How to Get Over Guilt

guilt happiness Sep 17, 2019

Feeling guilty can be miserable! It can impact sleep, mood, relationships, productivity and more. Finding a way to overcome guilt is also so important for overall happiness. 

So, what is guilt? Guilt is a feeling of being bothered by an action one regrets. It seems that guilt can range from mild to extreme, and the degree to which someone feels guilty is multifaceted. It is based on the situation, past experiences, who is involved, the reaction of others, one’s own sense of self, and so forth. Feelings of guilt can impact one’s happiness as well as relationships with others.

Interestingly, there are some upsides to guilt. For example, guilt can motivate us to do good, to have empathy, and to work hard. The problem is, sometimes guilt can spiral out of control and lead to quite negative thoughts. Feelings of guilt can lead some people to feel like they are bad or unlovable. So while guilt can be motivating, research shows that it’s not the best way to inspire us to act or feel better in the future.

In fact, chronic self-criticism is consistently linked to higher rates of depression and lower motivation. And as you’ll read in the next section, self-compassion and self-forgiveness are actually more motivating than guilt!

7 Ways to get over guilt:

  • Realize you did the best you could in the situation. You made a judgement call. Maybe it was a good one, maybe it wasn’t, but you did what you thought you should do at the time.
  • Forgive yourself. You are not perfect; no one is. Self-forgiveness is actually a better way to improve accountability than feeling guilty. So if you forgive yourself, you are actually more likely to do better in the future than if you continue to be ridden with negative self-talk.
  • Be careful of exaggerating. It seems that often circumstances that lead to feelings of guilt can become exaggerated in the mind over time. It becomes a situation in which the feelings of guilt do not match with reality. People will spend years beating themselves up in their minds for minor missteps. Let’s be realistic, should saying something rude at a party or missing a meeting at work, really be a life-sentence?
  • Keep things in perspective. Most people are not thinking about what you did as much as you are. In fact, sometimes people will go back and apologize to someone years after an incident, only to find out that the other person doesn’t even remember the event. Try to remember that other people are concerned with their own lives and their own transgressions and are probably putting much less focus on whatever you did than you are. Of course, this does not mean apologizing isn’t important; it is. It means that the situation you’re feeling guilty about may not be plaguing them as much as it is you.
  • Learn from it. Guilt can actually serve a purpose, but only if you learn from it. So make a choice to take those guilty feelings and turn them into a plan to do better next time! Everyone makes mistakes, but the key is to learn from them and move forward rather than letting it hold you back.
  • Believe you are worthy of self-love and compassion. This is actually my favorite tip on the list, even though it might initially sound a little cheesy. You ARE worthy of self-love and compassion and it’s time to start believing it! Compassion for yourself can help to turn the guilty thoughts around. Instead of beating yourself up in your mind, tell yourself that you’re not perfect and you will screw up sometimes. 
  • Consider apologizing. Depending on the situation, this may or may not be possible. If it is, go ahead and do it! Apologizing is important and it does help. In fact, it helps both parties to feel better. When you apologize, stick to the point, don’t get defensive, and be genuine. Remember, you can’t control if the other person accepts your apology, all you can do is give a genuine apology, and learn from it so you do better next time.

I hope this list of strategies will help to get rid of guilt and allow happiness and great relationships to flourish!

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