We carry a lot of emotions in our hearts. There are ones we even carry throughout our whole lives. Feelings of love. Feelings of nostalgia. And feelings of grief. But, one feeling that you should never take with you is guilt.
Feelings of guilt can take your whole life away, or, at least, diminish your quality of life. When you’re burdened with guilt, it’s hard to feel joy, get good sleep, be productive, and stay healthy. If shame weighs you down, we’re here to help. Here’s how to deal with guilt:
How to Deal with Guilt
Acknowledge your feelings.
First, acknowledge your feelings. When a person feels guilt, it’s easy to shove it down and ignore it. Then, all these things start happening you can’t explain. Why am I insecure? Why can’t I trust people? How did my health get so bad? When did I stop enjoying things?
Ignoring or pushing away guilt is like putting a lid over a boiling pot of water. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there. In fact, as long as the heat is still on, it’s going to keep getting hotter until it boils over. Face your feelings. Acknowledge that you feel guilty.
Analyze why you feel guilty.
Once you realize you feel guilty, acknowledge why you feel guilty. This will help you proceed appropriately! The most obvious reason for feeling shame is that you did something wrong. It’s common and totally normal to feel bad when you’ve wronged someone. But, this might not be the only reason you feel guilty.
You may actually feel shame for things that are out of your control or not your fault. Maybe you feel bad because family members are angry at you for not loaning them money. (More on boundaries here.) Maybe you feel guilty for your good health when with your chronically ill friend. Or, maybe you feel guilty for escaping a dangerous situation when others didn’t.
There are lots of ways to experience guilt. Knowing why you carry the shame is vital for developing a plan to get past it and live joyfully again—joyful and free of this weight!
Make amends and set boundaries if needed.
If you’re at fault, you need to apologize and make amends. Facing the person you’ve wronged is scary and uncomfortable, but you’ll feel so much better once you’ve done it. We have an article to help you get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Check that out if you’re really having trouble making this step. [LINK WHEN LIVE]
What if the person isn’t available? Maybe they’ve died or have cut off contact with you? Try writing a letter and destroying it. If this person is truly gone from your life, then you’re the only one still suffering from the event. So, this letter is written to them, but it’s for you. It should help you move on!
However, if the guilt is not your fault, consider setting boundaries instead. These boundaries may be for family and friends, or they could be for you. Setting guidelines will not only help you expel the shame you currently have, but it’ll prevent you from feeling guilty again in the future. The boundaries remind you that when those lines are crossed, it is not YOU who should feel bad! You can hear more about healthy boundaries in this episode of The Skinny Confidential: Him & Her Podcast.
Quit negative self-talk.
You are not a bad person. Despite the shame and guilt, only speak positively about yourself and your situation. This event or circumstance does not define you, and speaking negatively about yourself will only make you feel worse and perpetuate the problem. You don’t deserve this punishment. Keep it positive and learn about removing self-limiting beliefs with The Skinny Confidential Him & Her Podcasts hosts here.
Understand that you can only control so much.
There’s no need to feel excessive guilt over things you can’t control. You can’t change someone’s perception. You can’t make the world a better place in a blink. And, you can’t infinitely expel your resources and energy to help people feel good all the time.
Remind yourself that some things are out of your control and are not your responsibility. You have no reason to carry guilt over things you can’t control.
Remember, making mistakes is normal.
Even if you really messed up, remember that everyone has made mistakes. Everyone has felt this kind of guilt. Realizing you’re not alone reminds you you’re not a monster or supervillain because of what you’ve done. You’re human. Let it go and join the club. We’ve all been there!
Get support if you’re struggling.
When you feel guilty, it’s easy to isolate yourself. You’re embarrassed to tell others, and you don’t think you deserve help. Honey, you do! No matter what you’re feeling, you deserve support if you’re struggling. Find a friend who can understand your sense of guilt and won’t judge you. Then, pour yourself out to them. Let them build you up and remind you that you’re worthy of love and joy!
Celebrate what you’ve learned.
This is all a learning experience. As we mentioned, everyone has done wrong and felt guilty. The best we can do is move past it and celebrate our new wisdom. Acknowledge what you’ve discovered in this process through journaling, meditating, or talking it out.
See a therapist.
If you can’t shake the guilt complex, see a therapist. A friend might not cut it, because, like Nicole Walters says in her podcast, “Your Friend Isn’t Your Therapist.” They simply don’t have the tools to help you with big mental health challenges.
Seeing a therapist will help you overcome your guilt and find peace on the other side. Again, don’t forget that you deserve this happiness, even if you don’t feel like you do!
If it wasn’t clear already, you need to forgive yourself. Even if you made a mistake, it’s time to accept the screw-up and move on. Get rid of the guilt. Stop living with shame. And, don’t participate in any negative self-talk. Then, once you start feeling happy again, don’t feel guilty about that either!
Where Does Guilt Come From
Guilt can come from a variety of places. We usually think of “natural guilt,” which is when you feel guilty after you do something wrong. But, there are a few other types that are harder to understand and process. But, once you identify it, it’s easier to overcome.
“Chronic guilt” comes from prolonged stress. Whether you’re in a demanding career or a mom with a million things to do, chronic guilt can sneak in subtly. You start to feel like you’re not spending enough time here or there or anywhere. You’re exhausted, yet you feel like you’re letting everyone down. Sound familiar? This is chronic guilt!
You could also feel “collective guilt,” which comes from circumstances usually beyond your control. Maybe you have more money than other people in your sphere. Maybe your heart breaks for children who go home hungry. Or, maybe you’re healthy when there are a lot of people who aren’t. These things are beyond your control, but they still make you feel extreme existential guilt.
Another one you’ve probably heard of is “survivor’s guilt.” This is when you feel bad you survived something someone else didn’t: accidents, abuse, illness, etc. But, outside of a named “type,” guilt can simply come from insecurity. You think lowly of yourself, so little things can make you feel big shame. All of these, though, can be fixed. Get the help you need to move past it!
What are the Effects of Guilt
Guilt isn’t just a bad feeling. When shame sticks with you for a long time, the symptoms of guilt can destroy your quality of life. Here are some ways you may “feel” your shame:
- Muscle tension
- Low self-esteem
- Digestive issues
- Lower productivity and focus
- Reluctance to enjoy life
- Avoidance of people
- Emotional outbursts
- Appetite changes
Use these tips to move past guilt and revive a better quality of life.
If you’re experiencing guilt, use this article to help you deal with the feelings and reclaim your joy. When you release yourself from the grips of guilt, you give yourself permission to be happy again. At Dear Media, we’ll support you along the way. Check out our blog and podcasts for more self-help content. We’re rooting for you and your healing!