Strategies of adults for dealing with feelings of guilt – findings from a large web-based survey
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Faculty of Applied Social Sciences, University of Applied Sciences Erfurt, Erfurt, Germany
Department of Economic and Social Sciences & Institute of Social Medicine, Rehabilitation Sciences and Healthcare Research (ISRV), University of Applied Sciences Nordhausen, Nordhausen, Germany
Research Group COPE – Chronic Diseases and Psychological Health, SRH University of Applied Health Sciences, Gera, Germany
Integrated Research and Treatment Center (IFB) Adiposity Diseases, University Hospital Leipzig, Leipzig, Germany
Tobias Luck   

Faculty of Applied Social Sciences, University of Applied Sciences Erfurt, Erfurt, Germany
Submission date: 2022-03-02
Final revision date: 2022-04-27
Acceptance date: 2022-05-29
Online publication date: 2022-07-08
Feelings of guilt are common in adulthood. Depending on the situation, individuals need different strategies for dealing with these usually unpleasant experiences. The aim of this study was to provide comprehensive empirical information about such different guilt-related strategies used in adulthood.

Participants and procedure:
A cross-sectional web-based survey was conducted (05/2019-04/2020) collecting autobiographical information on guilt expe-riences. Stated strategies for dealing with feelings of guilt were classified into inductively defined categories, and the fre-quency of the categorized strategies was calculated (total, gender-, age-specific). Associations between applied strategies and gender and age were analyzed using Cramér’s φ and V as appropriate.

Analyzing statements of 579 participants (18-84 years), we differentiated 34 different categories of guilt-related strategies. The most frequently used strategies were “Self-reflection; contemplation; analyzing/reviewing things one feels guilty about” and “Repressing/ignoring/(actively) forgetting/not thinking about/bottling up the feelings of guilt”. Female and male partic-ipants showed a significantly different use only in the strategy of utilizing “Professional support/therapy/counseling” (10.57% vs. 3.67%; Cramér’s φ = .13, p = .001). Additionally, only a few differences were found with regard to age.

Adults use a broad variety of different strategies for dealing with feelings of guilt. Strategies regulating emotional responses to the problem causing feelings of guilt seem to be at least as important as strategies targeting the problem itself. Many strategies do not serve pro-social functions. Feelings of guilt are an issue relevant for mental health care since several of the adults with feelings of guilt utilize professional help, and an even higher number may need such help.

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