Tips for Overcoming Guilt
Guilt has been a pretty heavy theme with a lot of clients lately and so I wanted to share a few tips for overcoming guilt. I reached out to therapist colleagues to gather perspectives from other therapy approaches so that I can provide a variety of tips. This is important because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula for managing and overcoming guilt.
It’s important to remember that guilt is one of many emotions each of us experiences on any given day. Anxiety may also accompany guilt at any time. Feeling guilty or having guilt in and of itself is perfectly natural and expected. I know it’s an uncomfortable feeling but keep in mind that the very presence of guilt highlights some really beautiful parts about you. You would not feel guilty if you were not a thoughtful, caring, and considerate person.
The goal in working with guilt and anxiety is not to get rid of them. This would result in a constant struggle and defeat because guilt or anxiety aren’t going anywhere. The goal is to learn how to live with and respond to them when they show up.
How to Respond to Guilt
1- First, distinguish the difference between guilt and shame.
Guilt = I did something bad. Shame = I am bad. A colleague referred me to a great infographic that highlights the difference between guilt and shame. You can view it here. Anything by Brené Brown is great for this topic.
2- Consider if your guilt is justified or unjustified.
Justified guilt comes when we have said or done something outside of our values. It can be relieved when we take steps to make necessary repairs and amends. Unjustified guilt applies in situations where you can’t identify what you have done wrong. I like to ask clients, “If you are standing before a judge and they ask you to explain your crime could you do it? What is the evidence for this?”
Oftentimes, unjustified guilt is a general feeling of doing something wrong but not being clear on what the offense was. Not knowing the offense means you have no way to repair or make amends and are left with vague and nagging guilt. Not sure what your values are? Here is an activity to help you gain insight.
3- Just because you feel guilty doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong.
As I already mentioned, guilt is a feeling just like happiness, sadness, joy, and all the others. Emotions come and go. We sometimes feel sad for no identifiable reason and might attribute it to the weather, hormones, or a poor night’s sleep. Guilt seems to carry more weight, perhaps because it implies some kind of consequence. Because of this, when guilt shows up, we tend to go looking for a reason.
Our brains are creative and this is where anxiety and guilt work really together… “Did I say something wrong to that person? I must’ve forgotten to pay someone back or respond to a text message.” Simply noticing the guilt, letting it be present, and waiting for it to pass WHILE you continue to engage in whatever activity/responsibility is right in front of you can be very helpful. You don’t have to believe it or investigate whether or not you actually are guilty.
4- Don’t do what guilt says.
If you’ve already identified that it’s unjustified guilt, then don’t do whatever the guilt is telling you to do. This will only lead to resentment and a vicious cycle of guilt –> activity to relieve the guilt –> resentment –> guilt. For example, let’s say you want to spend an evening with friends away from your family. Guilt shows up telling you that you shouldn’t leave your family and it would be better for you to stay home. You might also think that it’s not fair that your spouse/partner has to manage the kids/animals on their own.
Listening to these thoughts will lead you to stay home. If this is a pattern for you, staying home and not spending time with friends will lead to resentment. Staying home will temporarily relieve the guilt but this is not a sustainable pattern. So, notice the guilt and choose to spend the evening with friends anyways knowing that one of your values is quality time with people you care about. You are acting according to your values even with guilt present.
Where To Go From Here
Given all the societal pressures, generational patterns, and highlight reels of today, women in particular wear a heavy blanket of guilt, myself included. Findings ways to manage and cope with guilt will not remove the guilt but can lessen the burden and impact of the guilt. There is another blog post on increased guilt that occurs around the holidays. You can view it here. Find out how to get started with managing your guilt and anxiety below.
Start Managing Your Guilt and Anxiety With Online Therapy in Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida
Learning to manage and cope with guilt and the anxiety that accompanies it, can be difficult. At Evercare Counseling you will have a skilled therapist to help you lessen the burden. To get started with therapy follow these simple steps:
Other Services Offered at Evercare Counseling
Evercare Counseling offers a range of mental health services to help provide you with more support. These services include anxiety therapy, ERP therapy, OCD treatment, therapy for women, and Christian counseling. Online therapy is provided throughout Virginia, North Carolina and Florida. For more about us check out our FAQs and blog!