Nobody has skated through life without making a handful of decisions they come to regret.
Feeling as though you handled a situation wrong, or you failed to do something you should have, are just parts of life.
For some people, the heavy weight of guilt can be a burden they carry around for far too long.
Guilt can slowly infiltrate every corner and crevice of your mind, and begin to take over your emotions and thinking patterns. This can wreak havoc on your mental health, and ultimately, your wellbeing.
If you’re feeling guilty and you want to know how to break free from these chains, continue on.
You can live a life without guilt at your door.
Guilt: An Overview
Let’s take a step back so we can fully understand the scope of this topic.
We’ve all experienced the feeling of guilt. But what causes chronic, debilitating guilt?
Guilt is defined as a self-conscious negative emotion associated with persistent feelings of remorse, sadness, or inadequacy when we’ve caused another person emotional or physical harm, or breached our own moral code.
There are healthy feelings of guilt, this means you have a working conscious and can understand social skills.
However, irrational, prolonged guilt can cause many issues if not resolved.
Often when people experience chronic guilt, they overplay the harm they’ve done and allow anxious thoughts to take over. For some, they assume responsibility for a situation in which they may not have been entirely responsible.
Either way, chronic guilt can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, constant dissatisfaction, and the belief that their life is a burden to others.
5 Ways To Manage Feelings Of Guilt:
1. Understand Your Guilt:
More often than not, situations are far more complex than they initially appear.
Take time to sit with your feelings of guilt. Pushing them away to the side doesn’t fix the problem, and in most cases only makes it worse.
Write in a journal about the situation, and what the outcome was.
If any feelings of anger, sadness, or regret come up, be sure to write them down too. Research has shown many times that writing what you’re feeling is very beneficial to letting go.
Now, explore the scenario from different angles. Show yourself kindness and empathy.
This task may seem meaningless, but mindfulness practices such as these can help identify big emotions and in turn make them easier to spot and work through in the future.
2. Practice Radical Acceptance:
Radical acceptance is a psychological mindset used in some forms of therapy.
Instead of fighting with the present, and living in the past, accept that this is exactly how life is right now, and there is nothing you can do to change it.
By radically accepting the present moment, you’re free to let go of the past.
Radical acceptance brings freedom from guilt and shame by establishing the idea that all we can do is go forward and keep going.
Acknowledging that painful, regretful experiences are simply a part of life can bring a sense of peace and clarity through the understanding that staying stuck in the past is harmful and unproductive.
3. Make Amends:
Of course, this is much easier said than done, especially if hurtful things were done to you as well. However, apologizing not only sets the other person free, it sets you free from feelings of guilt and shame.
By expressing a sincere, heartfelt apology, you’re showing the other person that you want to repair what was broken.
Keep in mind, that not all apologies will fix a situation and you have to be ready in the event they choose not to forgive you.
Here are a few helpful tips when apologizing:
- Acknowledge your role in the situation
- Show remorse
- Don’t interrupt them if they try to speak
- Don’t give excuses
- Describe how you will change the behavior for the future
Remember, real, true apologies are followed up by change. The only way a person will truly know if you are sorry is through time, patience, and actions.
4. Find The Underlying Cause:
Is the situation REALLY the only reason guilt has been beating you up for so long? Or is there a deeper root issue that needs to be resolved first?
Before you can successfully let go of your guilt, you need to understand where the guilt is coming from in the first place.
While owning up to your part in a mistake is incredibly important, some people may find they feel excessively guilty for something that may not have been their fault. This can often mean they have an underlying cause influencing these feelings.
A few root issues that may cause feelings of excessive guilt are:
- Religious background or upbringing
- Overly expectant parents that held impossibly high standards
- Feelings of inadequacy
- Low self-esteem
5. Forgive Yourself
Common humanity tells us that every single person on this earth has made mistakes and you are not alone in your experience.
When we allow ourselves forgiveness, we can set ourselves free from the negative emotions associated with chronic guilt.
- Remind yourself it’s okay to feel guilty: This proves you have an inner set of values that are healthy and working. Just don’t allow guilt to stay.
- Understand if you’re feeling guilty or shaming yourself: Guilt is when you feel you did something wrong, shame is when you feel like your entire being is wrong.
- Own up to your mistakes
- Apologize to those you hurt
- Write yourself an apology letter: This can be helpful to write down everything you’re feeling.
- Learn from your mistake and make a plan to change
- Practice self-care: Don’t allow guilt to trap you underneath the rubble and ruins of shame. Understand you’re merely human, and while you may not always make the best decision, you still deserve to take care of your mind and body.
Guilt Is In The Past:
While guilt is quite literally a look back into the past, by practicing these management tips you can leave your guilt right where it should be: behind you.
Just because you can move past feelings of guilt, doesn’t mean you’re somehow okay with what you did or the situation. Just because you can forgive yourself, doesn’t mean that you now believe what you did was right.
You can let go of guilt, without having to compromise your morals.
Living every day with a mind full of past regrets is no way to live. Free yourself from the chains of guilt by forgiving yourself, accepting the present, and allowing yourself to move on.