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Feeling guilty - why we do, and what to do about it

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From time to time, most of us feel guilty. Guilt is a natural feeling, and as with all emotions it can be helpful.  If it goes on too long, however, it can become negative and unhelpful.

Guilt prompts us to make amends, or put things right.  It's about thinking of others and putting their needs before our own. 

Guilt can help us to learn from our mistakes.  The emotion can make us more careful, to avoid doing the same thing over and over.

When feeling guilty, it is always good to ask "can I do anything to put this right?"  If the answer is 'yes', then do it straightaway or when you can.

If 'no' then it's good to let go of the guilt.  Imagine it floating away; this takes practice, and it's good to use an image that works for you. 

Sometimes, we continue to feel guilty when there is nothing more we can do to rectify a situation.  At these times guilt can be a substitute for action.  We desperately want to put something right, but if we can do nothing constructive, we can feel guilty instead.  

Sometimes, we might keep on feeling guilty to show ourselves, or others, that we really do care. 

However, unless we can do something useful, or aim to do better next time, this guilt is helping no-one, and is probably making us simply feel worse, which in turn is worse for other people.

At these times, it is good to acknowledge and let go of guilt.   Don’t try to fight it, or talk yourself out of it, or think you shouldn’t be feeling it.  Emotions just happen, but we can then respond by kindly and consciously letting go.