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How to Manage Guilt

Guilt is an emotion we all experience. It can range from a niggling sensation to a deep emotional wound. Meaningful Minds Psychologist Gregory looks at how to manage feelings of guilt.

How do you deal with feelings of guilt? Whether you have done something wrong yourself, or you feel uneasy about something that you know you were completely in the right for, feeling guilty can be a very uncomfortable sensation. There are both good sides and bad sides to guilt, but knowing how to deal with it effectively is essential to healthy emotional regulation.

Guilt typically forms from interactions between people, and can stem from both wrong-doing

on the part of either individual, or from a perceived inequality between the two. You may feel guilty because you “borrowed” your mom’s car without asking, or you may feel guilty as you drive past a homeless person in the comfort of your Mercedes. Either situation can be characterized by a similar emotion, although the approaches to dealing with either may vary.

In terms of guilt associated with wrongdoing, the most straightforward answer may also be

the hardest to enact – admit to your actions, seek forgiveness, and find an appropriate way to to make up for them. One step easier may be to avoid engaging the action in the first place, but this advice is of course not very useful for the person already suffering from feelings of guilt.

For the second type of guilt – stemming from perceived inequalities rather than direct wrongdoing – the route towards managing that emotion can be trickier. While it may be possible at times to correct the inequality, few of us are in the position to be able to help every person we meet that is not doing as well as we are. The approach to managing this type of guilt can take multiple approaches:

  • First, recognize that your guilt is a direct result of your ability to empathize with someone less fortunate than you are. If you are able to empathize with their situation, it is already likely that you are the type of person who will help others when they can. Perceiving this guilt as an indicator of your level of empathy can help to put a completely different perspective on the feeling.

  • Next, try to spot out any demanding thinking you may have around the situation. “The world should be a fairer place,” or “Other people must not be subjected to difficult living circumstances” are all nice concepts in theory, but what power do you have to enforce them? Instead of holding onto such strong expectations, try to think of them as preferences instead - “I would like the world to be a fairer place,” or “It would be great if other people were not subjected to difficult living circumstances.” This allows you to work towards the same ideals that you would prefer, while minimizing the level of negative emotions evoked in you.

  • Learn to accept guilt as an uncomfortable but ultimately non-awful feeling. It’s OK to feel guilty, as much as we don’t like the sensation of it. Doing this, instead of trying reject or ignore the feeling, will help you to process it that much faster.

  • Dedicate some of your time to doing good things for other people. Then when your guilt feelings arise, it can be combated with the warm fuzzy feeling of having helped others in need.

If you feel that the guilt feelings you experience are deeply rooted and causing severe discomfort in your life, contact us for an appointment where we can help you manage your emotions more effectively. Meaningful Minds Psychologists 0817594849/

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