Learning how to deal with guilt is essential to a healthy life. Guilt is a form of shame. It comes from pride and embarrassment. It comes from a lot of places and can be drawn from mistakes you’ve made. Things you didn’t do. Or things that weren’t even your fault. We can even feel guilty about things that happened to us.
This is why guilt can be so hard to handle. It is a burden that you carry and doesn’t go away on its own. It can actually become heavier to carry over time if not dealt with. Although some guilt is natural and normal, it can get out of hand if it becomes excessive. It could lead to self-sabotage, low self-esteem, and an inability to form healthy relationships.
It is important to not let guilt take over your life, so dealing with it is essential.
[Read: Feeling guilty all the time? Find the cause and get rid of your nagging guilt]
What does it mean to feel guilty?
Feeling guilty can be a minor or major feeling. You can feel guilty for cutting someone off on the highway, but that feeling will likely pass in an hour, if not minutes. You can feel guilty for not recycling your to-go cup, for talking back to your partner, or being late to work. These things are small instances of guilt that most of us experience throughout our daily lives.
The guilt that really impacts you comes from greater situations like cheating on a partner, lying on your resume to get a job, or misleading someone. These are actions that lead to guilt and facing those includes remorse, apologies, accountability, and change. Other forms of guilt are what is called inappropriate. This would be guilt for not stopping someone from going out when they had a car accident or your business failing and your employees being out of the job.
[Read: The art of not giving a shit – 15 steps to not care what people think for once]These are things that happen and make us feel guilty although it may not actually be our fault. Feeling guilty doesn’t always mean you have something to feel guilty for.
How to deal with guilt the right way and drop the baggage that weighs you all the time
Whether your guilt stems from something you did to hurt or harm someone else or not, facing it is the best way to move on and release those heavy emotions from weighing you down. Without dealing with your guilt, you can let it take over your life and prevent you from living fully.
But facing and learning how to deal with guilt isn’t as easy as saying you’re sorry. You are no longer a child who drew on the wall. Saying sorry with puppy dog eyes won’t cut it. So, take the steps and accept accountability for your actions in order to move forward.
#1 Acknowledge your guilt and its purpose. Guilt is not just a feeling that bothers you for no reason. Guilt usually erupts because you did something wrong. It is a warning that you should change your behaviors.
Instead of ignoring those feelings of guilt and letting them grow stronger, acknowledge that feeling. Let it wash over you and realize it is there for a purpose, and that purpose is to help you improve. [Read: 16 powerful secrets of self-improvement]
#2 Apologize and listen. Apologize to whomever you hurt. Don’t just say sorry, but truly apologize with intent. Don’t apologize just to get rid of the guilt but to remedy the harm you did. Let them know you aren’t just sorry they were hurt by your actions, but you’re sorry for doing those actions in the first place.
And don’t stop there. Listen. Let this person tell you why what you did hurt them. This will help you better understand, so moving forward you are less likely to do the same thing again.
#3 Know what you did wrong and how to do better. Don’t just apologize because you feel bad or want the guilt to go away. If you don’t know what you did wrong, learn. Ask the person you hurt to explain it to you. They will. This is the only way to do better.
#4 Do the work to not repeat the behavior. Many apologies are empty because they stop when the words stop, but a true apology is carried out long term. You work on yourself and unlearn the behavior.
If you apologized for losing your temper, don’t just say sorry and lose your temper again in a month. Next when you feel those feelings surface, consider how you might hurt someone. Take a breath and think before you speak. Take a walk and let those feelings out in a healthy way. [Read: How to develop empathy and master the art of growing a real heart]
#5 Realize you can’t undo what’s been done. Guilt can eat away at you if you don’t realize all you can do is go forward. You can look back and dwell on what’s already been done. Yes, you might feel bad about making an insensitive comment or being close-minded, but you cannot undo that. The best way to deal with guilt when you did something you’re ashamed of is to do better moving forward.
#6 Stop obsessing. We all feel guilt, but obsessing over it will not make you or anyone else feel better. If you think showing your guilt or dwelling on it will fix things, it won’t. It won’t make anyone forgive you. It won’t make things better. Stop obsessing over what you did and focus on what you can do now. [Read: How to recognize the physical and emotional signs of a guilty conscience]
#7 Learn from your mistakes. Actually, take the time to learn why what you did was wrong. Learn how it affected others and you. Take the time to educate yourself on why you did what you did and how you can prevent it from happening again.
#8 Realize you’ll make mistakes again. You can learn to not make the same mistakes over and over, but you will make new ones. No one is perfect. Sometimes you feel guilty for not being perfect, but realizing that you will slip up again is part of letting go of the guilt.
#9 Forgive yourself. This can be the hardest part of dealing with guilt. Forgiving yourself is how you move forward. You may apologize to the person you hurt, but there is no saying they will forgive you. That is their choice.
But to move on, forgive yourself. Let your past go and work harder on yourself and be more self-aware in the future. [Read: How to stop hating yourself and learn to love all of yourself]
#10 Therapy. If all of this still a struggle for you, therapy may be the right choice. You don’t need a mental illness to seek help. Therapy helps everyone deal with their issues no matter how big or small. A therapist can give you exercises and reminders on how to deal with guilt every day.
How to deal with guilt you didn’t cause
When you haven’t actually done anything wrong, guilt can still rear its head. How do you deal with that when you have nothing to apologize for? Well, you need to work on yourself. You should figure out what is causing that guilt. Is it rational? If not, how can you face it? What can you do to rid yourself of the feeling of guilt?
#1 Reflect on what’s out of your control. Release yourself from guilt over things you have no control over. Maybe you feel guilty leaving your children with a babysitter when you go to work. Well, you need to earn a living to feed your family.
You know that. You know that your child will love you and get time with you and that you’re doing what you have to, but you feel guilty. Remind yourself that this is out of your control. What isn’t is how much time you spend at work. You can control what you make of the time you’re at home. You can not work overtime, leave when your day is done, and make your family time a priority while still living up to your other responsibilities.
By focusing on the things you can control, you can let go of the things you can’t. [Read: How to learn to stop feeling guilty all the time, and start living for you]
#2 Acknowledge hindsight. We often feel guilty for things that happened in the past. But, you can’t undo the past. And you can’t take the knowledge you have now and feel guilty for something you did without that knowledge.
Maybe you take your child to the park and they break their arm on the monkey bars. You feel guilty because if you hadn’t taken him to the park, it wouldn’t have happened. Maybe if you stood closer to him, you could have caught him before he fell. This is damaging guilt that is brought on by new knowledge. You had no way of knowing this would happen when you went to the park or sat on the bench to watch your child play. You took him to the park hundreds of times with no issue.
Acknowledging that your guilt is retroactive can help you rationalize.
#3 Forgive yourself. Even though you may have nothing to be forgiven for, forgive yourself for the things you blame yourself for. You may not have done anything wrong. Maybe something happened and you blame yourself when you really had no control.
Rationalizing it won’t always work. Sometimes you must forgive yourself. If someone else was in the situation you were in, wouldn’t you tell them the same thing? Remove yourself from your guilt for a moment and realize that you’ll never move on and make up for what you believe you did wrong if you keep blaming yourself.
[Read: How to get rid of false guilt and drop the burden others put on you]
Learning how to deal with guilt takes time, patience, and often therapy, but once you can find forgiveness you can release the guilt and live fully again.
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