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What are some symptoms of guilt?

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Quick Answer

While guilt does not necessarily have symptoms, it may have side effects. These include a disruption in self-image, susceptibility to distractions, developing a habit of putting others down, hypersensitivity to minor criticisms, and paranoia.

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Full Answer

In basic terms, a person might feel guilty because he wishes he had or had not done something. Guilty people feel shame for acting or failing to act. There is no definite set of symptoms that define guilt, but there are many ways guilt manifests itself.

While guilt and shame are two different emotions, they are both related to regret surrounding something that happened in the past. Since the person cannot return to the past and correct his action or inaction to eliminate the source of the guilty feeling, people who feel guilty often seek relief from external sources. This might create a warped sense of self that inflates the ego in order to compensate for the feeling of failure.

A more complicated form of guilt is known as "survivor guilt," which encompasses more than the name suggests. A classic example of survivor guilt is a person surviving a plane crash and feeling guilty that he lived and others died. This kind of guilt shows up in more subtle ways as well. People who have achieved more success than their peers or family members may experience survivor's guilt, which often manifests in self-destructive behaviors that inhibit the guilty person from reaching success.

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