How to get over regret and guilt

How to Stop Feeling Guilty: 10 Tips

Sometimes we feel guilty for setting boundaries or relaxing. Or, we don’t know how to move forward after we do something wrong.

Over the course of your life thus far, you’ve probably done a thing or two you regret.

Most people have, since mistakes are a natural part of human growth. Still, the guilt that creeps in and stakes out space in your consciousness can cause plenty of emotional and physical turmoil.

You might know guilt best as the nauseating twist in your stomach that accompanies the knowledge you’ve hurt someone else. Perhaps you also deal with recurring self-judgment and criticism related to your memories of what happened and your fear of others finding out.

As an emotion, guilt has a lot of power.

Guilt can help you acknowledge your actions and fuel your motivation to improve your behavior. It might also lead you to fixate on what you could have done differently.

If you’ve never felt able to come clean about a mess-up, your guilt might feel magnified to an almost unbearable degree.

Though guilt can sometimes promote positive growth, it can also linger and hold you back — long after others have forgotten or forgiven what happened.

Grappling with the weight? These 10 tips can help lighten your load.

In the moment, ignoring your guilt or trying to push it away might seem like a helpful strategy. If you don’t think about it, you might reason, it will eventually dwindle and disappear. Right?

This is actually not the case.

Like other emotions, unaddressed guilt can stick around, making you feel worse over time.

Refusing to acknowledge your guilt might temporarily keep it from spilling into your everyday life, but masking your emotions generally doesn’t work as a permanent strategy. Truly addressing guilt requires you to first accept those feelings, however unpleasant they are.

Give this exercise a try:

  • Set aside some quiet time for yourself.
  • You can bring along a journal to keep track of your thoughts.
  • Say to yourself, or write down, what happened: “I feel guilty because I shouted at my kids.” “I broke a promise.” “I cheated on a test.”
  • Mentally open the door to guilt, frustration, regret, anger, and any other emotions that might come up. Writing down what you feel can help.
  • Sit with those feelings and explore them with curiosity instead of judgment. Many situations are more complex than they first appear. Picking apart the knot of distress can help you get a better handle on what you’re really feeling.

If you have a hard time acknowledging guilt, regular mindfulness meditation or guided journals may make a difference. These practices can help you become more familiar with emotions, making it easier to accept and work through even the most uncomfortable ones.

Guilt can happen on an individual or collective level. Some people shift in and out of each type throughout their lifetime. Others may feel one or more type of guilt at the same time:

  1. Natural guilt: Natural guilt, simply put, is what you feel after you think you did something wrong. For example, if you break a promise to a friend, you might convince yourself you’re a bad friend. You chastise and think about what you should have done. You made a promise, and naturally, you feel guilty, prompting you to want to apologize. Natural guilt is often temporary and goes away after resolution.
  2. Chronic guilt: This type happens from prolonged exposure to stress. Chronic guilt affects a person’s ability to regulate their emotions. A teacher, for example, may feel overworked and emotionally drained, which can affect relationships with students. The resulting guilt becomes a symptom of chronic-work related stress, or burnout. Some researchers argue for the inclusion of guilt in clinical evaluations of burnout. Chronic guilt can also occur with episodes of major depression.
  3. Collective guilt: This type involves a sense of group or shared responsibility. Residents of a city may experience collective guilt about people experiencing homelessness in their neighborhood. In this scenario, the residents feel personal responsibility and guilt about not taking action to help. Collective guilt is harder to resolve since it’s embedded within systemic problems.
  4. Survivor guilt: Traumatic events, such as witnessing a large-scale tragedy, may cause feelings of remorse and sadness. This could look like someone surviving an accident and then feeling guilty for the people who did not. Conversely, you may also feel guilty for being happy to be alive. Survivor guilt is characterized by conflicting emotional states.

Before you can successfully navigate guilt, you need to recognize where it comes from.

It’s natural to feel guilty when you know you’ve done something wrong. But guilt can also take root in response to events you didn’t have much, or anything, to do with.

Owning up to mistakes is important, even if you only admit them to yourself. It’s equally important to take note when you unnecessarily blame yourself for things you can’t control.

People often experience guilt over things they can’t be faulted for. You might feel guilty about breaking up with someone who still cares about you, or because you have a good job and your best friend can’t seem to find work.

Guilt can also stem from the belief that you’ve failed to fulfill expectations you or others have set. Of course, this guilt doesn’t reflect the effort you’ve put in to overcome the challenges keeping you from achieving those goals.

Some common causes of guilt include:

  • surviving trauma or disaster
  • conflict between personal values and choices you’ve made
  • mental or physical health concerns
  • thoughts or desires you believe you shouldn’t have
  • taking care of your own needs when you believe you should focus on others

Is someone else constantly making you feel guilty? Check out our article on how to address guilt-tripping.

Guilt manifests in different ways. You may experience guilt when you feel responsible for a mistake. Or, you may feel guilty if you feel responsible for something that happened to someone else.

Guilt is not the same as shame, which implies feelings of inadequacy for not meeting self-imposed expectations. For example, you might feel shame for posting a selfie and later regret how you look in the picture, but this doesn’t necessarily make you a “bad” person or morally irresponsible.

Although shame and guilt share overlapping characteristics, signs of guilt tend to imply a moral wrongdoing. This can include:

  • feelings of responsibility for one’s actions
  • desire to “fix” situations
  • self-esteem issues
  • negative self-criticism

Signs of unacknowledged guilt may include:

  • downplaying
  • defensiveness
  • lying
  • negative beliefs about yourself and your character

Physical signs of guilt often overlap with symptoms of mood disorders, like anxiety and depression:

  • muscle tension
  • fatigue
  • insomnia
  • digestive issues
  • crying

A 2020 study further explains that frowning and neck touching may be associated with non-verbal patterns of guilt—at least when someone else observes a guilty individual.

Taking responsibility for guilt is one of the first steps to finding resolve.

A sincere apology can help you begin repairing damage after a wrongdoing. By apologizing, you convey remorse and regret to the person who was hurt, and let them know how you plan to avoid making the same mistake in the future.

You may not receive forgiveness immediately — or ever — since apologies don’t always mend broken trust.

Sincerely apologizing still helps you heal, though, since it offers you the chance to express your feelings and hold yourself accountable after messing up.

To make an effective apology, you’ll want to:

  • acknowledge your role
  • show remorse
  • avoid making excuses
  • ask for forgiveness

Follow through by showing regret in your actions.

The most heartfelt apology means nothing if you never do things differently going forward.

Making amends means committing to change.

Maybe you feel guilty for not spending enough time with your loved ones or failing to check in when they needed support. After apologizing, you might demonstrate your desire to change by asking “What can I do to help?” or “How can I be there for you?”

You may not always have the ability to apologize directly. If you can’t get in touch with the person you hurt, try writing a letter instead. Getting your apology out on paper can still be beneficial, even if they never see it.

You might owe yourself an apology, too. Instead of clinging to guilt and punishing yourself after an honest mistake, remember: No one does everything right all the time.

To make amends, commit to self-kindness instead of self-blame going forward.

You can’t mend every situation, and some mistakes might cost you a treasured relationship or a close friend. Guilt combined with sadness over someone or something you’ve lost often feels impossible to escape.

Before you can leave the past behind, you need to accept it. Looking back and ruminating on your memories won’t fix what happened.

You can’t rewrite events by replaying scenarios with different outcomes, but you can always consider what you’ve learned:

  • What led to the mistake? Explore triggers that prompted your action and any feelings that tipped you over the edge.
  • What would you do differently now?
  • What did your actions tell you about yourself? Do they point to any specific behaviors you can work on?

It’s pretty common to feel guilty over needing help when you’re coping with challenges, emotional distress, or health concerns. Remember: People form relationships with others to build a community that can offer support.

Imagine the situation in reverse. You’d probably want to show up for your loved ones if they needed help and emotional support. Most likely, you wouldn’t want them to feel guilty about their struggles either.

There’s nothing wrong with needing help. Life isn’t meant to be faced alone.

Instead of feeling guilty when you need support, cultivate gratitude by:

  • thanking loved ones for their kindness
  • making your appreciation clear
  • acknowledging any opportunities you’ve gained as a result of their support
  • committing to paying this support forward once you’re on more solid ground

A mistake doesn’t make you a bad person — everyone messes up from time to time.

Guilt can provoke some pretty harsh self-criticism, but lecturing yourself on how catastrophically you messed up won’t improve things. Sure, you might have to face some external consequences, but self-punishment often takes the heaviest emotional toll.

Instead of shaming yourself, ask yourself what you might say to a friend in a similar situation. Perhaps you’d point out good things they’ve done, remind them of their strengths, and let them know how much you value them.

You deserve the same kindness.

People, and the circumstances they find themselves in, are complex. You may have some culpability for your mistake, but so might the others involved.

Reminding yourself of your worth can boost confidence, making it easier to consider situations objectively and avoid being swayed by emotional distress.

Guilt can serve as an alarm that lets you know when you’ve made a choice that conflicts with your personal values. Instead of letting it overwhelm you, try putting it to work.

When used as a tool, guilt can cast light on areas of yourself you feel dissatisfied with.

Maybe you find it difficult to be honest, and someone finally caught you in a lie. Perhaps you want to spend more time with your family, but something always gets in the way.

Taking action to address those circumstances can set you on a path that’s more in line with your goals.

If you feel guilty for not spending enough time with friends, you might make more of an effort to connect. When stress distracts you from your relationship, you might improve the situation by devoting one night a week to your partner.

It’s also worth paying attention to what guilt tells you about yourself.

Regret over hurting someone else suggests you have empathy and didn’t intend to cause harm. Creating change in your life might involve focusing on ways to avoid making that mistake again.

If you tend to feel bad about things you can’t control, it may be beneficial to explore the reasons behind your guilt with the help of a professional.

Self-forgiveness is a key component of self-compassion. When you forgive yourself, you acknowledge that you made a mistake, like all other humans do. Then, you can look to the future without letting that mistake define you. You grant yourself love and kindness by accepting your imperfect self.

Self-forgiveness involves four key steps:

  1. Take responsibility for your actions.
  2. Express remorse and regret without letting it transform into shame.
  3. Commit to making amends for any harm you caused.
  4. Practice self-acceptance and trust yourself to do better in the future.

People often have a hard time discussing guilt, which is understandable. After all, it’s not easy to talk about a mistake you regret. This means guilt can isolate you, and loneliness and isolation can complicate the healing process.

You might worry others will judge you for what happened, but you’ll often find that isn’t the case. In fact, you may find loved ones offer a lot of support.

The people who care for you will generally offer kindness and compassion. And sharing unpleasant or difficult feelings often relieves tension.

Friends and family can also help you feel less alone by sharing their experiences. Nearly everyone has done something they regret, so most people know what it’s like to feel guilty.

An outside perspective can also make a big difference, especially if you’re dealing with survivor guilt or guilt about something you had no control over.

Severe or persistent guilt doesn’t always lift easily. Some people find it difficult to work through feelings of guilt that relate to:

  • intrusive thoughts
  • depression
  • trauma or abuse

It’s tough to open up about guilt if you fear judgment. However, avoiding these feelings will usually worsen the situation.

Over time, guilt can affect relationships and add stress to daily life. It can also play a part in sleep difficulty and mental health conditions. Or it can lead to negative coping methods, like substance use.

When an undercurrent of misery, rumination, and regret threads through your daily interactions, keeping you from staying present with yourself and others, professional support might be a good next step.

Finding a therapist or mental health professional can help. They can offer guidance by helping you identify and address the causes of guilt, explore effective coping skills, and develop greater self-compassion.

Guilt belongs in the past. You can begin letting it go by strengthening your resilience and building confidence to make better choices in the future.

If you’re struggling to resolve feelings of guilt, know you don’t need to do it alone. Therapy can offer a safe space to learn how to forgive yourself and move forward.

Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.

How to Forgive Yourself: Letting Go of Guilt and Past Regrets

Forgive yourself. Let it go. Forget about it. Move on. 

It’s easy to say, but so much harder to actually do! We all mess up sometimes, whether it’s lashing out at a friend, engaging in self-destructive behavior, or cutting corners at work. And with those mistakes often come overwhelming feelings of guilt. Shame. Self-condemnation. Humiliation.

Counselors and life coaches have found that these emotions can lead to stress, depression, anxiety disorders, and even heart disease if ignored. Not exactly the formula for a happy life! Fortunately, if you learn how to forgive yourself and decide to let go of the guilt, you can circumvent these negative effects and live better.

What Is Forgiveness? Why Is It So Important?

Forgiveness is a deliberate decision to let go of negative emotions toward yourself or another person. The negative emotions that you might experience prior to forgiveness include those mentioned earlier: guilt, shame, self-condemnation, humiliation, as well as resentment or bitterness.

Forgiving mistakes or wrongdoings is incredibly important to your well-being. Dr. Frederic Luskin at Stanford University reports that “learning to forgive helps people hurt less, experience less anger, feel less stress and suffer less depression. People who learn to forgive report significantly fewer symptoms of stress such as backache, muscle tension, dizziness, headaches, and upset stomachs. In addition, people report improvements in appetite, sleep patterns, energy, and general well-being.”

Forgiving yourself and others allows you to release negativity and focus on a more positive future. It also enables you to improve relationships with those closest to you.

Why Is Self-Forgiveness So Hard?

Too often, we punish ourselves for past mistakes, as if we could somehow “make up” the wrong that we’ve done. We walk through each day feeling less-than. We call ourselves losers and no good. We live chained to our past, holding on to hurts and grudges. And though no one else may know about our secret pain, the negative emotions we feel gnaw away at our joy and satisfaction in life.

Counselors and life coaches report that the hardest person to forgive is yourself. Not the friend who backstabbed you. Or the dad that wasn’t there for you. Or even the ex who broke your heart.

Why? Because you know yourself and you live with yourself every day. Go figure.

How to Embrace Forgiveness: 4 Tips for People Stuck in Past Failures

1. Talk about it.

When it comes to the past, silence can be deadly. So stop pretending. Free yourself from the bondage of holding it all in and talk about what’s tearing you apart inside. Express the emotions you feel to a counselor, mentor, or friend you can trust. Forgiveness starts with being honest and vulnerable about who you are… the good and the bad. So say what you need to say.

2. Be honest with yourself.

We tend to think, “If I just pretend it never happened, maybe it will all go away.” Sounds nice… but it isn’t true. Choose to break out of denial and be proactive. Be honest about how you’ve messed up and the consequences of your behavior. Journal out the specific behaviors and actions that are causing you angst.

3. Accept it for what it is.

As an imperfect person, you will make mistakes in life. Face it. You will hurt people sometimes. You will have regrets. It’s part of living in a less-than-perfect world. But you have a choice.

Either your past will keep you in a rut of guilt and shame or you will accept it for what it is and experience the freedom to move on and enjoy the now. Self-acceptance is critical to your emotional health, so don’t miss out!

4. Let go.

Don’t hold on to guilt. You don’t need to justify your past actions or try to prove yourself. Letting go of the past means burying it and giving up your right to engage in self-condemnation. Forgiveness is a choice but also a process. It’s choosing to stop hating yourself or cutting yourself down and to start seeing yourself as a valuable human being.

One of the first steps of letting go is to just get it out there. Please feel free to use the comments below to let it go or apologize for something that has been on your chest for years.

You can use an anonymous name (and the email will NEVER be shown). Your post will be added to the wall below. It’s okay — you can let it go.

Developing Realistic Expectations

Evaluate the expectations you (and others) set for you. Are they healthy? Or are they unrealistic?

If you find yourself never being able to measure up — no matter how hard you try — you may just need to change a few things in your approach to life. Healthy expectations are achievable and fulfilling, not draining and overwhelming.

Make a Deal with Yourself

It’s time to make a deal with yourself to…

  • let the past be past and live in the present
  • stop beating yourself up about something that happened two or five or ten years ago
  • banish guilt and shame from controlling your thoughts and behaviors
  • accept and respect yourself as you are… in spite of your screw-ups

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. ” – Lewis B. Smedes 

3 ways to get rid of guilt, regret and shame

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03.10.2020 14:49


Guilt, regret and shame are the subjective feelings a person has about himself. A moral assessment of the situation in the context of these feelings can drive a person into a corner and begin to literally corrode from the inside. That is why it is so important to live through all negative experiences and learn to let them go.

Option 1: looking at the situation from a different angle

If a situation occurred in the recent or even distant past, after which guilt or shame still does not allow a person to sleep peacefully, in no case should you reproach and scold yourself. Instead, you need to ask yourself a simple question: why or why did I act at that moment exactly as I acted? The most likely answer is fear.

What can a person be afraid of? Weight options:

  • Lose care and love.
  • Facing misunderstandings.
  • Experience condemnation.
  • Feel your worthlessness.
  • Question your authority and more. etc.

The situation that has happened, for which one is ashamed, and because of which one is tormented by guilt, is nothing but a defensive reaction. What is the point of feeling sorry for what you have done if a person made a rational decision and acted in their own interests: in order to protect themselves from their fear? Isn't it reasonable: to seek to prevent a moral shock due to an undesirable outcome of events? Quite. It's self-care, and that's okay. A more detailed analysis is available at

Option #2: understanding the true intention

One of the presuppositions of the popular method of psychotherapy implies that even to some extent inadequate actions always have good intentions. A person pursued some goal, the achievement of which, from his point of view at that moment in time, was available only in the way he resorted to. Should you blame yourself for wanting to do what's best? Understanding and accepting the true intention of the act will allow you to forgive yourself, let go of the situation and get rid of a heavy burden on your soul.

Option #3: writing to yourself

The synthesis of the two previous methods with the final putting your thoughts into writing will most likely help you finally breathe deeply without feeling the heaviness of being. This technique is good because for its application a person does not need to attract someone to help him. Nothing helps to get rid of destructive feelings of guilt and shame and avoid self-flagellation like a short solitude with paper and a pen. Source here:

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How to get rid of guilt

How to get rid of guilt?

Finding now such a person who could not feel guilty for something in his life is almost impossible. Everyone perceives such a psychological state differently.

First of all, you should listen to yourself and understand the nature of the appearance of guilt in you. If you feel guilty for some specific action in which it was objectively worth doing otherwise, this is normal. If some act torments you and does not allow you to live in peace, you need to understand the issue, because this thought can sit in your head for a long time. You can ask for forgiveness from the person you might have offended, visit a psychologist, and analyze the findings in order to make the right choice in a similar situation.

There are situations in which a person is not guilty, but feels in such a way that it has a destructive effect on the psyche and self-esteem.

Guilt has certain functions. More about this:

The first – guilt itself can act as a so-called moral regulator to support already accepted norms of social behavior.

The second - guilt can be an emotion of self-attitude or a self-evaluative emotion, and will act as an internal regulator. An individual is capable of a responsible or moral act and can judge for himself how lawful or just or how lawful this or that step was. Therefore, based on this, J. Tangney defined guilt as a sense of self-attitude, that guilt can arise as a result of a person’s negative assessment of his specific behavior and will be accompanied by tension, repentance and regret, and will also motivate a person to make up for or correct what he has done.

Third - Our sense of guilt contributes to the prevention of mental disorders.

There are such forms of guilt:


Reactive guilt will be a person's emotional reaction to the violation of his own norms of acceptable behavior, which is explained in psychology as an emotion or guilt - a state.


A preventive - will be an emotional experience that may be associated with a possible violation of norms, and therefore is explained in psychology as a feeling or guilt - a trait. Also, preventive guilt can enable us to prevent the exercise of guilt. Therefore, guilt will be experienced by us as a state of discomfort, which is associated with a violation of the moral and legal norms that exist in our society.

Causes of guilt

Classical psychoanalytic theory pays more attention to guilt than to shame. In his structural model of the psyche, Freud noted that guilt arises as a result of conflict between self and superego (Freud, 1923).

Ultimately, he reduces all feelings of guilt to oedipal guilt. Klein, on the contrary, believed that the emerging feeling of guilt is a consequence of the realization that aggressive impulses can harm those close to the person. She called this phase of psychological development the depressive position (Klein, 1935).

Winnicott later described this phase as the anxiety phase, emphasizing the psychological significance in reaching this level of awareness (Pedder, 1982). Thus, the ability to feel guilt develops with the growing awareness of a person, by her actions she can affect others.

From a cognitive (cognitive) point of view, Gilbert (2005) describes guilt as "a warning that we are close to harming someone, or an incentive to correct the situation if we have already offended someone. " He cites research showing that the impulse to avoid harm is in rats.

He suggests that in a person this impulse develops in order to embrace the feeling of guilt. Thus, guilt supports prosocial behavior and builds interpersonal bonds. But an increased sense of responsibility can lead to depression (O'Connor, 2002).

How to get rid of feelings of guilt before yourself

It is very difficult to do this on your own, but it is quite possible. The origins of guilt are hidden far in the subconscious, and any insignificant event can become a “trigger” for actualizing this state.

It is necessary to distinguish between such concepts as being guilty of something and feeling guilty. If you have harmed someone with your actions - no matter material or moral - it is quite natural to feel that you are wrong. In this case, it is enough to realize your mistake, correct it if possible, ask for forgiveness from the victim and, perhaps, somehow punish yourself. It is not always easy to walk this path, but in the end, these unpleasant emotions disperse.

Another thing is if the feeling of guilt is rooted in your mind, and you feel it all the time, regardless of their actions.

How to get out of a state of absolute apathy?

To get rid of the constant feeling of guilt, you need:

  • Understanding whether you feel guilty for your actions, in which you are not really guilty.
  • Recognize that there are no ideal people. Many try to live up to standards, failing which they become disappointed in themselves, and carry that guilt from one day to the next. You have to remember that you don't have to live up to anyone's expectations. You need to develop and be the best not for anyone, but for yourself.
  • Do not take the blame for the feelings of others. For example, if you are with a person because you are afraid to offend her with your refusal, by doing so you are destroying both your life and hers. You cannot be responsible for how other people perceive your words or actions.
  • Do not take the blame for the actions of others. If someone has made a certain decision, even thanks to your advice, remember that only he is responsible for his actions.
  • Errors are normal. If a person is not mistaken, she does not develop and does not learn, so you should not feel guilty for every wrong step.
  • Replace guilt with responsibility. Often blame is imposed on us from childhood, “if you don’t clean the room, then you don’t love me,” etc. It can make a person feel guilty and it is embedded in our subconscious. An adult should be responsible for his own actions, and not guilt and remorse.
  • Often people manipulate with guilt. If someone assures you that you are to blame, it may be manipulation for personal gain. Therefore, you need to defend your opinion.
  • You can help get rid of the constant feeling of guilt with the help of a specialist, or you can find various methods on your own.
  • For example, write down your situations on a piece of paper, think about each item, and then burn the piece of paper.

You can work on yourself at any age, for this you need a desire! The feeling of guilt cannot be completely removed, but by working with it we will no longer spend a lot of energy on it.

Psychological consultation in our center will help you change your life for the better.

How to get rid of guilt if you are not guilty

Very often, in fact, a person may not be guilty in this or that situation. Therefore, you need to pay attention to the following rules:

1) Stop constantly making excuses. When you are accused of something, he will catch himself when you want to be true and try to restrain yourself in any way. You have already been accused, so you don’t need to justify yourself to this person, these excuses will not be accepted anyway.

2) Don't idealize. The dining room does not have people, so it is pointless to strive for this.

3) Learn to say “no” to others. Saying “no” does not mean completely refusing, you can simply always transfer a certain offer to when it is convenient for you, without sacrificing your needs.

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