If you want to know how to stop feeling guilty, this post has lots of helpful ideas to help you dig deep, take action, forgive yourself, let go, and move forward.
Guilt is a powerful emotion, causing us to feel a mixture of regret, remorse, shame, and anxiety all at the same time. These uncomfortable feelings can be beneficial to us when our actions aren’t aligned with our core values. Guilt can motivate us to apologize to someone we’ve hurt and re-evaluate our behavior, allowing us to maintain positive relationships with ourselves and others.
On the flip side, excessive feelings of guilt can have a negative impact on our quality of life, leading to increased feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. While all of us struggle with guilt periodically throughout our lives, some people take it to the extreme, allowing their thoughts and feelings to negatively impact their mental health. If this sounds like you, these tips will teach you how to stop feeling guilty, allowing you to be more present with yourself and the people you love most.
How to Stop Feeling Guilty
1. IDENTIFY WHAT YOU FEEL GUILTY ABOUT
If you want to know how to stop feeling guilty, a great first step is to take the time to identify what you’re feeling guilty about in the first place. When those familiar feelings of regret and shame start creeping in, take a few moments to sit with your feelings and then write a list of all of the things that are causing those emotions to surface. It can be easy to push uncomfortable thoughts aside, but they inevitably end up festering and causing more discomfort over time. Taking the time to identify the reasons you feel regret, remorse, or shame will help you put a plan of action in place, allowing you to take control over your emotions rather than allowing them to take control over you.
2. ASK YOURSELF IF YOUR GUILT IS LOGICAL
Once you’ve identified why you feel guilty, it’s important to ask yourself if the emotions you’re feeling are logical. Are you harbouring guilt over past events that can’t be undone? Are you allowing someone else’s distorted expectations of you to make you feel bad? Are you feeling ashamed for putting your own needs above the needs of someone else? Are you mistaking guilt for fear, anger, or sadness? If you want to know how to stop feeling guilty, make sure your emotions match the situation.
3. TAKE ACTION
Once you’ve identified why you’re feeling guilty and confirmed you are justified in feeling the way you do, ask yourself if there is anything you can do right now to fix the situation. If you’ve hurt someone, apologize to them. If you haven’t been able to spend a lot of time with your kids due to an important work deadline, organize a fun family outing. If you’ve been distant with your significant other, arrange a special date night so you can reconnect. Instead of passively sitting back and allowing feelings of guilt and shame to fester, be proactive!
4. BE PREPARED THAT YOUR APOLOGY MAY NOT BE ACCEPTED
While it’s important to take ownership of your mistakes – and to apologize to, and ask for forgiveness from, those you have wronged – you must also be prepared that your apology may not be accepted. The person you have hurt may not be able to move past what happened, and while that may not be your desired outcome, it is out of your control. What’s done is done, and the only thing you have power over is how you move forward from here. Owning up to your mistakes without making excuses or attempting to place blame on others is important, but remember that actions speak louder than words. Changed behavior is just as important, and while the person you hurt may never be able to forgive you, you can use the experience to better yourself and your relationships with others moving forward.
5. KNOW WHEN TO LET GO
We’ve all done or said things we’re not particularly proud of over the course of our lives, but some people make mistakes that feel impossible to overcome. They become consumed with guilt, and those feelings end up snowballing into every other aspect of their lives. It can impact them physically, causing problems with their heart health and blood pressure, it increases their risk for depression, and it can negatively impact the quality of their lives and their relationships with others. If this sounds like you, remember that you cannot change the past. What’s done is done, and punishing yourself will not change what happened. Eddie Vedder encapsulates this beautifully in the song Present Tense:
‘You can spend your time alone redigesting past regrets,
Or you can come to terms and realize…
You’re the only one who cannot forgive yourself,
Makes much more sense to live in the present tense…’
It’s okay to feel bad about something in the moment, but if you’re still beating yourself up weeks, months, or even years later, it’s time to let go.
6. TURN IT INTO A LEARNING EXPERIENCE
It is so easy to dwell on past mistakes, but wallowing in guilt can negatively impact your physical, emotional, and mental health. If you want to know how to stop feeling guilty, a great tip to try is to find ways to turn your mistakes into learning opportunities. While you can’t undo the past, you can use your experiences to better yourself. Finding ways to learn from your indiscretions will help you feel in control, allowing you to let go and move forward.
7. DO GOOD
If you’re trying to figure out how to stop feeling guilty, finding ways to spread positivity and do good things for others can be extremely helpful. Instead of remaining stuck in a negative feedback loop filled with shame and regret, remind yourself that while you can’t change what happened, you can start where you are and change the future. There are so many little things you can do on the daily to add positivity to the world around you, and with each good deed, you will find yourself feeling more positive and in control of where you’re headed instead of being stuck in the past.
There are so many simple ways you can do good things each day, as you’ll see from the examples below:
- Give someone a compliment
- Tell people how much you appreciate them
- Give praise
- Help a neighbor
- Volunteer for an important cause
- Be kind
8. ASK FOR HELP
As much as these ideas can help you learn how to stop feeling guilty, some indiscretions are harder to overcome on your own. And that’s okay! If you’re struggling, I urge you to get help. Talk to your doctor about your concerns and ask if he or she can recommend a therapist to help you find ways to deal with feelings of guilt, shame, and regret. As scary as this may sound, it’s essential that you learn how to let go and move forward, and it can be extremely therapeutic to unload your worries onto a stranger and get a different perspective on what happened.
If you’re trying to figure out how to stop feeling guilty, I hope the tips and ideas in this post helped. Remember to identify why you’re feeling guilty and if your feelings are logical, take action, know when to let go, and find ways to do good in the world. The only way out is through, so let yourself feel all the feels, take accountability, and find positive ways to move forward.