Is there anything that you feel guilty about? Guilt is a common emotion that everyone experiences at some point in their lives. Whether it’s a mistake you made in the past, an action you regret, or something you wished you had done differently, guilt can be a heavy burden to carry. However, the good news is that you don’t have to carry this weight forever. In this article, we’ll explore the concept of guilt, why we feel guilty, and how to stop feeling guilty and set yourself free.
According to Psychology Today, guilt is a basic emotion that people experience when they believe they’ve caused harm to someone. This could be physical harm, emotional harm, or perceived harm. Guilt is a personal experience, meaning that what may make you feel guilty may not bother someone else in the slightest. It all boils down to the moral code that you live by. If you think that something is wrong, and someone else doesn’t, you’ll feel guilty for doing it even if they don’t care.
Why We Feel Guilty
At its core, guilt is a way of recognizing that we haven’t lived up to our own values and standards. In the words of Brené Brown, it’s “holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.” The most common cause of guilt comes from the things we do or don’t do. Letting ourselves down is one thing, but letting someone else down is a perfect recipe for experiencing guilt, which can sometimes lead to shame.
What Does Guilt Do to You?
Guilt isn’t a good feeling to have. Having to rethink our bad choices can drive us crazy and force us to overthink how we could have done things differently. When we feel guilty, we may automatically jump to our own defense. Some people will try to talk themselves into thinking that their actions weren’t as hurtful as they were. Sometimes, we try to find ways to believe that the people we’ve harmed deserved it somehow. However, when we’re forced to re-evaluate these beliefs, we may become irritable or defensive, which is a self-defense mechanism. On the flip side, when we’ve accepted our guilt, we often try to compensate for it. So, if we’ve made someone upset, we may do everything in our power to try to make them happy again. While making someone feel better can be a great thing, it can also take a toll on our emotional state.
The Side Effects of Guilt
Guilt can take a toll on an already fragile mental state. It contributes significantly to depression and anxiety, as it often involves a negative view of self. The more we ruminate about our actions on repeat, the more we start to dwell on them. If we’re constantly thinking about what we’ve done, it only makes sense that it will take a toll on our body. Guilt also takes a toll on our relationships, as it often leads to us trying to hold onto or fix a relationship through the emotion of guilt, which isn’t necessarily healthy.
How to Stop Feeling Guilty And Set Yourself Free
It is possible to retrain your brain to stop feeling guilty. Feeling guilty about things that you’ve done wrong is perfectly normal, but when you hold onto guilt for too long, it has the potential to take over your entire life. This is why it’s important to retrain your brain to stop feeling guilty. It starts with learning how to effectively cope with feelings of guilt in a proactive way.
1. Own Your Decisions
Once you make a conscious decision and carefully weigh your options, it’s over. Agonizing about what you should have done differently will only drive you crazy. The moment you take responsibility for your choice, you stop overthinking and move on. The best way to avoid feelings of guilt is by making decisions and owning them. By choosing any decision (even if it’s not the best one), you are claiming personal ownership. This is how you diminish feelings of guilt and shame and reclaim your power.
2. Practice Self-Compassion
You’re not perfect and nobody is expecting you to be. We all make mistakes. Don’t self-sabotage yourself more than you have to because life is hard enough as it is. The next time you start to experience feelings of guilt, try practicing self-compassion instead. Tell yourself that you’re good enough and forgive your wrongs. You’re worthy of that.
3. Reflect Upon Your Actions
You can’t change anything until you intimately reflect upon what it is that you did to make you feel guilty. Self-awareness is the foundation of personal growth. When we accept the invitation to reflect upon our actions, we force ourselves to go inward and do the work to better understand who we are. There is no point trying to run away from whatever it is that’s causing you to feel guilty. So, why do you feel guilty? Don’t place blame elsewhere. Instead, accept the role that you played in a situation. Once you’ve done this, you can start to think about why you made the mistake in the first place.
4. Learn from Your Mistakes
You’re human, remember? That means that you’re allowed to screw up. It’s a part of the process of becoming the best version of yourself. Whenever you feel like you’ve made a mistake, it’s important to take the time to think about what you wish you had done differently. The best way to prevent yourself from spiraling into guilt is to ask yourself, “What can I learn from this experience?” Use your mistake as a learning opportunity so you can grow and improve.
Guilt is a difficult emotion to experience, but it is something that we all have to deal with at some point in our lives. Whether it’s caused by something we’ve done or something we regret not doing, guilt can take a toll on our mental and physical health. However, by practicing self-compassion, reflecting upon our actions, and owning our decisions, we can learn how to stop feeling guilty and set ourselves free. Remember, you’re human, and making mistakes is natural. Don’t let guilt consume you. Instead, use it as a learning opportunity to become the best version of yourself.