If you are human, and we assume you are, you have probably made some mistakes in your life. You may have let people down, not been kind and compassionate when you could have, or been outright rude and nasty to people. You might have taken those you love for granted or not been grateful when someone went the extra mile to help you out. Perhaps you were unfaithful, mean, or aggressive toward someone you loved.
If you have ever experienced any of the above, you might reflect on your behavior and find yourself wondering if you are an awful person. You may even ask yourself, “Am I bad person?“. The fact is, all of us are flawed, nobody’s perfect, and we are going to make some mistakes now and again. Even when you mess up, you are a completely normal person. This article will explore why you might feel like a bad person when things go wrong.
The Choice Is Yours
Before exploring what it is to be a bad person, understand that what matters most is not the mistakes you make but how you go on with your life. If you mess up, hurt people you love, or do not do your best at a task, you have a couple of options. You can learn from your mistakes and use that lesson to help you do things better next time, or you can mull and ruminate over what went wrong and berate yourself for messing up.
Which option do you think serves your highest growth? Needless to say, it is the former. Even when we make mistakes, we can achieve even greater things in our life when we learn from those mistakes.
What Makes a Bad Person?
When you feel like a bad person or ask yourself if you are, do you know what kind of person a bad person is? What does it mean to be a bad person, and how does that differ from a good person? Most of the time, when people wonder if they are a bad person, they perceive a low sense of self-worth. They do not feel happy and think they do not deserve to feel worthy and loved. Still, some traits and characteristics may be considered generally bad.
Negative Personality Traits
Nobody is perfect, but some of us display traits of personality that the rest of us dislike. In general, someone who fits into the role of the typical bad person is someone who:
- Acts selfish and ignores the needs of others
- Hurts other people intentionally—physically or emotionally
- Dishonest and manipulative
- Avoids personal responsibility and accountability
- Judging others
- Feels like they are right all the time
- Excessive self-interest and disregard for others
These are just characteristics of the stereotypical bad person, but they are by no means rigid. A good person (whatever that means) may also show some of the above behaviors from time to time.
What Is NOT a Bad Person?
Note what is not included above. We have not included laziness, alcohol or drugs, or ignoring family members. Still, those three traits are just an example of the most common reasons people think they are bad people. We live in a society that glorifies productivity to the point that any lack of productivity is considered wrong or a sign of weakness or laziness. If we take some time off work or do not have the mental and emotional energy to work 8 hours a day, five days a week, we tend to feel guilty.
Alcohol and drug use can also feel like bad people. It is normal to experiment, but when use becomes a serious health issue, it can be challenging to reach out for help due to that stigma. People affected by excessive alcohol and drugs end up feeling bad because others judge and blame them, rather than lending a helping hand and encouraging them to get whatever help is available.
The third reason, disconnection from one’s family, also carries a social stigma. For example, an adult who decides to cut contact with her mother or father may be seen as ungrateful for their childhood and their parents’ work to raise them. They might feel like a bad person and carry guilt throughout their adult lives. Yet there may be a very good reason one would choose to put boundaries around a parent, such as narcissism, abuse, or any other form of toxic parenting.
Why Do I Feel like a Bad Person?
There is no clear definition of a good person and a bad person. Typically, good actions and behaviors include kindness, giving, caring, nurturing, building, and protecting. On the other hand, bad actions and behaviors include neglect, violence, nastiness, meanness, and ignorance. However, nobody is perfect, and on some days, you will be the hero, while on the other days, the villain.
So, when things go wrong or when you mess up, what exactly is it that makes you feel like a bad person? According to some psychologists, the answer lies in our early childhood experiences.
Feeling like a bad person sometimes comes from a sense of low self-esteem, low self-worth, and insecurity. These are natural human feelings, but when they begin in childhood, they can take on a lot of power and last well into adulthood, impacting their relationship with themselves and others. We may find ourselves ruminating and worrying about our history and making the conclusion that we are messed up forever.
Children look to their caregivers to teach them about themselves and the world around them. When a parent or caregiver teaches the child to explore and play and offers them love and support even when they throw a tantrum or otherwise misbehave, they are likely to grow up with a safe and secure sense of self. They will still make mistakes, act selfishly sometimes, and let others down from time to time, but they will understand that all of that is human nature and does not need to define who they are as a person.
Alternatively, suppose a parent or caregiver is overly critical of a child, punishes their authentic self-expression, or only loves conditionally. In that case, that child is likely to grow with a skewed sense of self. Mistakes and accidental harm to others will reaffirm to them that they are not worthy of unconditional love or that something is deeply wrong with them. Even when they are kind and helpful to others, they are just one thought away from self-criticism and self-deprecation.
Guilt is a powerful emotion, and it has a purpose. When guilt arises, that is a sign that our actions, words, or behavior may be harmful, motivating us to correct what happened. However, some of us have a more challenging time dealing with guilt than others.
When it persists, we can find ourselves ruminating and obsessing over how bad we are. If left unresolved, that can lead to self-esteem issues, anxiety, and depression. We feel it, but we remain silent because it is uncomfortable to discuss. Yet guilt eats away at the human psyche without airing it out and isolates the person suffering from their community.
What Kind of Person Am I?
No one is 100% good or bad. Our behavior changes depending on the context and dynamics we find ourselves in. Still, you can ask yourself some questions to determine if you have been kind and compassionate lately or if you have been putting your best on the back burner.
Am I A Terrible Person? Ask Yourself These 6 Questions
- Do I hurt people on purpose?
- Do I feel empathy for other people’s suffering?
- Do I help people when I can?
- Do I try my best?
- Do I try to make amends for my mistakes?
- Do I care about others’ feelings?
The questions above are simple, but they reveal a lot about your intentions and what you consider important in a person. No matter what you have done, you are still a decent person if you have compassion for others, if you try to make amends for your mistakes, and if you avoid intentionally harming others.
How to Stop Feeling Like a Horrible Person
1. Broaden Your Circle
One person can make you feel like a bad person if they do not love or respect you how you want them to. This is more common in those whose self-esteem and self-worth issues trace back to childhood. For example, if you are in a relationship with a partner who criticizes you all the time and tries to put you down, and you are sensitive or unsure of yourself, you will feel like a bad person. Only when, later, you meet new friends or another partner, and they treat you with kindness and respect do you realize that you are worthy of love and have a lot of value.
Of course, it is important to recognize and feel that value independently, but we are social beings, and we do need a community to thrive. Try to align yourself with people who make you feel like a better person, not those who leave you questioning and worrying about whether you are a horrible person or not. Remember that you are valid and worthy, just as you are from your perspective. Strengthen that belief with a loving, positive, and accepting community.
2. Make Amends for Your Mistakes
We all make mistakes, but how we deal with those mistakes makes the difference between good and bad. You can feel guilty about something you have done, but you do not have to live in that guilt forever. Guilt is a natural human emotion but can harm your mental health when it persists. It is wise to learn how to recognize and accept your guilt but use it as a tool for positive transformation rather than a means of self-punishment and self-loathing.
So, if you have done something bad and now you feel like a truly bad person, consider what went wrong from your side. In what way were you personally accountable? What were your responsibilities in that situation, and did you meet them? If you did not meet your responsibilities, the logical solution is to make amends. That might look like an apology, a change in behavior moving forward, or simply asking the person you let down what they need from you to correct the mistake you made.
People might dislike you or want to cut you off if you let them down or hurt them, but if you are genuinely sorry and trying to make amends, that makes you a good person. You are a good person, and you just did something bad. Even if that other person does not forgive you after apologizing and trying to make amends, you know you did your best.
3. Challenge Your Thoughts
Most of us live with an inner critic who judges and comments on everything we do. For some of us, that inner critic gets louder from time to time but does not control our lives. For others, that inner critic is around every day and constantly tries to make us feel bad about ourselves. It ignores the fact that we are human and naturally flawed. Instead, it holds in mind an idealized version of the self and berates us for not living up to that standard all the time.
The inner critic does not have to control your life. It may always be there somewhere, but you have a choice over how you respond to it. You can choose to tolerate or challenge it.
To challenge your inner critic, investigate the thoughts and beliefs it clings to. When it tells you that you are a bad person, investigate by asking it how. It might help to get a pen and paper and do some internal interviewing. Consider any real evidence that you are not a good person or is your mind running loose. If there is evidence that you have done something wrong or immoral, consider how you are dealing with that. If you are not doing anything about it, can you correct it? Can you forgive yourself if it is too late and you can no longer make amends?
4. Practice Self-Compassion
Self-compassion is the practice of showing oneself kindness and forgiveness. It is the core component of self-love, but it gets dismissed a lot. When people make a mistake or hurt someone and start to believe they are bad, practicing compassion might feel like letting oneself off the hook. It feels as though we deserve all the guilt and punishment for not being good enough.
Having compassion for yourself is not the same as letting yourself off the hook. It does not mean that you ignore what you did wrong or deny it ever happened. It means you accept your mistakes as they are and remind yourself that a mistake does not define who you are. In place of harsh words of self-criticism, self-loathing, and relentless self-sabotage, self-compassion allows you to lovingly accept yourself and let go of thoughts and beliefs that do not serve you. It is the practice of treating yourself during tough times as you would treat your best friend.
If your best friend struggled with feeling like a bad person, you would show them compassion. You would not tell them they are bad, and you would not insult them or call them names. You would listen to their concerns with curiosity, and you would remind them of all the goodness within them. At the same time, you would not pretend that they are perfect. You would admit that what they did may have been wrong, but you would not measure their worth against it. You would remind them that we all make mistakes and that the best thing to learn from them.
You are not a fixed point. You are an ever-changing, growing, learning, perfectly imperfect human being. So, no matter what you have done, you do not need to believe the thought that you are a bad person. Remember that you are the only person who can change your behavior, so if you have been lacking in compassion, mean, or even aggressive towards those you love, you can change it. Self-improvement through self-awareness is always achievable.
As mentioned earlier, we all make mistakes. As long as you learn from your mistakes and are always open to becoming a better person, you are on the right track no matter where you are starting from.