As an emotion, guilt has a lot of power. Guilt helps you acknowledge your actions and fuels your motivation to improve your behavior. It might also lead you to fixate on what you could have done differently.
Though guilt can sometimes promote positive growth, it can linger and hold you back — long after others have forgotten or forgiven what happened.
Like other emotions, unaddressed guilt can build and intensify, making you feel worse over time.
Before you can successfully navigate guilt, you need to recognize where it comes from.
Some common causes of guilt include:
A sincere apology can help you begin repairing damage after a wrongdoing. To make an effective apology, you’ll want to:
The most heartfelt apology means nothing if you never do things differently going forward. Making amends means committing to change. 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 can’t rewrite events by replaying scenarios with different outcomes, but you can always consider what you’ve learned:
It’s pretty common to feel guilty over needing help when you’re coping with challenges, emotional distress, or health concerns.
Instead of feeling guilty when you struggle, cultivate gratitude by:
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.
Self-forgiveness involves four key steps:
Severe or persistent guilt doesn’t always lift easily.
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 coping methods, like substance use.
A therapist can offer guidance by helping you identify and address causes of guilt, explore effective coping skills, and develop greater self-compassion.
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