Toxic relationships are full of pain and heartache. When we are inside this turmoil, it is easy to lose sight of the inner patterns that are keeping us stuck in these situations. We all desire to have healthy and supportive relationships in life. When we look at the relationships that offer us a special heart-based space, we are part of that beautiful sharing with a loved one. So, what part of us is involved when we get entangled in toxic patterns? And in particular, what is the pattern that keeps us as the victim of a toxic relationship? There is one key emotion that we need to overcome to step out of the abusive cycle, and that emotion is guilt.
Firstly, I would like to clarify that all emotions serve a purpose. As I always say to my therapy clients, the issue is not what we feel, but what we do with those feelings. Guilt, to a certain extent, can help us to monitor whatever actions we have taken that are incongruent with our fundamental principles and beliefs. This emotion can be useful as a short term mechanism to observe what simply doesn’t work for us. After this purpose has been served, and we become aware of what we would like to do differently, it is time to learn from experience and release the guilt.
Unfortunately, at some point in our lives, particularly if we have been on the receiving end of a lot of anger and blame in our childhood, we can develop unfounded beliefs.We mistakenly believe that we are not good enough, that the feelings and emotions of other people around are our responsibility, that it is up to us to make them feel better, and that we deserve “punishment” for wrongdoings. In this way, whenever we don’t fulfil those roles, chronic guilt becomes our modus operandi.
Chronic guilt, when left unchecked, contains the following aspects:
Guilt is passive energy: Guilt is stagnant. It doesn’t generally push you to act. It
keeps you paralysed in a game of self-blame. You don’t move forward or backwards. You put yourself in a self-made jail where your thoughts become your torturer.
It is a manifestation of harshness and lack of self-worth towards us: The conversation you have with yourself when you feel guilty is one of the hardest we have with anyone in our lives. We put ourselves down, we offer no comfort or forgiveness, and self-punishment becomes a form of living.
It paralyses our ability to let go of hurtful circumstances and events in our life: When guilt is present, we feel that burden on our shoulders. We simply cannot access the understanding and self-forgiveness we need to move on from past hurt.
Guilt pushes us to overcompensate while we ignore our boundaries: As a result, we act in ways that are not in integrity with our highest good. We say “yes” when we need to say “no,” we start doing or giving beyond our boundaries, wasting our energy and our power away.
For guilt to exist, there needs to be another essential component in your life, and that component is blame. When we carry chronic guilt, it is because we have been chronically blamed. This is generally a sign of toxic relationships, in which one person in the relationship blames the other, transferring their pain onto the other person. If this behaviour begins in childhood, we have no emotional tools to stop this from happening. As adults, the behaviour has already become very internalised, so we keep repeating the pattern, feeling guilty without measurement.
So how do you free yourself from guilt?
Understand that you have always done the best you could in any given situation: Even if you consciously took an action that you knew wasn’t the best option at the time, it was the best you could do in that moment. Otherwise, you would have done differently.
Start noticing the part of your body where you keep the guilt feelings: When you are feeling guilty, sit down quietly, and focus on your breathing. Notice the part of your body that is holding the guilt, start breathing through this area, and allow any emotions associated with it to come out. Let the tears roll if necessary. Hold yourself with gentleness during this process.
Visualise yourself at the time in which the guilt was created: Embrace yourself at that moment like you would embrace a child. Hold yourself while soothing yourself as if you were nursing an upset baby.
Start observing your guilt: Whenever you feel the guilt, consciously acknowledge and name the emotion, focus on the breath, and simply breathe in forgiveness, letting the guilt go in love.
Notice behaviours that come from guilt: Stand in your power and resist the urge to act from guilt. In the beginning, this will feel uncomfortable. You will have to hold yourself in the process, but it will allow you to notice that making empowering choices is possible. You can live from a different space where your actions are based on freedom of choice.
When facing blame, remember you are not responsible for anyone's pain: The only pain you have the power to heal is your own. That doesn’t mean you can’t be empathetic or supportive. Observe in your body when you are absorbing someone else's guilt, rather than setting up healthy boundaries.
When you remove guilt from your life, you won’t be attracted to people who thrive on blaming others. Self-forgiveness is a conscious process. It's not enough to say, “I forgive myself,” it requires different actions and different self-awareness. Above all, it requires that you learn to love yourself and learn to act from a space of self-respect, saying no to the other person blame. It is an empowering journey that will bring you emotional freedom and inner peace.
About the author: Lucia Garcia is a Counsellor, Hypnotherapist, and Reiki Master Teacher with several years of experience. She is based in North East London, where she has a therapy practice. If you are interested in learning more about her work or getting some help, contact her on