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Shrink Your Stress : How to Get Rid of Guilt

Woman comforting a young adult who feels guilty

What is guilt?

Guilt is an emotional discomfort you feel when you believe that you were responsible for something that offended or hurt someone else.

Guilt can be legitimate – you may have made a mistake and you regret your words or actions, causing you to feel guilty. However, there are times when guilty feelings are unwarranted – you may have taken on guilt for something you didn’t do or something you did that wasn’t actually wrong.


Signs and symptoms of living with guilt

Depression, poor self-esteem, self-harm and strained relationships are just a few of the possible results of living in guilt for long periods of time. To maintain good mental health, it is important to acknowledge guilty feelings and work toward forgiving yourself.

Signs guilt is weighing you down may include feeling unworthy, being paralyzed by the past, having unresolved issues, struggling to forgive yourself, acting defensive and distant, and feeling afraid of trying again. To live a full life, you must let go of your past mistakes.


Letting go and forgiving yourself

The first step: Reality testing. Reality testing is an important first step toward self-forgiveness. Guilt can distort your perception of yourself, your situations and your view of others. Before that guilt can be eliminated, you must first determine whether your guilt is valid. Were you truly responsible for what happened? Does it make logical sense for you to feel so badly about the situation? Questions like these help you determine whether it makes sense for you to feel guilty.


How to forgive yourself when you’ve done something wrong:

Forgiving yourself after offending someone or doing them wrong takes self-reflection and commitment to make changes.

  • Accept and admit to yourself what you did wrong.
  • Acknowledge that you regret your decision and wish you had acted differently.
  • Consider why you made the mistake. Were you tired, jealous, desperate, angry, etc.?
  • Ask yourself how you wish you had handled the situation differently and commit to responding to similar situations differently in the future.
  • Try to make amends with the people you hurt. This may not always be possible if they are not willing to cooperate – all you can do is your part. Offer a genuine and sincere apology without defending yourself, accept responsibility and do what is reasonable to make it right.
  • Make peace with yourself. Choosing to hold onto your guilt forever will only make a bad situation worse over time. Think about the mistake long enough to learn from it, but move past it.


How to stop feeling guilty when you’ve done nothing wrong:

If you determine that your guilt is unjustified, make a conscious, active effort to let go of it.

  • Avoid taking on other people’s guilt for them. It enables them to continue repeating their mistakes and causes you to suffer unnecessarily.
  • You may need to work on conflict resolution skills so that you don’t internalize guilt that isn’t yours. Try to be more assertive in conflict and stand up for yourself, and don’t apologize when you don’t need to just to end the conflict.
  • Consciously choose to let go of your guilt. The guilt isn’t yours to carry, so keep reminding yourself that there is nothing to do about it but let go.


If you are struggling with letting go of your guilt, Centerstone is here to help. Call us at 1-877-HOPE123 (877-467-3123) or visit centerstone.org/connect-with-us/ to get connected with care.


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