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What causes guilt? 6 possible conditions

Guilt is our conscience telling us we’ve done something wrong. It’s a handy tool to keep us accountable for what we do, yet for some people their conscience blows things out of proportion and overruns their minds with despair, guilt, and remorse.

Guilt is a common symptom of bipolar disorder. Often, patients replay things in their heads repeatedly and question themselves. They feel that because of their condition they are doing something wrong.

If you have bipolar disorder, you’re probably familiar with feelings of guilt. You may feel like you’re not doing enough good, or that everything you do isn’t good enough.  You may feel obligated to satisfy others, which makes you agree to do whatever people ask of you because you want to please people. You never say “no” to other people’s requests, especially for work, which keeps you busy nearly all of the time.

Guilt & Self-Esteem

Real or perceived, guilt is a debilitating part of bipolar disorder because the mind starts to sabotage itself with negative, dark, and hopeless thoughts. You can feel stuck in a loop of negativity as the mind rehashes, repeatedly on end, about even the smallest situation like a nagging voice inside of you.

No matter how hard you try to fight it, your body language gives away the nervousness of the real or perceived guilt. Both the manic and depressive states of bipolar disorder can have effects on self-esteem: the depressive state carrying low self-esteem and the manic stages carrying elevated self-esteem.

In essence, low self-esteem is the feeling that you’re not good enough, worthy of love, or can’t meet people’s expectations. None of that is actually true, but negative emotions get in the way of reality.

Unfortunately, there is no quick trick that will instantly remove despair, guilt, and remorse from your mind. It takes practice, determination, and drive. You have all of that, and you know it. 

First off, there’s nothing wrong with you. You’re not crazy. You’re not a freak. You have a condition that’s not your fault.

Most importantly, you’re not alone. About 8 million Americans have bipolar disorder, and around 83 percent of those cases are classified as “severe,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Helping Your Condition

Self-confidence can be a vital tool for people with bipolar disorder. It can help prevent self-blame and install a sense of duty to yourself and others.

Here are some things you can do to boost your self-esteem:

Get to Know Yourself

You should take some time to get to know yourself. This could include paying close attention to your thoughts and reactions, keeping a journal, or simply giving yourself a few minutes at the end of the day to reflect.

This is important for both manic and depressive points in mania. Pay attention to not only what you feel, but when the emotion started. These kinds of things may be helpful to bring up with your therapist.

Meditation is a great form of self-exploration. Regular meditation can help you better understand your surroundings and calm a frantic mind. While meditation won’t change the world, it can change how you perceive it and react to it.


Sometimes if you can’t make yourself happy, doing something for someone else is a good way to get started on feeling better. Donating your time with a local charity helps improve your community and can help boost your self-esteem.

Charity and non-profit groups are always looking for help. Even if you only want to agree to a one-time event to start, food pantries usually need help stocking and sorting, as well as local libraries. Feel free to try different organizations and events to see what you like. 

It doesn’t have to be a formal process. Even something as simple as offering to mow your neighbor’s yard, or picking up garbage while you go for a walk can go a long way. The exercise will also benefit you as well.

Work on It

If there’s something about yourself that you really don’t like, work on changing it.

Attempting to change the way you perceive things—especially with a complicated condition like bipolar disorder—is difficult. Before you even begin, know that making changes to any part of your life won’t happen immediately. It takes work, but it’s worth it.

For example, if you think people are only saying negative things about you, pay closer attention to what they are saying. There’s a good chance you’re skipping over the good things and only focusing on the negative.

Slow Down

You may think that you have to do a million things a day to feel better and get things done, but when you’re rushing through things without giving yourself enough time to think, chances are you’re going to make mistakes. 

This is especially true during the manic stages, but can also become apparent during depression if you’re attempting to stay busy to avoid dealing with your feelings. Even if it is difficult, keeping a pace that you can keep up with can really help with the difficulties of bipolar disorder.

Make Lists

Forgetting things can be frustrating, as well as a quick path to blowing things out of proportion. Everyone forgets things, but if you do it enough you could slip into guilt. That’s why it’s important to write things down. 

Lists are also great ways to show yourself how much you’re getting done.

Put small things on the list, like laundry or doing the dishes. You do them normally without writing them down, but crossing anything off a to-do list is satisfying. The more small things you can get done, the more accomplished you’ll feel.

Learn Something New

If you doubt how smart you are, get smarter. Learning something new—like a language, a new hobby, or a craft—can boost your self-esteem. You must promise yourself that you’ll have fun with it or you’ll get stuck into a deeper rut of self-loathing.

A new hobby can be a good place to put your manic energy and it could be something to invigorate you through a depressive state.


No matter what you’re trying to do or change, it’s going to take practice. Go easy on yourself, learn from your mistakes, and move on.

If you choose to learn something new, the practice should be part of the fun. Try not to allow yourself to become discouraged as you learn new things.

Celebrate Small Things

As you’re working through your personal changes, don’t forget to stop and celebrate the little victories. This can be something small like the first time you notice you didn’t overreact to a situation or you haven’t missed a workout in a few weeks. After all, a victory is a victory. 

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.