Whether we’ve hurt someone’s feelings or made a major mistake, feeling guilty usually means we feel responsible for something going wrong. Yet, this isn’t the only reason guilt happens.
Sometimes, we experience a “guilt complex” when our life is going great but the people we care about are struggling. Guilt may also arise from mental health disorders, such as anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder. And guilt is one of those feelings that can be tricky to navigate or figure out.
You might wonder whether or not you should feel guilty, amongst other things.
And this doesn’t mean guilt isn’t helpful. Guilt can often direct us to take responsibility and make amends for the error of our ways. However, persistent guilt isn’t healthy. It can also become mixed with shame, including feeling ashamed of who we are.
So, let’s dig into this and help you get out of that rut of guilt and shame. How can you let go of feeling guilty?
Let’s start with the basics, including a little guilt definition. What does guilt actually mean?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines guilt as, “feelings of deserving blame especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy” and “the state of one who has committed an offense especially consciously.”
Emotional signs of guilt include:
If this sounds familiar, keep reading!
Feeling guilty isn’t a good feeling. I think we can all agree on that. It feels bad. You feel bad. The whole situation just feels pretty bad. And it can kind of haunt you when you don’t do anything about it or when you don’t actively try to change your perspective or make amends.
Years later, your thoughts might come back to it and you can feel that shame deep in the pit of your stomach. Ugh, it isn’t ideal. But we’ve got good news: You can totally let go of this feeling. You are completely in control here.
There are a few factors here! And they all involve taking action or flipping your perspective (Yes, that’s easier said than done!). Below, we go over 8 ways you can begin letting go of feeling guilty.
So, let’s really dig into this. What can you do to start moving on? How can you stop feeling guilty once and for all? You may use one of the following or combine a bunch of the following to help you overcome your guilt (for whatever reason you might be feeling it!).
Take responsibility for how you feel. Sure, your mom might have made a comment that led you to feel guilty. But own your feelings. This takes back your power and takes it away from anyone else. It allows you to control how you feel, rather than letting others control that.
And with responsibility, you might need to accept your feelings. This is really hard to do. In some tough situations, it might even take some hard work (including therapy) to get through. Generally, accepting your feelings comes down to acknowledging the thoughts and circumstances that led you to feel them.
From there, you can take responsibility and start moving past it.
If you’ve wronged someone, extend that olive branch. Guilt has a positive side, and this is where it lets us know when we’ve potentially behaved morally wrong. We’re not living up to our own values. We aren’t treating others how we want to be treated.
This is where guilt can rear its ugly head and tap you on the shoulder, letting you know you need to do something different.
Plus, we all make mistakes. When you happen to be on the mistake-making side of things, it always helps to apologize and ask for forgiveness. This might mean making your partner’s favorite dinner (especially if acts of service is their love language!).
Or it might mean preparing a heartfelt apology and crawling over to your best friend’s house with a bottle of wine and pizza in hand to deliver it.
Each situation may need a unique and different approach. Explore what you can do to make it up to the person you’ve wronged. Make it right!
Feeling lousy about ourselves sucks. And guilt tends to knock our ego and our self-esteem down a notch (or two). So, if you’re still feeling down in the ditch, do something to make yourself feel good.
Go for a run. Head to the gym. Or do a light yoga session. Maybe order your favorite food this evening or do that hobby you love. Even a warm bath or any self-care activity might help. The goal here is to feel better!
So, you messed up. We all do. Beating yourself up isn’t going to get you anywhere. Instead, talk nicely to yourself! What would you say to your best friend? Say that to yourself.
Self-compassion and self-forgiveness can go a long way. While you shouldn’t totally let yourself off the hook for bad behavior, you also shouldn’t let it wreck your life or your confidence. Mistakes are part of life. It happened. Accept that, let it go, and move on.
Related Article: 5 Ways to Forgive (And Find Your Own Inner Peace)
While you’re working on forgiving yourself, try to steer your focus toward the good parts of your life. Practice gratitude. This is really easy to do! Grab a pen and paper, then write down 5-10 things you’re grateful for in your life. And truly feel that feeling of appreciation (it doesn’t work unless you do this part!).
Related Article: 10 Simple Reasons You Should Start a Gratitude Journal
This is one of the best things you can take away from messing up. What is the lesson here? What did you need to learn? When you find that and unravel what you’d do differently next time, life gets that much better. After all, we all trip and fall. But it’s how you pick yourself up that matters the most.
Maybe you’re not entirely sure where these feelings of guilt are coming from. It’s time to sit down and self-reflect. Leaving guilt unaddressed and ignored can actually amplify it, which isn’t helpful.
So, start by writing down what happened.
Let yourself feel angry or sad if you need to feel it. Allow yourself to feel whatever emotions come. This can help you untangle it.
Then, just sit with these feelings for a bit. It’s okay to feel sad or angry or frustrated. Don’t judge yourself. Rather, allow yourself to feel what you need to so you can truly get to the bottom of why you’re feeling this way. From there, you can actually come up with useful strategies to help you move forward.
This might go hand-in-hand with naming your guilt. At the same time, as previously mentioned, guilt can be good and bad. Some common causes of guilt include:
Undeniably, there are many other causes of guilt. Finding your why can help you overcome it. In some situations, talking to a therapist may also prove helpful.
Author Ayn Rand famously stated, “The worst guilt is to accept an unearned guilt.”
This is why finding the cause of your guilty feeling is of the utmost importance. Sometimes, guilt is helpful. Sometimes, it’s not. Either way, you can always move past it.
August 16, 2022
August 15, 2022