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How to Deal With Guilt? 6 Questions and Answers

Updated: Mar 9, 2021

What is guilt?

Guilt is experienced when something we do or think goes against what we believe to be fair, moral or ethical. Guilt can arise when we make a mistake or decide something that later turns out to the wrong one. We also feel guilt when we experience good times while people we love feel miserable. Guilt is a natural emotion, but the reasons why we experience it are learned. Guilt is not necessarily completely unuseful, but it is most of the time, and it is also painful and causes negative effects on our mental health, especially when it leads to shame.

We may experience guilt after:

  • Doing something on purpose.

  • An event we couldn't control.

  • Not reaching up to other people standards or expectations.

  • Not reaching one's own expectations.

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

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

Is guilt always a negative emotion?

Like every emotion, some guilt can be positive in certain circumstances. For example, it warns you that something feels not right and if what you are doing is not serving your purpose. However, if guilt arises from a strict environment or rigid thinking patterns, it is unhelpful and limits how one experiences life. Therefore, the first thing to consider when evaluating your feelings of guilt is exploring and defining your values.

"Guilt is also a way for us to express to others

that we are a person of good conscience."

Tom Hodgkinson

How can values help with guilt?

Your values define who you are and what you want from life. Social pressures can be very intense. You have the responsibility to decide what is acceptable for you or not, define what is critical to you and set the boundaries you find suitable for yourself. Therefore, evaluating and defining your values and what is important to you is crucial before working on guilt. Your values will help you decide which is the best direction to take when you experience conflicts between your emotional and rational needs,