Guilt is often a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person realizes or believes—accurately or not—that he or she has compromised his or her own standards of conduct or has violated a moral standard and bears significant responsibility for that violation. It is closely related to the concept of remorse.
How many people have found themselves lost in a sea of guilt because our actions have somehow harmed or hurt another person, whether intentional or accidental? I am willing to bet everyone has, at one time or another, experienced guilt on some level. Guilt is the natural result of negative actions, and is part of human nature. Guilt is to be expected when we have caused harm in the past through our words or actions, but it should not control the way you live your life in the future.
For some of us, thoughts of the things we have done to hurt others in the past can almost immobilize us. Some people are so controlled by guilt that they feel as if they have spent their life doing things that caused pain to other people. You can often be overwhelmed by guilt after deciding to make a change to your way of life and for many of us even the simplest actions can plague us with the pain of feeling guilty or wishing we had done things some other way. Guilt is a part of the emotional barometer and is often a tell-tale sign that the choices we are making are not the ‘right’ ones for us, but at other times guilt is a self-created barrier to success and happiness. Although guilt is a necessary part of growing, living and becoming a better person overall, it should not define who we are or hold us back from that which we hope to achieve. There is a fine line between necessary and pointless guilt, knowing the difference and learning to let go of unnecessary guilt can be a big part of living a happier and more fulfilled lifestyle.
Healthy feelings of guilt stem from actions on your part that caused harm, pain or hurt to another person. This form of guilt is a part of life for most people and is something that needs to be addressed according to severity. If you feel guilty for bullying someone when you were younger, calling your sister names, or stealing from a close friend you have options available to deal with these feelings and move forward with your life. You may choose to apologize to the people you have harmed and perhaps right the wrongs in some way. This is healthy guilt, and is a part of growing up and growing personally. It is only when guilt becomes pointless and irrational that it becomes a barrier to your true and full life.
Pointless guilt is often superficial. In fact, most of this kind of guilt is felt simply because we think we ‘should‘ feel guilty and not because we actually do. Guilt is based on morals that we create for ourselves and pick up throughout our lives. For example: You may have been taught that lying is wrong, and thus each time you lie you feel guilty. The same goes for sex, perhaps kinky sex, extra-marital sex, or sex in general were somehow built into your personal moral code and each time you cross the line on these created morals you feel as if you have done something wrong. If you were to truly consider every act in your life and assess the guilt factor for each of these actions you would be a miserable and depressed person who was constantly drowning in an overflowing pool of guilt.
So what should you feel guilty for and what should you not? Where do you draw the line?
How to Overcome Guilt
The line for guilt is different for each person and often relates to a number of factors, such as, personal need, personal pleasure, choice, circumstance, situation, self-esteem and emotion.
Steps to control guilt feeling
In order to free yourself of pointless guilt there are a few simple things you must consider.
- First it is important that you assess the harm factor involved in the act that is causing you guilt. For example: If your best friend/wife/mother asked you if her outfit made her look fat and you lied and said “No, it’s great.” There is no reason to feel guilty…. Why? Because what is more important to you, lying or hurting your friend/wife/mother’s feelings? Weigh the pro’s and con’s.
- Secondly you need to consider what other options you had available at the time of the action that is now causing you the guilt. Perhaps you feel bad for the way you dumped your ex, maybe you feel you were too cold/harsh/honest. Consider the other options you had available. Would your ex-partner have taken it any other way? Would it have made your life better or worse? Would it have hurt them any less or more? Did you really have many other choices? If the action was appropriate to the situation, let it go! Sure you can apologize, but you can not take back what you did then and you can’t change the circumstances that surrounded you at the time of the action.
- Lastly, embrace reality. The fact of the matter is, you are never going to be able to change the things you did in the past, you can not right every wrong you caused, and you can not take back the hurtful words you have said. Dwelling on them does not change a thing. Sometimes the only way to free yourself of pointless guilt is to simply let go and accept that you made a mistake/misjudgment/choice and accept that you have to live with it. If there is no foreseeable way to correct the situation your actions caused or the only correction consists of creating a sophisticated technologically advanced time travel machine, than simply let it go and move on with ‘your’ life. Chances are the person you wronged has already moved on with theirs as well.
Keep in mind that often times the guilt we feel has more to do with ourselves than those which we feel we have harmed. Guilt is often a self-created reminder of all the things we wish we had done differently for ourselves. By simply accepting life as it is and living in the moment we can easily abolish much of the guilt we dwell on, and live a happier more fulfilled lifestyle everyday!