Emotional Wellbeing

Mandy Kloppers

Letting go of guilt



Letting go of guilt


What is Guilt?

According to the dictionary, guilt is defined as a “feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.” A guilty conscience is just that, a component of our human conscience that condemns us for our thoughts, words and actions. This innate ingredient acts as our moral judge that gets us to realize that we acted outside of our norm. This moral judge serves us well when we truly have fallen short but when it is just a misperception of something we did it can slow down our progress in life.

There are several kinds of guilt. Let us examine some of them to see which ones you can relate to.

Introspective Guilt This guilty feeling is necessary for bringing awareness to our actions and making us realize where we fell short. It nags at us, giving us that strange feeling in the pit of our stomachs until we have corrected the problem.

Perceived Guilt This is false sense of guilt for feeling responsible for something you didn’t do. The negative emotion that surrounds you leaves you unable to forgive yourselves for something you perceived you did that was wrong. It can lead to feelings of shame and worthlessness that can result in depression and the inability to stay focused on what is important to you. This kind of guilt has the power to destroy you and must be addressed at once. Your perception may be terrible skewed and getting some outside input can help in having a clearer perception on the issue.

Retrospective Guilt This guilt can last for years to come and damage your psyche. Its causes you to relive the past believing that there was something you should have done to prevent some previous event. This guilt can cause you to lose self-confidence and self-esteem and interfere with your success. We all have experienced things in our past that we may not be proud of. Beating yourself up for something that happened in the past that may not even have been your fault is a waste of mental energy. If this kind of guilt haunts you, it may require the help of a professional to assist you in coming to terms with it.

Religious Guilt Fear of punishment from God results in strong feelings of guilt. People with a strong religious upbringing are conditioned to quickly feel guilty for fear that they may have sinned. As a child I was raised in a very strict religious home. So strict I couldn’t even wear slacks because they are a man’s apparel. I heard “no” or “you can’t” quite often. As I grew into adulthood, my perception of normal things were so skewed that I experienced unnecessary guilt. This moral guilt can affect one’s emotional state of mind leading them to believe they are “bad”, which is what I felt for many years. The internal labeling can weaken the human spirit and result in feelings of shame. Speaking to an objective professional can help to remove many of these guilty feelings created by the rules of religion.

Guilt must be put it its proper perspective in order for us to grow from it and not succumb to negative feelings that can hinder our success in life.

Guilt Can Sabotage You

A chronic guilty conscience has the ability to hold you back from achieving your goals in life. As you hold on to the guilt it can slowly undermine your capacity to think and function on a normal level. You may begin to act in ways that are uncharacteristic of you. You may even undergo personality changes, believing something is wrong with you.

Here are some ways that guilt can sabotage your future. It can

  • destroy your self-esteem
  • erode your self-confidence
  • cause you to become your worst critic
  • cause you to lose self-respect
  • distort your perception of self
  • obstruct your ability to make decisions
  • create self-doubt
  • cause you to be unforgiving of self
  • bring about fearfulness
  • cause irrational thoughts
  • cause paranoia
  • cause you to ignore self
  • cause feelings of worthlessness and shame
  • send you into a state of worry
  • generate anxiety and panic
  • trigger depression

The above are only some of the psychological effects that guilt can have on you. This does not even take into consideration how this emotional state of mind can also affect one’s physical health.

Guilt is a normal emotion. However, it can turn on us if we allow it to consume our minds. Remember, although guilt is self-imposed it is so powerful that it can influence your life in ways that can destroy you. All your plans and goals for the future would have to be put on hold as you become paralyzed by your guilt.

Use this information to examine your psychological condition. Are you someone who carries a lot of unnecessary guilt? If so, begin by making the decision to regain your emotional health by first identifying the guilt that consumes you.

CAUTION: Remember, the way you respond to guilt today can determine your success for the future.

Letting go of Guilt

We all have felt guilty of something we wished we did not do or say in the past. The regret we feel stays with us long after the event occurred and guilt takes up residence in our minds. Guilt is something we can become susceptible to if we continue to live with regrets. Guilt is a result of standards and expectations we have set for ourselves as well as the standards and moral expectations of society and the culture in which we live. Let us look at some ways of letting go of guilt.

The first step is to dissect the issue you feel guilty about. Do you truly deserve to take responsibility for the event surrounding the guilt? Have someone help you to objectively determine if you deserve to take responsibility for such event. If you are not responsible, then return it to the person who needs to accept the responsibility and let them own it. If you are responsible, work to resolve the issue. Humble yourself and apologize. Learn the lessons to be learned from the experience and move on. Once you have done your best to resolve the situation let it go. There is nothing more you can do.

The next step is to examine your moral standards and value systems. Are your standards defined by religion or culture? Are your standards defined by you? You must first identify your personal standards and expectations. Sometimes we hold ourselves to such high standards that we become guilt ridden when we can’t live up to them. If you are not living up to your self-defined expectations then you must make the effort to improve in this area or reexamine your standards. Strive to be the best you can be but at the same time give yourself some wiggle room – you are human and prone to make mistakes. Work on building your self-esteem and improving your perception of self.

The third step is forgiveness. You must learn to forgive yourself of past shortcomings. No one is perfect. We all strive to be our best and to do the best we can and part of maturing means making mistakes. Recognize that you have said or done things in the past that you were not proud of and make a decision to be more mindful of your thoughts, words, and actions in the future. Guilt and regret should be used to bring this awareness to you so you can right the wrong, forgive self, and change your future. B

Finally, focus on ways to improve your life. Do some introspection and grow from the experiences surrounding your guilty feelings. Use the guilt as a means of creating positive changes in your life. Allow your vibrant self to shine again. Guilt is a waste of brain power – don’t allow another day to go by feeling guilty. Sometimes it’s difficult to recognize how guilt ridden we really are or even how to work past the feelings. If you cannot do it alone seek the help of a counsellor to assist you.

Mandy X