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Navigating Feelings of Guilt as a People Pleaser

Updated: Jul 4

Young Asian woman contemplating at desk

Guilt is a really important emotion. It signals to us that we have done something that violates our values or that we have caused harm to someone significant to us. When guilt arises under these circumstances, it helps us uphold values we regard as important, and signals to us to make amends or to learn from the experience.

But what if feelings of guilt are regularly activated, similar to a smoke detector sounding an alarm when there is no fire present? While listening to and honouring our emotions is crucial for our mental health and overall wellness , individuals with people pleasing tendencies must be mindful that there are different types of guilt, which require different responses.

Toxic Guilt

There are two types of guilt: the first type signals that we have compromised a core value, while the second type, toxic guilt, involves assuming responsibility for others' emotions and blaming ourselves for causing negative feelings in them. Toxic guilt may manifest as feeling guilty for declining to talk over the phone with friend who wants to discuss their stressful day because you are emotionally drained, or for being unable to visit a parent due to a busy week and suggesting they visit you instead. In these scenarios, you are simply communicating your limitations and needs.

However, if we are people pleasers who have have had childhoods or experiences in our lifetimes where we are made to feel responsible for the happiness or unhappiness of those around us, we can begin to internalize these messages, leaving us prone to experiencing toxic guilt.

Awareness and Patience

The first step to working through our feelings of guilt involves developing a sense of awareness when we observe its emergence. This awareness allows us to pause and consider the message behind the guilt - whether it signifies a misalignment with our values or whether we assuming personal responsibility for the reactions of others. By engaging in this reflective process, we can discern what type of guilt we are experiencing.

Being gentle with yourself is crucial as you start to familiarize yourself with feelings of guilt. Many of us have spent a great deal of time and effort to avoid feeling this emotion. Take your time to allow this self-knowledge to sit with you, and trust that changes will unfold gradually over time.

If you would like to explore feelings like guilt in the safety of a relationship, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.


Hannah Peirce

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