The Opposite of HSP Happiness is Guilt

by Caroline van Kimmenade

When you think about the opposite of happiness, do you think of depression? Sadness? Anger perhaps? Or have you realised – through experience – that the opposite of happiness is guilt, because guilt is the biggest thing blocking you from doing what makes you happy?

I’m not the definitive expert on what emotional state is the official opposite of what. Certainly, there are many possible opposites! But in working with Highly Sensitive People and Empaths, time and again I find that the big thing getting in the way, the emotional state directly opposed to and sabotaging happiness, is guilt.

Happiness requires making positive choices for ourselves. We all have things in our life that make us happy, when we allow ourselves to choose/have those things. So the question isn’t: “how can I be happy no matter what I choose?” rather, the question is: “what is in the way of choosing the things that make me happy?”

For many HSP’s, that something that is in the way is guilt.

  • Guilt that what you want is burdening someone else,
  • guilt that what you want may somehow interfere with someone else’s happiness.


Is Guilt Proof that You did Something Wrong?

Sometimes it is. Much of the time though, guilt is completely misplaced and comes from a dramatically large sense of (over)responsibility.

My good self-care practices don’t get in the way of anyone else’s – theoretically speaking. Nevertheless,  some people might take offense anyway and blame me for not spending my time the way they want me to. (“You should have helped me with my article instead of going for a run”. “You should have made me dinner instead of going out with friends”. “You should have read that book I told you to read instead of knitting a hat”) 

When we make feel-good choices about our own lives, we are acting from a place of lightness, expansiveness. There’s enough of that to go around for everyone. Yet, we all need to make our own happy choices for ourselves. We need to make our happy choices, other people need to make theirs.

Things get complicated and weighed down with guilt and obligation though when we expect other people to take care of our happiness, and we expect ourselves to take care of their happiness!


The Simplicity of Happiness, the Complexity of Guilt

In many ways, happy choices are incredibly unsophisticated. You don’t need a harvard degree to make happy choices. In fact, children are incredibly good at picking what truly suits them, even if it’s “just” rainbow-coloured socks.

Growing up however comes with an incredibly large set of “things to consider”. It seems like, you can’t “just make happy choices”.  There are just too many other people to think of!

Thing is though, we can still make choices from that childlike unsophisticated place. To do so, we do need to have an awareness of our personal list of inner things that get in the way. The gremlins blocking the happiness so to speak.

One of those inner gremlins is guilt.


What About Guilty Pleasures?

While there is – apparently- such a thing as guilty pleasure, I can’t remember ever having been able to feel both guilt and pleasure at the same time.

Perhaps it works if you have just a tiny bit of guilt over doing something.

If your inner pool of guilt is big enough though, it will overshadow whatever pleasure there is in choosing something that also makes you feel guilty. Somehow, the guilt always wins.

drawing of person with ball and chain of guilt blocking happinessI think that’s why many of us, instead of making happy choices, actually make guilt-avoiding choices.

It can be tempting to think that by avoiding what makes us feel guilty, we will end up being happy. Yet, since guilt often attaches itself precisely to those things that we actually want to be/do/have for ourself, avoiding guilt actually means avoiding the things that make us happy.

It’s as if the receptors of your pleasure docking area have been blocked from receiving pleasure, because all the receptor spaces are occupied by guilt.

To put it in chakra terms: if you lower belly, sakral chakra area is consumed with guilt, then that guilt will get triggered every time you contemplate doing, having or being something that would make you feel good. It’s as if along with switching on a happiness attempt, you switch on the guilt as well.


The Solution, or Maybe Not

Now, there is a seemingly obvious and simple way out of this whole mess, and that is to focus on what makes other people happy and enjoy their sense of joy with them (this works “especially well” for empaths).

This is the “I’m happy when you’re happy” self-sacrificial do-gooder complex. At first glance, it seems to be the perfect solution. By focusing on what other people want, you can avoid your own guilt triggers.

In some inner-twisted-logic-way it may even seem like you are making strides paying off a debt: that if you deny yourself enough, eventually the guilt will fade completely.

The reality is though that the guilt stays exactly where it is. It’s an emotion. It’s not keeping track of how many good deeds you’ve accomplished. It’s not going to disappear at midnight. It’s not open to bartering. It’s simply there.


The Invisible Debt of Guilt

We treat guilt like debt, and often pretend we can “pay it off” through suffering. If we just suffer long enough, the guilt will go away – or so we think.

Yet, emotions don’t work like that. When they are not processed in the way they were intended to be processed, they’ll just sit in your gut like a big fat rock. Going nowhere. Making you feel guilty until eternity.

Moreoever, it’s a mistake to think that guilt is always “right”.

There are some incredibly toxic people out there who have the strange but compelling talent to make you feel guilty for such basic human unavoidable things as needing to breathe and having to eat. You know some of those people, right? They seem to have magic fingers that just plant the seeds of guilt right inside you while they speak.

So before you get too serious about your own guilt, do a little back-tracking. How many of those people have you been exposed to, and for how long? Could some of that guilt come from there? If it does, there’s no point trying to pay your dues. You don’t have a debt.

As real and solid as that guilt feels, it’s “fake”: meaning, it looks, feels and acts like guilt, but when you look closer, there really isn’t anything that you should feel guilty for.

Does that make the guilt magically disappear? Err, no, unfortunately. Fake guilt is like fake money, it circulates anyway. You can still “pay” with it. Yet, because it’s fake, it needs to be taken out of circulation. In the case of money, that’s the police’s job. In the case of guilt, that’s your job.

In taking guilt out of circulation, it’s important to pick a practice that addresses the emotion directly. Emotions are energy, and they have their own inner logic and their own unique way of dissipating. EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) can help. I also have a lot of detailed emotion-resolving practices available for you inside the Happy Sensitive Library


One Question to Ask:

Does happiness feel simple for me, or complicated?

Chances are – when it feels complicated, it’s due to guilt.

Especially if you feel guilty all the time, then someone(s) may be holding you responsible for their happiness. Or did they did once upon a time, and now you’ve internalised that sense of impossible obligation.

Don’t try to pay off the debt! It’s never ending.



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