5 Helpful Steps for Overcoming Guilt
Guilt is something we’ve all experienced at least once in our lives, but probably many more times than that. We all know what guilt feels like, that horrible feeling in the pit of our stomach; it’s a universal emotion like anger, envy, grief, and jealousy.
But how exactly can we define guilt? And how do we move past guilt? These questions may seem simple, but in trying to answer them we soon realize just how complex guilt can be. Read on to learn more about guilt and how you can work on getting over any guilt you may be experiencing in five helpful steps.
What Is Guilt?
Before we get into overcoming guilt, let’s first define this problematic emotion. We can think about guilt as an emotion that’s always in response to some situation, circumstance, event, etc. Generally speaking, this is a situation that evokes shame or embarrassment, emotions that are closely linked with guilt. Guilt, to some degree, can even be healthy. It can help us stay on track, for example, if we know that we’ll feel guilty for doing something that we shouldn’t.
Guilt may come and go quickly, or it may linger for days, weeks, months—even years. If you are having trouble with guilt, don’t worry. You’re definitely not alone, as this is something we all face at one point or another.
Getting Past Guilt
Now, let’s explore how to get over any guilt you may be experiencing so that you can move on with your life and feel better mentally. So, here are five helpful steps you should try to overcome guilt.
Look, we all mistakes. And it’s fine! It can even be a good thing, so long as we learn from our mistakes. But if we never truly recognize the mistake in the first place, then we can’t properly move on and change for the better.
If you are already experiencing guilt, then you have already realized, even if subconsciously, that you have made some kind of mistake. Fully own up to it and leave the denial phase behind so that you can work toward overcoming your guilt in a meaningful way.
Owning up to your mistake properly means that you need to apologize. Yes, that includes to yourself, if you are guilty over something you did that only pertains to you. Did you smoke a cigarette after telling yourself that you wouldn’t? Apologize to yourself for breaking the rule that you had set and disrespecting your body and your wishes.
Apologies need to be carried out with sincerity, otherwise, you might as well not bother. A sincere apology, however, can go a long way in helping you get past your guilt.
Make Your Amends
Apologies are already one type of making amends, but there are others. The other important aspect is to make your amends right away. The longer you wait, the more the guilt will eat at you. If you really want to shut down your feelings of anxiety and guilt, then you need to rip off that band-aid by making proper amends right away.
If possible, make your amends as helpful as you can. Let’s say you were late to work and missed an important meeting. You could then offer to come early and help set up the next meeting, for example. Setting things right helps you feel better and shows others that you care.
Modify Your Behavior
If you really want to move past your guilt, you need to work on changing. Remember, mistakes are no big deal if you learn from them. But if you keep making the same kinds of mistakes repeatedly, then there’s no real way for your guilt to resolve. You’ll end up going into a kind of guilt spiral.
Take responsibility and get the help you need. Reach out to a friend or loved one you can trust or consider a licensed counselor. Whatever the kind of mistake, there’s a fix out there—and plenty of guidance to be found online: https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/guilt/. The great thing is that you won’t have to keep going through this process once you change for the better.
Finally, you need to work on coming to a place where you can accept the situation and the subsequent guilt that you feel from it. If you’ve followed the previous steps, there’s not much else for you to do. Eventually, you just need to let go—and that means all of it, the embarrassing situation or mistake, the guilt, your perception of others’ perception of you, etc.
To do this more easily, it can be helpful to work on self-care and mindfulness. For example, being compassionate with yourself can be necessary to forgive yourself and move on from your guilt. And practices such as meditation may also help give you perspective and clarity and enable you to overcome your feelings of guilt more easily.
No one enjoys feeling guilty. It’s also a quite common experience, as no one is perfect. We’ve all messed up, hurt people, gone back on promises, etc. And it’s okay! We’re human.
It’s important, however, to work on guilt, especially if it becomes a long-term, nagging issue. By recognizing your mistake, apologizing, making amends, changing your behavior, and accepting the situation and moving on, you’ll feel much better. And, if you’re still having trouble, don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health expert such as a licensed counselor.