How to Overcome Guilt: 13 Ways to Stop Feeling Guilty

Amber Murphy

Guilt is a strong feeling of distress regarding your words, actions, feelings, and thoughts. Research shows numerous signs of guilt: insomnia, sadness, anxiety, low self-esteem, emotional numbness, self-sabotage, recurring obsessive thoughts, anhedonia, and feeling disconnected from your purpose. People are prone to mistakes. Therefore, it’s important to learn how to overcome guilt. According to scientific research, guilt can cause plenty of physical and emotional turmoil. Criticism and self-judgment are two aspects that trigger the recurring memories of what happened. In some instances, you might fear that your trusted friends or colleagues will find out the truth. Guilt can help you acknowledge your wrongful actions, thus improving your behavior. However, guilt can either promote positive growth or hold you back. If you’re having difficulty acknowledging your mistakes, regular journaling and mindfulness meditation can make a huge difference. Below are tips on how to overcome guilt.

13 Ways to Let Go of Guilt

1. Learn from the Past

Hand reaching out to a sunset.

It’s impossible to amend all situations, and some mistakes can ruin your relationship. For example, a combination of guilt and sadness over something or someone you’ve lost might feel impossible to escape, but that isn’t the case. To escape a sad past, you need to accept the situation. Ruminating and looking back won’t fix your past mistakes unless you’re ready to accept and move on with life. Below are some items that’ll help you learn and avoid a similar mistake in the future:

  • What inspired you to commit the mistake? Identify triggers that prompted your feelings and actions.
  • What do your actions tell you and other people about yourself?
  • Given a chance, what would you do differently?

2. Apologize and Make Amends

Apologizing for your wrongful deeds can help you repair your emotional damage. A sincere apology conveys regret and remorse to the individual you’ve hurt. This shows that you’re planning to avoid a similar mistake in the future. You may fail to receive forgiveness at some point because some apologies don’t build broken trust. A sincere apology will help you overcome the situation because you’ve expressed your feelings correctly. In addition, apologizing to someone you’ve hurt shows that you’re accountable for your mistakes. To make a sincere and effective apology, you’ll need to:

  • Ask for forgiveness
  • Show remorse
  • Acknowledge your role
  • Avoid making excuses

Making amends shows that you’re ready to change. For instance, if you cannot support your friends or spend quality time with your loved ones, you should demonstrate the desire to change. In addition, if you’re unable to apologize directly, you can commit and write a letter. Ensure that you commit to self-kindness when making amends.

3. Identify the Source of Guilt

To overcome guilt, you should explore its source. Sometimes, feeling guilty can be normal, especially if you’re aware of the wrongful deed. On the other hand, you can be guilty of something that you didn’t have anything, or much, to do with. It’s important to be responsible and accountable for your mistakes. Blaming yourself for things that you can’t control can deteriorate your life. Therefore, you should analyze and evaluate the situation to develop the root cause of the problem. Note that sometimes you can feel guilty about something you can’t be faulted for. For instance, you might feel guilty about breaking up with your loved one. Other causes of guilt include the following:

  • Physical or mental health concerns
  • Surviving disaster or trauma
  • Conflict between personal choices and values that you’ve made

In some cases, you can feel guilty because you concentrate more on yourself than others.

4. Replace Negative Self-Talk With Self-Compassion

Woman jumping up for joy.

As previously mentioned, everybody commits mistakes. Therefore, a mistake doesn’t make an individual a bad person. Some studies show that guilt can provoke self-criticism. Criticizing yourself won’t change or improve your current feeling. Self-punishment plays a significant role in deteriorating your emotional well-being. Instead of criticizing yourself, reflect on what you’d say to a friend in a similar situation. Mostly, you’ll try to point out positive things as much as possible. For instance, you can remind your friends or colleagues about their strengths. This shows that you need the same kindness when you commit a mistake. Remind yourself about your worth. This will play a major role in boosting your confidence when dealing with a difficult situation.

You can practice self-compassion with some meditation. Declutter The Mind is a free guided meditation help with practices on how to overcome guilt as well as practicing self-compassion.

Free meditation appDeclutter The Mind is an app that will teach you how to meditate, help you form the habit of a regular practice, and expand your mind to the teachings of mindfulness.

5. Practice Gratitude

At some point in life, you may need help, especially when you’re coping with health concerns, challenges, and emotional distress. If your colleagues or friends need emotional support, you’d be ready to show up and support them. This shows that you’re committed to helping them overcome guilt. In the same case, you should ask for help if need be. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help. In addition, cultivate gratitude through the following ways:

  • Acknowledge all gained opportunities
  • Thank your loved ones for physical, mental, and emotional support
  • Always ask for help
  • Make your appreciation clear

6. Forgive Yourself

Self-forgiveness is a crucial aspect of self-compassion. Forgiving yourself shows that you acknowledge your mistakes, you’re ready to start letting go, and are ready to change your ways. Focus on your future without letting a past situation define you. Accepting you’re imperfect is a great way of showing yourself kindness and love. Self-forgiveness incorporates various aspects:

  • Make amends for harm caused
  • Become more responsible
  • Practice self-trust and acceptance
  • Express regret and remorse

Forgiving yourself will help you see things from a positive perspective.

7. Talk With a Professional Therapist

Overcoming persistent or severe guilt requires time, effort, and commitment. Some individuals aren’t productive when going through the guilt of trauma, intrusive thoughts, or depression. It’s not easy to open up to someone if you fear judgment. In the long term, guilt can stress your daily life or affect your relationship. Also, persistent guilt can cause severe mental health conditions and substance use. Therefore, you should consider trying to find a professional therapist to help you overcome severe guilt. A reliable therapist should be trustworthy, affordable, reputable, and experienced. A reputable therapist will give you tips and strategies for coping with guilt. Finally, the therapist will use an approach that’ll help you overcome the feeling of guilt within a short period.

8. Talk to Trustworthy Friends or Family Members

Family sitting around the dinner table enjoying one another's company.

It’s not easy to discuss a mistake that you regret. This is the main reason why most people have difficulties discussing guilt, which is understandable. Isolating yourself night prevents you from being judged. Based on research, isolation and loneliness can reduce your chances of overcoming guilt. There are some friends and family members who can help you manage guilt. These friends will help you with emotional support. Ensure that you share your problem with someone who can keep a secret rather than someone who’ll gossip about you. A trustworthy individual will offer compassion and kindness. Sharing your mistakes with the right people will help you relieve tension. Most people have gone through the same challenge; they’ll help you overcome guilt.

9. Establish Boundaries

Sometimes, guilt can come as a result of unclear boundaries. For instance, you might feel guilty because you’re unable to satisfy someone’s else needs. Therefore, you should establish healthy boundaries which suit your tastes and preferences. Making your expectations clear is essential because it helps you identify behaviors that you’ll tolerate. These boundaries help you prevent guilt, especially when dealing with others.

10. Acknowledge that Guilt Exists

There are times when guilt can remain hidden underneath symptoms, such as sleeplessness and anxiety. It’s hard to determine this type of guilt, especially short-term. Determining whether guilt is the main cause of these emotional health issues can help you deal with the problem.

11. Address Mental Health Challenges

If past trauma and mental health conditions play a significant role in your guilt, consult a reliable mental health expert. A mental health professional will offer you the best strategies to help you overcome guilt. Ensure that you invest in a professional and trustworthy mental health specialist.

12. Grow Your Self-Esteem

Woman looking confidently off into the distance.

It’s scientifically proven that guilt comes with shame, which can lower your self-esteem. Overcoming low self-esteem can help you overcome guilt and shame. Therefore, you should learn to forgive yourself, irrespective of the situation or mistake. Looking down on yourself can reduce your confidence. Therefore, you won’t have the ability to overcome past mistakes. Self-compassion and self-esteem go hand-in-hand. If you want to improve your self-worth, show yourself kindness and compassion.

13. Do Something Good

Good deeds can help you manage the feeling of guilt. Numerous things can help you stop feeling guilty: volunteering and helping out in the community. In addition, do something that makes you happy. Small gains can boost your confidence, thus helping you deal with your mistakes.

Conclusion

Overcoming guilt plays a vital role in improving your emotional and physical well-being. It’s important to note that you can’t change the past event. Therefore, it’s high time you learn from your mistakes and move on.

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