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Breaking Free from Guilt: Understanding and Healing

woman hiding face

Guilt, like shame, embarrassment, or pride, is a self-conscious emotion promoting introspection. Individuals experience guilt for various reasons, from perceived actions, non-actions, or morally conflicting thoughts. Breaking free from guilt is a journey towards self-acceptance and emotional wellbeing.

Unravelling Emotions: Defining Guilt

Feelings of guilt arise when something goes against what is perceived to be fair, moral or ethical. Guilt is a natural emotion, but the reasons why we experience guilt are often learned throughout life. While guilt can serve a purpose in certain situations, it usually proves counterproductive and may show up in situations one is not responsible for. The pain intensifies when guilt evolves into blame or shame, strongly impacting one's wellbeing. Understanding the nuanced relationship between guilt and mental health is crucial for fostering a healthier mindset.

Exploring Guilt's Positivity Aspect

Like every emotion, some guilt can be positive in some circumstances, such as warning that something feels wrong or may hurt others. However, when guilt arises from learned rigid thinking patterns and from being raised in a strict environment, it significantly limits one's life experiences. The first steps to evaluate when guilt negatively impacts your life are defining your values and exploring your authentic self.

releasing guilt

Guilt is also a way for us to express to others

that we are a person of good conscience.

Tom Hodgkinson

Guiltscape: The Role of Values

Your values are personal guidelines defining who you are and what you want from life. When social pressure becomes intense, you are responsible for deciding what is acceptable for you, determining what is critical to you and setting the boundaries you find suitable for yourself. Therefore, evaluating and defining your values and what is important to you before working on guilt is crucial. Your values will be your compass to find the best direction when your emotional and rational needs conflict. Live your life according to your beliefs and accept the responsibility for the outcome.

Insights to Understanding Unjustified Guilt

Some may experience guilt after:

  • Doing something on purpose.

  • An event we couldn't control.

  • Not reaching up to other people's standards or expectations. 

  • Not meeting one's expectations.

  • Accepting a situation we don't feel comfortable with.

  • Not being able to stand up for oneself or others.

Guilt is an emotional response learned through social interactions, therefore, it may arise when personal needs clash with societal norms. Reasons behind guilt are subjective and vary among individuals. Understanding the source of guilt is vital to assess the steps to take to break free from unhelpful guilt.

Overcoming deep-rooted guilt involves separating external expectations from individual values, a skill that requires time to develop. A comprehensive review of the situation and a chat with someone trustworthy can clarify why it feels so hard on you. 

sub with a shark whale

Guilt is a waste of time unless you learn how to be more loving

the next time a similar situation presents itself.

Annette Vaillancourt

Steps to Breaking Free from Guilt

Embracing self-compassion and self-awareness is beneficial and teaches you to navigate and understand your emotions effectively. These valuable tools foster empathy towards yourself but also extend it to others. Actively showing kindness to yourself while delving into the roots of your guilt allows acceptance of your imperfections.

Through mindful exploration, you gradually learn to accept yourself as you are, paving the way for a more balanced and emotionally resilient existence. These steps involve exploring arising feelings and providing insights into your responses to specific topics.

  • Pay attention to how thoughts shape beliefs.

  • Reassess beliefs and priorities according to your values.

  • View guilt and shame as insights into your life perspective.

  • Work on unhelpful thoughts and behaviours.

  • Protect your authentic self with firm boundaries.

  • Remember that being true to yourself is the ultimate goal.

Feeling a strong need for acceptance can pose unhealthy limits to your choices. Remind that accepting a role not meant for you is tough on your overall wellbeing. If you decide to do so, prioritising self-care is mandatory. Surround yourself with love, keep an open mind, and take time to reflect on further steps. 

starfish in the water

Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think

we are supposed to be and embracing who we are.

Choosing authenticity means cultivating the courage to be imperfect.

Brené Brown

Final Thoughts

While guilt may be an unwelcome emotion most of the time, it can serve a purpose by encouraging thoughtful reflection before making reckless decisions or hurting others with impulsive behaviours. Self-compassion and self-awareness remain essential to support you in navigating these emotions, fostering personal growth, and finding a healthy emotional balance.

When unpleasant feelings rule your day for too long, it’s time to reach out to someone you trust. You don't have to face everything alone; take advantage of the many choices available: contact a helpline, a support group, or a professional. Your GP or a counsellor can make a difference in your wellbeing. 

Subscribe to this website and get 15 minutes of free online consultations. 



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