How to stop feeling guilty
We’ve all felt it: That sinking feeling in the pit of our stomachs when we make a mistake. When we let someone down. When we don’t uphold the commitments we’ve made. It’s called guilt – and if you’re overcome by this powerful emotion, you’re overdue for a lesson on how to stop feeling guilty.
A little guilt can be good for society: It regulates our behavior, keeping us in line with what is acceptable and creating harmony. Studies have shown that guilt works, causing us to improve our behavior. Research has also shown that people who are prone to social guilt are harder workers and are seen as better leaders. If society discovered how to overcome guilt for good, we might be in trouble.
Too little guilt could be bad for society, but too much guilt can be bad for the individual. If you feel unhealthy amounts of guilt about things that are outside of your control or about relatively minor instances, it’s time to learn how to get rid of guilt.
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Why do I feel guilty?
The reasons people feel guilty (and the amount of guilt they feel) vary widely from person to person. Generally, we feel guilty when we break the rules – either the rules of society or our own personal code of ethics. For one person, that could mean breaking plans with a friend at the last minute. For another, it could mean stealing, cheating or worse.
The amount of guilt we feel is likely based on both “nature” (genetics) and “nurture” (the way we were raised). No matter how much guilt you feel or the reasons why, understanding how to stop feeling guilty begins with a set of actions you can take starting today.
How to stop feeling guilty
Humans are fallible. We make mistakes frequently. We’re far from perfect, but most of us don’t need to go through life feeling burdened by guilt. Here’s how to overcome guilt and start practicing acceptance of yourself and others.
1. Identify your feelings
Guilt is often a mask for other feelings, like inadequacy, low self-esteem or even jealousy or resentment. It can also be a product of our limiting beliefs: If you often feel unnecessary guilt, you may believe you don’t deserve to be happy – that you are a bad person, rather than someone who made a mistake. To find the keys to how to stop feeling guilty, you must first get in touch with your true feelings about yourself and the world.
2. Forgive yourself
No one is all good or all bad. If you’ve made a small mistake, you don’t have to spend your life repenting for it. You don’t get life in prison for speeding, and you don’t need to punish yourself that badly for most offenses. Forgiveness is powerful. When we come from a place of self-criticism, we can feel paralyzed about taking action. But when we come from a place of self-compassion, we realize that we have the ability to fix our mistakes – and that we can learn how to overcome guilt.
3. Change your self-talk
Tony says, “Whatever you hold in your mind on a consistent basis is exactly what you will experience in your life.” In other words, your beliefs create your world. Are you holding guilt and negativity in your mind, or gratitude and positivity? Next time you’re wondering how to get rid of guilt, take a moment to listen to your inner monologue. Change negative self-talk to empowering words that focus on your good traits rather than irrational guilt.
4. Seek objectivity
Chances are you’re a lot harder on yourself than you would be on a friend or family member. When you want to know how to get rid of guilt, lean on those close to you to provide perspective. They’re probably not going to tell you that you’re a terrible person. They’ll provide support, love and direction. A coach can also be helpful. Working with your coach, you’ll create a plan of action to alleviate your guilt – plus have someone to hold you accountable.
5. Take action
If you have truly wronged someone, in order to learn how to overcome guilt you must take action. Apologize, and ask what you can do to make up for it. Make a future commitment – and keep it. Write a letter to let them know how much they mean to you. If your guilt is more generalized, start keeping a journal to express negative feelings and counteract them with positive thoughts. Write down all of the good things you do to remind yourself of your accomplishments. Actively releasing your guilt is the only way to be free of it.
6. Learn from your mistakes
One thing that most emotionally healthy people have in common is the ability to find the lesson in their mistakes and failures, then get up and try again. Or as Tony says, don’t “should” all over yourself. Getting stuck in the past, thinking “I should have done this” or “I shouldn’t have done that” isn’t productive. Instead, find the lesson – and then don’t let it happen again. Discover how to get rid of guilt by using it to help you grow, rather than an excuse to stay unhappy.
Ready to stop feeling guilty for good?
At Unleash the Power Within, you’ll take a deep dive into your limiting beliefs, so you can learn how to get rid of guilt once and for all.