anything? This is How to Break the Pattern of the “Blame Game”

Visit our front page if you wish psychologist in Oslo, or via video therapy across the country. To read more about our psychologists and book an appointment, use the button below. Or read on in the article for help with self-help.

A guilty conscience - an introduction

A guilty conscience must be the most misused of our basic emotions. It is actually a feeling that can help guide us back to the right path when we have actually done something wrong.

But in our time, it is largely abused as a tool for psychological warfare on ourselves.

When we speak of a guilty conscience, we must therefore immediately separate between healthy and unhealthy feelings of guilt.

We can get a healthy feeling of guilt simply because we have done something wrong. In these instances, the feeling of guilt is meant to help motivate us to engage in reparative actions. 

All too often, a temporary guilty conscience is an unhealthy expression of self-punishment. Often over not being able to meet impossible inner demands and expectations. 

Imagination is the only limitation for which parts of reality one can abuse to keep oneself down.

Bad conscience for having eaten, not to mention eating candy or something else unhealthy, not have trained, after a breakup, to end it, not to stay in the relationship, with your boyfriend, ex, children and parents, not least if they are old. It can happen if you are ill, away from work or have infected others. One may have a bad conscience for saying no, or for not saying no. It can also occur over thoughts and feelings one has. In cohabitation, it can occur after infidelity, or for lack of and too much sex drive.

There is almost no way, and can be a great challenge in everyday life.

Trapped in the maelstrom of the spirit of the times?

How can it have become so common to go around feeling like you are never enough? Why can't we give ourselves permission to be as we are, to just live life in all our human imperfection?

Why can we sometimes see the irrationality of our self-accusations but still be unable to shed the painful emotions?

You may have come across various advice and tips online already. “Tell yourself you are good enough”, “lower your standards” or similar expressions are often employed. These are completely right and in some cases reminders such as these can be of help.   

But sometimes you may not be aware that you are driving yourself far too hard. Things may have always been this way and you don’t even think about it.

Fish don’t believe in water.

In situations like these, awareness and active work with your inner dialogue can be enough to create more space within yourself.

This can be especially true for those who have a somewhat healthy sense of self-esteem at their foundation but find themselves being drawn into the “hamster-wheel”, stuck in time constraints and the eternal demands of modern life. 

Chronic guilt - for no reason?

In many cases we find that the problem goes deeper. A chronic guilty conscience, often for no reason, is commonly linked with a vulnerability in an individual’s self-esteem. 

Rationally you can understand that you are too hard on yourself, but it feels like you just aren't good enough and should step it up anyway

When things feel like this there is an emotional block in place somewhere, often unconsciously.

In situations such as these, therapy can be helpful in getting to the bottom of what the driving force behind the difficulties is and attempt to weaken the inner mechanisms of self-sabotage

Preferably pulled up by the root.

Psychologists as early as Freud were preoccupied with the central role an indeterminate feeling of guilt can play.

Once such a feeling has first entered the psyche, it can become a driving force for a variety of symptoms, including anxiety and depression.

The mind can become preoccupied with seeking out confirmations in everyday situations of such basic assumptions.

Thus, chronic feelings of guilt in everyday life can begin not only in the maelstrom of the times but also in disturbed internalized relational experiences from childhood.

This does not necessarily have to mean great traumas; often the driving force is a more subtle, emotional tension.

The child who grows up with suffering around them develops basic feelings of guilt for their own inability to help.

The child who does not have their negative feelings towards others acknowledged will still feel cruel and guilty and continue to direct such feelings inward.

Other times the induction of guilt can occur via various forms of conditional love, such as high expectations and demands.

Sometimes difficulties with guilt can be rooted in growing up with more or less direct accusations, criticism and disapproval. Among other things.

One is often unaware that such basic conditions can become the driving force for chronic guilt, and simply becoming aware of this can help.

Other times one is aware but driven by chronic guilt just the same.

In situations such as these, emotion-focused therapy, where you work through layers of anxiety and guilt-containing emotions (especially repressed anger) can be an effective means of breaking the pattern.

In our experience, a lot of anxiety and guilt are connected to contradictory emotions related to figures central in one’s upbringing.

In some cases, adaptation to one's environment goes so far as to become purely self-destructive.

Simply saying no or having an opinion, want, thought or feeling that conflicts with the needs of others can create a feeling of guilt.

Then therapy with a psychologist can often be necessary. If you wish to give therapy for a guilty conscience a try, you can quickly and easily schedule an appointment online in two minutes here.

Keep in mind that we also offer video therapy for people across Norway. In our experience it works just as well as in-person therapy for most people.

Therapy for a guilty conscience with trained psychologists in Oslo

If you at any time want to give therapy a go, we will begin by examining your problems as you experience them here and now and work with concrete examples from your everyday life in which guilt, or other symptoms, are intensified.

These concrete examples often carry within them a larger narrative. We will actively work to understand the specific driving mechanisms behind your symptoms, not least of all the unconscious ones.

Often through this sort of work, relevant links to the past can come up and when this happens we work closely with these as well.

We endeavor to not just “talk about it” or “dwell on the past” but to work actively to help you form a healing relationship where you can be yourself and you can react as an entire organism to what you have experienced.

Thus, you can resolve eventual remnants from your past that have gotten “stuck”, become aware of your patterns and achieve lasting change going forward.

This is how we endeavor to combine an in-depth psychological perspective with an active work method. We try not to dig up the past just for the sake of it while not just superficially skimming the surface.

The degree to which your self-liberation process is successful is greatly dependent on the cooperation we manage to establish.

Gaining a common understanding for the mechanisms that have led to your difficulties and finding a helpful way to cooperate are our natural goals at the start of therapy. 

You will quickly discover if therapy is something for you. Keep in mind that we also offer video therapy right in your own home. It can be worth trying.

Click this link to learn more about what to expect from therapy with us.


Perhaps it is enough, or at least helpful, to work on this on your own. We hope that this miniseries of articles concerning guilt is a good place to start.

We are attempting to delve more deeply than traditional advice while simultaneously making things as tangible as we can. Click here for an article in KK in which we have spoken about guilty consciences

In the articles linked to below, you can read about some of the psychological mechanisms behind these emotions, then you can read more about those that are most relevant to you.

We wish you the best with the important work you are embarking upon.

Shame and guilt - trapped in the maelstrom of the spirit of the times - This article looks at general sources of guilt in today's society, where the list is set so high that one is guaranteed to tear.

12 Tips for Chronic Guilt for No Reason - This article contains a bunch of tips to separate healthy guilt from a guilty conscience with some coping tips. A number of possible mechanisms for the development of pconscience explained.

Do you have a guilty conscience about someone? Psychological first aid for those of you who have actually done something wrong - This article is primarily about cases where you have actually done something wrong, have guilt healthy varietybut misuse this in order to punish yourself rather than reach out to others.

Then you will never be using the healthy feeling of guilt to bring yourself back on the course you want to be on. Rather, you get “stuck” in the bad things you have done and use it to keep yourself down.

It is helpful to do a team effort and utilize your healthy capacity for guilt. This also touches on the theme of the next blog post:

Feeling Guilty About Everything and Anything? This is How to Break the Pattern of the “Blame Game” This blog post is about when someone "gives you" guilt. When someone around you has put you, or is constantly putting you, under pressure to take responsibility for things that are not really yours, and you give in. 

Did you have parents who constantly “gave” you a guilty conscience? Either directly or subtly, through accusations or hints about their own pain? Someone around you that constantly plays the role of “victim”? 

Or maybe a partner that has started to pick on you and criticize you daily? And you have started to believe that it actually is about YOU? Then this blog post may prove helpful.

Many people have difficulties believing that a psychologist can help specifically them. Others have tried without getting results.

Remember that we are experts in our field with many years of continued education. We are accustomed to helping people who have previously not gotten much out of therapy.

You will quickly find out if this is something for you. We do not think you will regret giving it a try.

Fill in the form and we will answer you shortly.

We treat the information confidentially. Read more this spring privacy statement here.