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How to stop feeling guilty: 10 powerful ways

Guilt is a very powerful emotion.

Nothing makes you question yourself more, nor ruins your feelings of self-worth such as guilt.

It is a powerful feeling and can affect your whole life if you’re not careful.

But for something so heavy and incapacitating, guilt can come from even the simplest of things.

It can be as simple as feeling frustrated that you can’t perform your job well or keep your home in check. You may even feel guilty just from eating something you’re told you’re not supposed to.

Truthfully, guilt is an epidemic that sweeps millions of lives and can ruin our joy in the biggest ways.

“Habitual Guilt” is a thing

Have you ever heard of the phrase, “habitual guilt”?

Well, it’s actually a thing. And in this study conducted by The Spanish Journal of Psychology explains that women are more prone towards feeling habitual guilt compared to men.

But more so, millennials — both men and women — often find themselves feeling guilty. Most particularly for taking vacations.

Let’s take a closer look at guilt and all the ways you can do to stop feeling guilty.

10 powerful ways to stop feeling so guilty all of the time

Recognizing that you have feelings of excessive or toxic guilt is already a step towards feeling better about yourself. Here are some simple ways to help you stop feeling guilty.

1. Appreciate yourself

We tend to be our own worst critic. And this couldn’t be truer when it comes to our feelings of shortcomings or unworthiness.

One way to stop feeling guilty is to try to look at all the things that make you a good person. Focus on your good qualities and the things that you can do well, instead of all the things that you are not.

You are worthy and capable. And the first step towards healing is to be kinder to yourself. You are good at so many things and there are many wonderful traits that make you unique and special. Appreciate these small but significant things that make you who you are.

2. Stop “magnifying” everything

Stop overthinking all your mistakes and faults. Most of the time, you’re the only one magnifying the situation yourself.

So what if you said a bad comment at a party? And what if you’ve offended someone unintentionally? Allow yourself to feel guilty over these things for a time, but do not ever let it fester for more than a few days.

There is no use putting yourself inside a mental prison for something that has already been done. Instead, do something proactive like apologizing to that person.

It can be tough to be rational when you’re feeling guilty. But try to let go of these things. And as tough as it might sound, you’re not doing yourself any favors by overthinking your guilt. Instead, try to focus on moving on and living your life for the better.

3. Be proactive instead

Are you just going to let these feelings of guilt eat you up? Or would you rather get to the bottom of it?

Instead of letting this guilt overwhelm you, try to assess the situation and pinpoint why you are feeling guilty.

Do you feel like you are not being a good friend or family member? If so, ask your loved ones if they feel neglected or disrespected. Try to assess if these instances are reasonable because sometimes people expect too much from you. Ask them why they might feel that way, if at all.

If there’s any reason to be guilty, then you can take some steps to become better and assuage your guilt in the process. And if your feelings of guilt are unwarranted, then you can finally take a breath of relief.

4. Keep a journal

Have you ever heard of a ‘gratitude journal?’ Well, there’s also a thing as a guilt journal.

Sometimes, if things are left in our heads, it can be hard to make a sense of them.

But try to use a pen and paper and write it down, you’ll be amazed at how you can see things more clearly.

Write down whenever you’re feeling guilty. Include dates, places, and the reasons why you might have these overwhelming sense of guilt.

Try to notice and observe if there are any trends to your feelings of guilt. Are you more prone to this feeling when you’re at family gatherings? Or does it usually happen in relation to your work?

Jotting these instances down can help you pinpoint the root of your guilt and can give you a better understanding of your tendencies.

5. Go on a vacation or travel alone

Have you ever treated yourself to a holiday? Have you always wanted to travel alone? Or to go someplace far away and go on a big adventure?

This might be the perfect time to treat yourself to a retreat. Just you, your thoughts, and the big, beautiful world around you.

Separating yourself from the stress of everyday life can calm you down. It can help you look better into yourself, allowing you to assess your life, emotions, and your feelings of guilt in a way that can help you confront it better.

Not only that but traveling alone can help you discover aspects of yourself that you can’t really see when you’re in your comfort zone. There is nothing like being outside of the box. Treat yourself to some alone time. You definitely deserve it.

6. Be selfish

There’s nothing wrong with putting yourself first. In fact, it is crucial that you take yourself and your mental and emotional health in top consideration.

It’s not selfish — it’s healthy. Perhaps your guilt stems from forces you can’t control or the people and environment you surround yourself in.

The best thing you can do is prioritize yourself. Do things because they serve you. Do the things that make you better. Heal yourself first. And then you can deal with other things later.

7. Be honest

Why are you really feeling guilty? Are you being honest to yourself or those around you?

Guilt can sometimes be a convenient way to cover up how you really feel about something. Perhaps you’re feeling guilty because you are not necessarily honest about how you feel about something or someone.

Tell the truth, especially to yourself. Before you can fix your problems or your feelings of guilt, you need to be honest about where it comes from. You owe it to yourself most of all.

Besides, there is nothing that can lift guilt more effectively than by being truthful about it. Acknowledge that you feel guilty, be honest about the reasons why, and figure out how you can be better.

8. Forgive yourself.

You tend to beat yourself up about your wrongdoings. You blame yourself why everything around you is falling apart. You think you are not good enough or worthy enough of forgiveness.

But you are.

In fact, the forgiveness that you need the most must come from yourself.

In her book, The Willpower Instinct, psychologist Kelly McGonigal says:

“Surprisingly, it’s forgiveness, not guilt, that increases accountability.

Researchers have found that taking a self-compassionate point of view on a personal failure makes people more likely to take personal responsibility for the failure than when they take a self-critical point of view.

They also are more willing to receive feedback and advice from others, and more likely to learn from the experience.”

9. Cut yourself some slack.

We all need to be kinder to ourselves – that’s a universal truth.

In her book, Self Compassion, author Kristin Neff, Ph.D, says:

“The bottom line is that according to the science, self-compassion appears to offer the same advantages as high self-esteem, with no discernible downsides.

“The first thing to know is that self-compassion and self-esteem do tend to go together. If you’re self-compassionate, you’ll tend to have higher self-esteem than if you’re endlessly self-critical.

And like high self-esteem—self-compassion is associated with significantly less anxiety and depression, as well as more happiness, optimism, and positive emotions.”

Remind yourself this: you are not a bad person. So stop feeling guilty. It’s important to recognize your flaws and mistakes yes. But you need to be kinder to yourself.

10. Apologize properly

… and genuinely.

If you’ve wronged someone and want to get rid of your guilt, you need to apologize the right way.

What does that mean?

Apologizing will only ease your guilt if it comes from an authentic place within you.

It’s saying, I am sorry my actions hurt you. 

But it’s also recognizing accountability for what you did wrong, and the willingness to never repeat it.

It’s also saying, I’m responsible for my actions, and I will change what needs to be changed.”

Only then can you ease the guilt of having wronged someone, and become a better person, too.

Why do we feel guilty?

We feel guilty because our brain rewards the feeling.

Sounds crazy right?

But it’s true.

In the book, The Upward Spiral, by Alex Korb, he explains:

“Despite their differences, pride, shame, and guilt all activate similar neural circuits, including the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, amygdala, insula, and the nucleus accumbens.

“Interestingly, pride is the most powerful of these emotions at triggering activity in these regions — except in the nucleus accumbens, where guilt and shame win out. This explains why it can be so appealing to heap guilt and shame on ourselves — they’re activating the brain’s reward center.”

Ever wondered why they call it the “guilty pleasure.”

When we feel guilt that we’re doing something wrong, our brain is given a “rush”, giving us a good feeling.

Guilt can be healthy

The best way to put it is perhaps to look at it in this way: everything in moderation.

Guilt is healthy when it motivates you to live according to your own set of morals or ideals.

In fact, science has proven many times that guilt has its purpose.

According to this study published in the Harvard Business Review, guilt is actually quite important in our lives. The study claims:

“People who are prone to guilt tend to work harder and perform better than people who are not guilt-prone, and are perceived to be more capable leaders.”

Another study suggests that people who often feel guilty, make the best partners, friends, and family:

“…people who expect to feel guilty tend to be more sympathetic, to put themselves into other people’s shoes, to think about the consequences of their behaviour before acting, and to treasure their morals.

“As a result they are less prone to lie, cheat or behave immorally when they conduct a business deal or spot an opportunity to make money, studies suggest.”

It’s unhealthy when…

“Excessive” feelings of guilt, however, can damage your quality of life and affect your overall emotional health.

It actually contributes to clinical depression. It is, in fact, one of the symptoms associated with this mental illness, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

McGonigal explains:

“Study after study shows that self-criticism is consistently associated with less motivation and worse self-control. It is also one of the single biggest predictors of depression, which drains both “I will” power and “I want” power.”

Not only that, but it can also help feelings of unworthiness, stress, and amplify childhood or other forms of trauma.

Suffice to say, guilt is at the center of most of humanity’s debilitating mental health issues.

Takeaway

There’s one important thing you need to remember:

Torturing yourself doesn’t do anything.

It doesn’t make you a better person. And it certainly doesn’t make you feel better.

Do you know what does?

Learning from your mistakes. Assessing your feelings of guilt. Unraveling the roots of your problem.

So don’t just sit there and feel guilty, do something about it. 


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Written by Genefe Navilon

Genefe Navilon is a writer, poet, and blogger. She graduated with a degree in Mass Communications at the University of San Jose Recoletos. Her poetry blog, Letters To The Sea, currently has 18,000 followers. Her work has been published in different websites and poetry book anthologies. She divides her time between traveling, writing, and working on her debut poetry book.

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