How to Overcome Feelings of Guilt

Two Parts:Understanding GuiltMoving Past Guilt

Guilt can be a depressing feeling that prevents you from moving forward with your life. It may be difficult to understand how you can stop the negative feelings and deal with your past actions. However, this article will guide you through the process and help you move towards a positive future.

Part 1
Understanding Guilt

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    Understand the purpose of guilt. Most of the time, we feel guilty because we have done or said something that caused harm to someone else. This type of guilt helps you to understand when you may be at fault for something, which is healthy and normal.[1]
    • For example, if you forget a friend’s birthday, you might feel guilty because friends are expected to remember and celebrate their friends’ birthdays. This is healthy guilt because it alerts you to something you failed to do that may damage your relationship with this person.
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    Recognize unproductive guilt. Sometimes we may feel guilty when we don’t need to feel guilty. This type of guilt is known as unhealthy or unproductive guilt because it is not serving a purpose. It just makes us feel bad. [2]
    • For example, if you feel guilty because you had to work on your friend’s birthday and could not attend her party, this would be an example of unhealthy guilt. If you are scheduled to work and cannot take time off for a birthday party, this is beyond your control. Your friend should understand that you had to miss her party in order to keep your job.
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    Identify what you feel guilty about. If you feel guilty about something, it is important to identify what you feel guilty about and why. Identifying the source of your guilt and why it makes you feel guilty can help you to determine if you are experiencing healthy or unhealthy guilt. Either way, you will need to work through these feelings in order to overcome them.[3]
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    Write about your feelings. Journaling about your guilt may help you to start to understand it and deal it. Start by writing down the reason that you feel guilty. If it was something you did or said to someone, describe what happened in as much detail as you can. Include in your description how this situation made you feel and why. What do you think that you should feel guilty about?[4]
    • For example, you might write about the reasons why you forgot your friend’s birthday. What was going on that distracted you? How did your friend react? How did that make you feel?
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    Apologize if necessary. Once you have determined whether or not your guilt is healthy or unhealthy, you can determine if you need to apologize for your actions. In the case of forgetting about your friend’s birthday, you should apologize because you failed to do something that friends are supposed to do.[5]
    • Make sure that your apology is sincere and that you don’t make excuses for your actions. It is important to take full responsibility for your actions in order to show your friend that you really do feel bad. Say something simple like, “I am really sorry for _____.”
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    Reflect on the situation to prevent a similar one. After you have considered your guilt, identified its source, and apologized if necessary, you should take some time to reflect on your actions in order to prevent a similar situation in the future. Reflecting when you have done something wrong can help you to grow from an experience rather than keep on making the same mistakes.[6]
    • For example, after reflecting on the experience of forgetting your friend’s birthday, you might decide that in the future you need to be more careful about remembering important dates and take steps to prevent a similar situation in the future.

Part 2
Moving Past Guilt

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    Change guilt into gratitude. Feeling guilty may cause you to think guilty thoughts, which are unproductive and do not provide you with anything that you can apply to your future behavior. Instead, try turning your guilty thoughts into gratitude thoughts.[7]
    • For example, if you forgot your friend’s birthday, you might think to yourself, “I should have remembered that yesterday was her birthday!” This thought does not allow you to improve on your situation, it just makes you feel worse for forgetting your friend’s birthday.
    • Change guilt statements to positive ones, such as “I am grateful for the reminder that my friends are important to me and the chance to demonstrate that to them in the future.”
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    Forgive yourself. Forgiving yourself, just like you would forgive a friend, is an important part of learning how to deal with guilt. If you are dealing with guilt that stems from things that you have asked others to forgive you for or things that are beyond your control, you need to learn how to forgive yourself. One way that you can begin to move past your guilt is to forgive yourself whenever you make a mistake, just like you would forgive a dear friend.
    • The next time you feel guilty about something, take a deep breath and stop beating yourself up. Instead, say something like, “I made a mistake, but that does not make me a bad person.”[8]
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    Take a lesson from the fictional character Scarlett O'Hara. Consider the quote, "After all . . . tomorrow is another day." Realize each day is a new beginning filled with promise, hope and the opportunity to start over. Understand that while your actions may have been wrong, they do not dictate your future. Although they may have consequences, they do not have complete control of the rest of your life.
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    Do a good deed. Reaching out to others often helps the person who offers help as much as the person who receives it. Although you must understand that good deeds will not reverse your actions, they will help you move forward into a positive future. . Some studies have even shown that helping others has a wide range of benefits for your mental and physical health.[9]
    • Check with local hospitals, charities, and other organizations about volunteer opportunities. Even volunteering for a few hours per week may help you to overcome your guilt.
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    Incorporate a spiritual practice into your life. Some faiths offer ways to atone for sinning, which may help you to deal with feelings of guilt. Consider attending a service at a religious house of your choice or develop your own spiritual practice. The benefits of spirituality are beyond relieving feelings of guilt. Research has shown that spirituality and prayer may even help to relieve stress and decrease healing times during an illness.[10]
    • Consider going to a place of worship to pray with other people.
    • Get into meditation or yoga.
    • Spend time in nature and admire the beauty of the natural world
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    Consider seeking help from a therapist if you can’t move past your guilt on your own. For some people, guilt can interfere with daily life and happiness. Without help, it may be hard to understand your guilt and determine the best way to deal with those feelings. A licensed mental health professional can help you to understand these feelings and help you work through them.
    • Keep in mind that feeling excessively guilty may be part of an underlying mental health condition that requires treatment. Talking to a therapist can help you understand what is going on and decide on the best course of action.


  • If you prefer to keep your situation a secret but need comfort, tell a trusted person about it, such as a family member or close friend.
  • Guilt and obsessive thinking could be caused by depression or other psychological conditions. Seek medical attention if needed.

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