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Published on November 28, 2019

How to Stop Feeling Guilty and Free Your Mind

How to Stop Feeling Guilty and Free Your Mind

Is there anything that you feel guilty about?

I think we can all agree that guilt is a heavy burden. Metaphorically, it can make you feel like you are carrying a huge weight on your shoulders. If you allow it to, guilt can hold you hostage and consume your life.

This is the ultimate form of self-betrayal.

I’ve got great news for you… you don’t have to carry around this negative emotion for one day longer.

If you’ve ever stopped to take stock of all the emotions you feel, you’ve surely come across basic emotions like “happy” or “sad.” These are emotions that are easy to understand, and we usually know where they’re coming from. According to Psychology Today, these are hardwired, innate emotions, meaning that we’ve all got them and can recognize them in ourselves and others.[1]

As we all know, life can get messy sometimes. This is when not-so-fun emotions tend to creep up and try to ruin our day, or worse, our life. One of these emotions is guilt.

So, how to stop feeling guilty? You’ll learn about it in this article.

Guilt Defined

There are different definitions of guilt, depending on which modality you view it from. I resonate most with a cognitive approach which states that guilt is an emotion that people experience because they’re convinced they’ve caused harm to someone.[2]

This is a trap that a lot of people fall into, including me. Oftentimes, it’s the illusion of possible harm that you’ve inflicted upon someone that causes guilty feelings. It’s really easy to misinterpret the events or behaviors of others.

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No matter how you deconstruct it, guilt sucks. The question is…. why do we feel guilty? Once you know where your guilty feelings come from, you can learn how to stop feeling guilty and free your mind to focus on more empowering things.

Why We Feel Guilty

Guilt is a personal experience, meaning that what may make you feel guilty may not bother someone else in the slightest. It all boils down to the moral code that you live by. If you think that something is wrong, and I don’t, you’ll feel guilty for doing it even if I don’t care.

At its core, guilt is a way of recognizing that we have not lived up to our own values and standards.[3] In the words of Brené Brown,

“It’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.”

The most common cause of guilt comes from the things you do or don’t do. Letting yourself down is one thing, but letting someone else down is a perfect recipe for experiencing guilt, which can sometimes lead to shame.

What Does Guilt Do to You?

Guilt, like most negative emotions, isn’t a good feeling to have. Having to rethink your bad choices can drive you crazy and force you to overthink how you could have done things differently.

But, as we’ve already learned, there’s no going back when you’ve followed through with something.

When you feel guilty, you may automatically jump to your own defense. Some people will try to talk themselves into thinking that their actions weren’t as hurtful as they were.

Sometimes, we try to find ways to believe that the people we’ve harmed deserved it somehow. This is just the ego talking.

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When we’re forced to re-evaluate these beliefs, we may become irritable or defensive, which is a self-defense mechanism. On the flip side, when we’ve accepted our guilt, we often try to compensate for it.

So, if you’ve made someone upset, you may do everything in your power to try to make him or her happy again. While making someone feel better can be a great thing, it can also take a toll on your emotional state.

It’s important to remember that trying to hold onto or fix a relationship through the emotion of guilt isn’t necessarily healthy. Choose your battles wisely, knowing that you cannot change the past, only re-write the future. If the people in your life aren’t on board with that concept, it’s time to rethink the friendships.

The Side Effects of Guilt

When you’re feeling guilty, oftentimes, that means that you’re also stressed. If you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done, it only makes sense that it will take a toll on your body. This is why it’s important to assess how your guilt is impacting you physically.

Guilt also takes a toll on an already fragile mental state. It contributes significantly to depression and anxiety, as it very often involves a negative view of self.[4]

The more that you think about things, the more you start to dwell on them. If you ruminate about your actions on repeat, you’re taking up space in your mind that could go to more productive thought patterns.

Don’t let guilt get the best of you. Give yourself a break. Life is way too short to feel guilty all of the time, and it’s bad for your health.

How to Stop Feeling Guilty And Set Yourself Free

It is possible to retrain your brain to stop feeling guilty. Feeling guilty about things that you’ve done wrong is perfectly normal, but when you hold onto guilt for too long, it has the potential to take over your entire life.

This is why it’s important that you retrain your brain to stop feeling guilty. It starts with learning how to effectively cope with feelings of guilt in a proactive way

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1. Own Your Decisions

Once you make a conscious decision and carefully weigh your options, it’s over. Agonizing about what you should have done differently will only drive you crazy. The moment that you take responsibility for your choice, you stop overthinking and move on.

Where people get stuck is that they make decisions without thinking about the consequences. As a result, they end up creating situations that lead to stress and guilt. Don’t let life happen to you. Rather, let it happen for you.

The best way to do this is by making decisions and owning them. By choosing any decision (even if it’s not the best one), you are claiming personal ownership. This is how you diminish feelings of guilt and shame and reclaim your power.

2. Practice Self-Compassion

You’re not perfect and nobody is expecting you to be. We all make mistakes. Don’t self-sabotage yourself more than you have to because life is hard enough as it is.

It’s important to realize that feeling compassion for yourself does not mean that you instantly give up responsibility for your actions. Rather, it means that you are finally able to let go of self-hatred and free your mind.

The next time you start to experience feelings of guilt, try practicing self-compassion instead. Make it a daily ritual. Tell yourself that you’re good enough and forgive your wrongs. You’re worthy of that.

3. Reflect Upon Your Actions

You can’t change anything until you intimately reflect upon what it is that you did to make you feel guilty. Self-awareness is the foundation of personal growth.

When we accept the invitation to reflect upon our actions, we force ourselves to go inwards and do the work to better understand who we are.

Guilt leads to unproductive behaviors like rumination, which compromises your self-awareness by not letting you remain in the present.[5]

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There is no point trying to run away from whatever it is that’s causing you to feel guilty. So, why do you feel guilty? Don’t place blame elsewhere. Instead, accept the role that you played in a situation. Once you’ve done this, you can start to think about why you made the mistake in the first place.

4. Learn from Your Mistakes

You’re human, remember? That means that you’re allowed to screw up. It’s a part of the process of becoming the best version of yourself.

Whenever you feel like you’ve made a mistake, it’s important to take the time to think about what you wish you had done differently.

The best way to prevent yourself from spiraling into guilt is to ask yourself, “What can I learn from this experience?” If you’re not failing forward and learning from your mistakes, then you are most likely punishing yourself.

When we learn to experience guilty feelings as a way of receiving information, we are already healing from our mistakes.[6]

Don’t ask for permission from someone to set yourself free from guilt. Give that gift to yourself.

Final Thoughts

Don’t allow guilt to control your life. Living your life feeling bad about yourself is a waste of precious time. Life is short. Forgive yourself, move on and be happy.

Are you ready to stop feeling guilty and free your mind? Take a deep breath and let go. Life is waiting for you.

More About Freeing Yourself

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Ashley Elizabeth

Women's Transformational Coach & Dance Movement Therapist

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Last Updated on December 3, 2019

10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

There are so many lessons I wish I had learned while I was young enough to appreciate and apply them. The thing with wisdom, and often with life lessons in general, is that they’re learned in retrospect, long after we needed them. The good news is that other people can benefit from our experiences and the lessons we’ve learned.

Here’re 10 important life lessons you should learn early on:

1. Money Will Never Solve Your Real Problems

Money is a tool; a commodity that buys you necessities and some nice “wants,” but it is not the panacea to your problems.

There are a great many people who are living on very little, yet have wonderfully full and happy lives… and there are sadly a great many people are living on quite a lot, yet have terribly miserable lives.

Money can buy a nice home, a great car, fabulous shoes, even a bit of security and some creature comforts, but it cannot fix a broken relationship, or cure loneliness, and the “happiness” it brings is only fleeting and not the kind that really and truly matters. Happiness is not for sale. If you’re expecting the “stuff” you can buy to “make it better,” you will never be happy.

2. Pace Yourself

Often when we’re young, just beginning our adult journey we feel as though we have to do everything at once. We need to decide everything, plan out our lives, experience everything, get to the top, find true love, figure out our life’s purpose, and do it all at the same time.

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Slow down—don’t rush into things. Let your life unfold. Wait a bit to see where it takes you, and take time to weigh your options. Enjoy every bite of food, take time to look around you, let the other person finish their side of the conversation. Allow yourself time to think, to mull a bit.

Taking action is critical. Working towards your goals and making plans for the future is commendable and often very useful, but rushing full-speed ahead towards anything is a one-way ticket to burnout and a good way to miss your life as it passes you by.

3. You Can’t Please Everyone

“I don’t know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everyone” – Bill Cosby.

You don’t need everyone to agree with you or even like you. It’s human nature to want to belong, to be liked, respected and valued, but not at the expense of your integrity and happiness. Other people cannot give you the validation you seek. That has to come from inside.

Speak up, stick to your guns, assert yourself when you need to, demand respect, stay true to your values.

4. Your Health Is Your Most Valuable Asset

Health is an invaluable treasure—always appreciate, nurture, and protect it. Good health is often wasted on the young before they have a chance to appreciate it for what it’s worth.

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We tend to take our good health for granted, because it’s just there. We don’t have to worry about it, so we don’t really pay attention to it… until we have to.

Heart disease, bone density, stroke, many cancers—the list of many largely preventable diseases is long, so take care of your health now, or you’ll regret it later on.

5. You Don’t Always Get What You Want

“Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

No matter how carefully you plan and how hard you work, sometimes things just don’t work out the way you want them to… and that’s okay.

We have all of these expectations; predetermined visions of what our “ideal” life will look like, but all too often, that’s not the reality of the life we end up with. Sometimes our dreams fail and sometimes we just change our minds mid-course. Sometimes we have to flop to find the right course and sometimes we just have to try a few things before we find the right direction.

6. It’s Not All About You

You are not the epicenter of the universe. It’s very difficult to view the world from a perspective outside of your own, since we are always so focused on what’s happening in our own lives. What do I have to do today? What will this mean for me, for my career, for my life? What do I want?

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It’s normal to be intensely aware of everything that’s going on in your own life, but you need to pay as much attention to what’s happening around you, and how things affect other people in the world as you do to your own life. It helps to keep things in perspective.

7. There’s No Shame in Not Knowing

No one has it all figured out. Nobody has all the answers. There’s no shame in saying “I don’t know.” Pretending to be perfect doesn’t make you perfect. It just makes you neurotic to keep up the pretense of manufactured perfection.

We have this idea that there is some kind of stigma or shame in admitting our limitations or uncertainly, but we can’t possibly know everything. We all make mistakes and mess up occasionally. We learn as we go, that’s life.

Besides—nobody likes a know-it-all. A little vulnerability makes you human and oh so much more relatable.

8. Love Is More Than a Feeling; It’s a Choice

That burst of initial exhilaration, pulse quickening love and passion does not last long. But that doesn’t mean long-lasting love is not possible.

Love is not just a feeling; it’s a choice that you make every day. We have to choose to let annoyances pass, to forgive, to be kind, to respect, to support, to be faithful.

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Relationships take work. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s incredibly hard. It is up to us to choose how we want to act, think and speak in a relationship.

9. Perspective Is a Beautiful Thing

Typically, when we’re worried or upset, it’s because we’ve lost perspective. Everything that is happening in our lives seems so big, so important, so do or die, but in the grand picture, this single hiccup often means next to nothing.

The fight we’re having, the job we didn’t get, the real or imagined slight, the unexpected need to shift course, the thing we wanted, but didn’t get. Most of it won’t matter 20, 30, 40 years from now. It’s hard to see long term when all you know is short term, but unless it’s life-threatening, let it go, and move on.

10. Don’t Take Anything for Granted

We often don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone: that includes your health, your family and friends, your job, the money you have or think you will have tomorrow.

When you’re young, it seems that your parents will always be there, but they won’t. You think you have plenty of time to get back in touch with your old friends or spend time with new ones, but you don’t. You have the money to spend, or you think you’ll have it next month, but you might not.

Nothing in your life is not guaranteed to be there tomorrow, including those you love.

This is a hard life lesson to learn, but it may be the most important of all: Life can change in an instant. Make sure you appreciate what you have, while you still have it.

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Featured photo credit: Ben Eaton via unsplash.com

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