8 signs someone is secretly feeling guilty, according to psychology

Everyone feels guilt from time to time. You can feel guilty for thinking or doing certain things or even for something you never did. 

In a nutshell, it’s not easy to define guilt. 

But there’s this idea that guilt is not the main emotion but more like a follow-up feeling. It depends a lot on how people were raised and what culture they live in, and it often goes hand in hand with feeling embarrassed or ashamed. 

In Cognitive Theory, thoughts cause emotions. It’s like this sense that some harm was done, and when you connect with the pain caused, that’s when guilt kicks in. 

You’ve probably felt that icky guilt feeling in yourself. But how do you figure out when someone else is secretly feeling guilty about something they’ve done?

Stay tuned for 8 signs that might give it away!

1) They can’t look others in the eyes

You know how staring into someone’s eyes spills the beans on what’s up with them? Now, if someone’s dodging eye contact with you, it’s a giveaway that they feel guilty about something

Guilt can mess with a person’s head, and our eyes show when we feel uncomfortable and embarrassed, and that’s closely related to feelings of guilt.

In a nutshell, if you can’t catch someone’s eye, know there’s a good reason behind it. 

2) They’re avoiding people

One of the major signs of guilt is also avoiding people to whom we cause pain, or we have to do something that affects them.

People aren’t perfect, and sometimes, doing something like firing someone, for example, is part of life.  

Even if it’s the right thing to do, we feel guilty anyway. We can’t escape from our emotions and who we are. 

Guilt also brings this fear of people judging you. So, to dodge criticism, we keep our distance. 

3) They start lying 

People often use lying to cover their own backs. And let’s be honest, we all did it at some point in our lives. 

Even the smallest thing, like breaking someone’s favorite coffee cup and pretending that nothing happened. You just throw it in the trash and never speak of it again. 

And let me break it to you, if you know someone’s going to be looking for it and you don’t tell them what happened, that’s lying too. 

Or when your friend asks if you ordered that book that you promised you would, and you say, “Oh yeah, totally done!”

It’s a way of avoiding guilt and moving on from the problem without actually dealing with it. But we all know it will catch us up later, and we already feel guilty anyway. 

But look, most of us don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings. That’s why it’s an extra amount of guilt for us.

You might not realize it, but you usually start sweating and making up details when you are confronted about what you did. 

Our body movements are more nervous, and our eyes start to focus on anything other than the person we are talking to. 

4) They feel paranoid about everything

When you feel guilty, your brain often goes into overdrive. Your thoughts become messy, and you can become paranoid about what others think about you

If you do something that’s “eating you up inside,” you later feel like everyone is keeping an eye on you or trying to catch you. 

So, suppose you see people biting their lips or nails and often looking around but also feeling a bit sad. In that case, they probably feel guilty about something. 

When I was younger, I borrowed my friend’s favorite game. I asked if I could take some games I could play at home, and he said, of course, just not this specific one, as he wanted to finish it. 

Of course, I took it. It was the most interesting one. 

So I played it for a few days without him realizing it. But then guilt kicked it. I didn’t feel good about it, and of course, I returned it and said I was sorry. 

But my conscience was playing tricks on me for a few days. I felt restless and thought he knew and he was watching my every move, which wasn’t what happened at all. 

5) They self-isolate 

Being paranoid about things can lead to self-isolation, especially when guilt is the culprit. 

Sometimes, when someone messes up, they think others will react badly. To avoid criticism or judgment, they choose to be alone. 

That doesn’t mean people just disappear from society and their daily lives completely. It can be subtle signs like sitting further away from people than usual, missing lunch or coffee breaks, and keeping it to yourself. 

This one is important to handle with care. If you notice anyone around you like that, they probably need support. 

Whatever is bothering them, their emotions seem too much, and they probably need a good talk. 

6) They overreact to small stuff

If you’re feeling guilty about something, know you’re already giving yourself a hard time. Punishment already started.  

You become super sensitive to any kind of criticism, and even small stuff feels like a big deal, making you react strongly.

Let’s say someone you know cheats on their girlfriend but doesn’t tell her. Instead of dealing with the cheating, he might end up having a huge argument over something small, like forgetting to buy bread. 

It’s like he’s overreacting to cover up the real issue – the guilt he’s hiding. 

When people are feeling guilty, sometimes they end up blowing up over stuff that’s not really the main problem.

7) They’re suddenly nice  

I had a pretty interesting day at work once. One of my colleagues, who usually isn’t a blooming flower around the office, suddenly became super nice to everyone.  

It definitely raised some eyebrows. It looked like they were trying to fix all the broken relationships in one day.

A few hours later, I found out that the copy machine had broken, and my colleague thought it was their fault. I guess trying to push in more and more files in it to make it faster doesn’t work. 

But it was interesting to observe my colleague’s guilt trip. It says a lot about our nature for sure.

When someone’s being super nice, it’s like they’re trying to fix something. They’re on a mission to make things right.

So, being extra nice is their way of saying, “Hey, I messed up, and I want you to know I’m sorry.”  

But get this, it can also be a way of dodging tough talks. If you notice any of these in people around you, know that they feel pretty bad about something. 

8) They over apologize

Our friends came for a visit last week with their son. After some time, their kid started to apologize to us a lot, saying sorry for every little thing, even stuff that wasn’t a big deal. 

He was on an apology spree for the next few hours, and you could see he was freaking out about something. Later, I found a broken vase in our room and realized what happened. 

He was feeling guilty he broke it but didn’t feel comfortable admitting it in front of us. He wasn’t at home, so he probably felt a bit out of balance, which was understandable.

I let his parents talk to him about what happened and to make sure he knows everything is okay and can be fixed. 

Feeling guilty can make people crave forgiveness, even the youngest ones, big time. 

Saying sorry all the time is the way of handling the guilt, and apologizing becomes the way to let out all the feelings they’re carrying around.

Final thoughts

We’ve all felt guilty at some point, right? It happens.

And while feeling guilty can push us to do better, too much guilt can mess things up for us and the people around us, especially when there’s no support when both sides need it.

People often do things for lots of reasons we might never understand, but I am a big believer in forgiveness. 

But also, we should always do what’s best for us in situations when we feel hurt.

If someone feels guilty about doing something to you and you recognize it, know that the person is already doing the most of the punishing. 

This alone isn’t the reason for forgiveness, but working on it and being truly sorry might be. 

Spotting guilt in someone’s behavior can be tricky, but hopefully, some of these signs will give you a better picture. 

Adrian Volenik

Adrian has years of experience in the field of personal development and building wealth. Both physical and spiritual. He has a deep understanding of the human mind and a passion for helping people enhance their lives. Adrian loves to share practical tips and insights that can help readers achieve their personal and professional goals. He has lived in several European countries and has now settled in Portugal with his family. When he’s not writing, he enjoys going to the beach, hiking, drinking sangria, and spending time with his wife and son.

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