person worrying that they have done something bad

Most people do some things they consider good, some they consider bad, and a lot of things that are somewhere in the middle.

Maybe you cheated on your partner, stole money from a friend, or smacked your child in a moment of anger. Afterward, you felt unhappy with yourself and resolved never to do it again.

You may still wonder what that behavior says about you as a person.

Keep in mind that asking yourself, Am I a bad person? isn’t unusual. Simply considering this question shows you have some measure of self-awareness and empathy.

If you try to avoid causing harm, that is a good sign. If you can acknowledge you have room for improvement, you are taking a promising first step towards positive change.

If you need help now

If you’re considering suicide or have thoughts of harming yourself, you can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 800-662-HELP (4357).

“You can call the hotline to find mental health resources in your area. Trained specialists can help you find the best treatment for you if you don’t have health insurance.”

This is a complex question that doesn’t have an easy answer. Most people would agree that being “good” relates to moral behavior, and an important part of this is being fair to others.

It is difficult to define fair and bad.

Dr. Maury Joseph, a psychologist in Washington, D.C., points out the importance of considering the context of bad behavior.

If a person makes the only choice available to them, based on their history, their current environment, and their country of birth, does that make them bad?

When it comes to defining “bad”, culture and history also play a role. What is “bad” to one person might not be bad to another. It might be acceptable or even good, depending on the influences around them. Even the concept of “good” and “evil” being polar opposites is culturally dependent and liable to change over time.

Even if we choose to do so, a lack of empathy and effacement of the other are signs of unacceptable behavior, even if we choose not to.

Everyone has a back story that provides context for their behaviors. It might seem more reasonable for someone from a different background to have bad behavior.

The dark factor of personality

In a 2018 research paper and website, three psychologists suggest that what they call “D,” or the dark factor of personality, lies at the root of unethical or cruel behavior.

D-factor traits include narcissism and psychopathy, along with:

  • sadism
  • It was kind of.
  • Self-interest.
  • entitlement
  • moral disengagement
  • egoism is a belief.

All of these characteristics suggest that someone will pursue their own interests over others.

Maybe you have noticed some D-factor tendencies in your behavior. The following questions can help you identify areas that need work.

People are affected by many of the choices you make. It is wise to stop and think about whether your action will hurt someone else.

“If the rumor is true, it won’t help your coworker, but it will make you look good.”

“If the impact doesn’t matter to you as long as you benefit, or if you have a hard time considering consequences for others, that may be worth exploring.”

In your daily life, do you take time to consider the emotions of people around you? Showing interest in the well-being of others is an important part of maintaining interpersonal relationships.

Maybe you feel guilty because you don’t have a lot of time or energy to help out. But it doesn’t take much to demonstrate that you care. It’s often enough just to offer emotional support or a listening ear.

If you feel indifferent or believe others deserve the distress they experience, it is advisable to talk to a therapist.

You might do things others consider bad out of necessity. For example, many people lie, cheat, or steal on occasion. They may feel bad about doing it, but they may also feel it’s the only option available. Reasons don’t always justify theft or other crimes, but they can help put them into context.

“Maybe you stole because you couldn’t pay for something. Or you lied to keep a loved one out of trouble. These are probably not the best moves. If you care about someone you care about, you should act to cause the least harm.”

There are other reasons a person might do something that is not right.

  • They have a mental health issue that affects their judgement.
  • They have an addiction that affects their priorities.
  • Abuse during childhood can affect their ability to behave otherwise.
  • They have not been taught that certain behaviors are inappropriate.
  • Time pressure at work or peer pressure can lead to mistakes.

Morality is relative and depends largely on the context in which a person grows up and lives. People often feel “righteous anger” when their moral code is breached, for example, regarding individual rights. A person whose social and moral code champions the wellbeing of the community over the individual might feel differently.

If you do unethical things in order to hurt others, or for no reason at all, it might be worth asking for help.

When others help you or show kindness, do you thank them and show your appreciation, possibly by doing something kind for them in return?

Do you accept these gestures as something you are entitled to?

How do you feel when others ask for your help? Do you try to help them, or do you ignore their requests?

“If you don’t feel bothered by taking without giving anything in return, a therapist can help you figure out why.”

Joseph said that the people we are closest to can bring out bad feelings in us. We say bad things and we push them away.

You might say mean things in arguments or put down friends when you feel down.

Most people would certainly consider this bad behavior. But how do you handle the aftermath? Do you apologize, try to make amends, or resolve to communicate better in the future?

You might feel terrible, but you can still improve.

“Maybe you don’t care who you hurt. Maybe you think your partner deserves harsher treatment because they treated you badly. These are some signs that you might want to look at more closely.”

Good self-care involves making sure you can get your own needs met. There’s nothing wrong with being a little self-centered on occasion. You shouldn’t feel bad or guilty about not being able to help other people when you’re tending to your own needs.

If you only think about yourself when you have other people in your life, they may face pain or distress.

“Parents have to find a way to take care of their emotional and physical needs because children can’t meet a lot of their own needs. If you are dealing with illness or mental health concerns, a therapist can offer guidance and support.”

“If you feel like you don’t care about anyone else, professional support can help.”

You have done some research and asked some hard questions. Maybe you realize that there are things you could improve on.

Everyone is capable of change. If you have tried and failed to change, you might not feel like you have a point. It might be easier to stay the same.

Simply choosing not to do bad things can push you in the right direction. Committing to telling fewer lies, for example, is a significant step.

There are a few other pointers that you can use.

Consider the consequences

“If you want something, ask yourself if your behavior will have a negative impact on anyone. Taking a moment to think about this can help you remember that your actions don’t affect you.”

It is not always possible to avoid hurting others. If you proceed with care, you can avoid pain. Thinking over things can help you find a better solution.

Practice self-acceptance

It can help to remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes. You may have hurt people, but you aren’t the only one who’s ever done so. What’s most important is learning and growing from the past in order to avoid hurting people in the future.

Even if you’ve done some things that aren’t great, you’re still worthy of love and forgiveness. You may have a hard time accepting this from others until you can grant it to yourself.

Identify your values and live accordingly

Having clear defined values can help you live a more fulfilling life.

What matters most to you? Honesty, trust, kindness, communication, integrity, and accountability are some of the possible examples.

You can make changes to help live out these values.

  • Always telling the truth.
  • honoring your commitments
  • telling people when something is bothering you.

Talk to a therapist

If you find yourself spending a lot of time wondering about what kind of person you are, therapy can be a big help. Plus, there may be an underlying issue, such as depression, stress, or another mental health concern, that affects your mood and interactions with others.

Therapy is a good place to learn more about what drives your behavior and how to get your needs met. A therapist will offer support without judgement.

People with complex,Interpersonal problems might put up a faade that prevents people from getting a deeper look at them. They seem guiltless. Joseph says that may not be the full story.

He says therapy can help people change their behavior by allowing them to see their emotions in a different way.

You can consider your actions and wonder about their impact, which suggests you are a better person than you think. You are still capable of change even if you have done bad things.

The choices you make in life help determine who you are, and you can always choose to do better.

Crystal Raypole worked as an editor for GoodTherapy. Her interests include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. She is committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.