How to get rid of guilt

Guilt is an intense negative emotion that can make you feel depressed and which can poison your relationships with others – but it's possible to put it to rest for good.

Sometimes you do a terrible thing and the guilt nags at you until you put things right. Other times the guilt is about something that wasn't even a mistake on your part.

But whether there's a real reason for it or not, the time has come to rid yourself of this destructive emotion.

Here are a few guidelines to help you shake that guilty feeling…

Put your guilt into words
Explain to yourself, your therapist or someone you trust exactly why you feel guilty and how you experience this guilt every day. Guilt is usually about something we're ashamed of so we're inclined to keep it to ourselves. This can cause the feeling to grow and grow until it overwhelms us. Telling someone about your big secret can make it easier to handle.        

Ask why you’re trapped by this specific feeling of guilt
Do you really feel guilty about something you said or did, or is someone manipulating you? Is this person someone who was good to you at one stage and therefore someone you're "not allowed" to cross swords with? Is your guilt related to something in your past? 

Sometimes it's necessary to delve into the cause of your guilt (on your own or with a professional). Doing so reveals patterns. 

Analyse your guilt

It’s essential to understand that although our emotions may be real and true they're not necessarily based on logical, rational facts.

In fact, irrational thoughts often lead to intensely negative emotions. Ask yourself these questions: Is what I think really true? Can others confirm my conclusions as rational?

For example, compare this rationalisation, “I’m a bad daughter who'll never please her mother!" with this one, "l try to be good to my mom but we're very different and so she'll be disappointed with my decisions sometimes. I'm trying my best in my own way." 

Sometimes we think, "That's the worst thing I could have done!" But was it really so terrible? Or could it be that it was simply not ideal? 

Let yourself off the hook
You can confront your guilt in various ways – but certainly not by ignoring it.

This process of confrontation usually requires you to forgive yourself. It’s necessary to admit it's human to make mistakes and that you don't have to be the victim of your mistake forever.

Our society places a high value on punishment which is why we often – and wrongly – feel we have to punish ourselves in some way in order to be forgiven.

It can help to talk to the person you feel guilty towards so the relationship can be mended. If the situation is too threatening, you can use a facilitator to defuse the tension and guide the conversation.

We're allowed to cry, talk and think about our guilt – but we're also allowed to put down that emotional baggage and vow never to pick it up again.

- (Dr Magdel Alberts, clinical psychologist)

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