Guilt is a complex feeling. On the one hand, sometimes, it’s the only thing that can make us reconsider our decisions and improve. On the other hand, uncontrollable guilt can also easily turn into a self-destruction force capable of damaging one’s self-esteem and relationships with others.
Guilt may also mean different things for different people. While some people may only experience guilt when they’ve really hurt someone, others might deal with unhealthy guilt when they’re unable to fulfill someone else’s or their own expectations.
This feeling can cause a lot of emotional pain, and it may not go away even once you’ve fixed your mistake. When people feel guilty, they focus on what happened in the past, and it’s impossible to change what’s been already done. As a result, a person may experience guilt over and over again so guilt may seriously affect their lives.
The worst thing about guilt is that this feeling is closely related to anger and resentment.
One might feel angry at themselves and even at others, in an attempt to justify their actions. Along with creating destructive anger, guilt can also make you get stuck in the past so that it will be extremely difficult to move on.
If you suffer from an unhealthy feeling of guilt that starts to affect your self-esteem and prevent you from living a fulfilling life, you should learn how to forgive yourself. A strong feeling of guilt is often rooted in one’s unconscious so the best solution is to try therapy.
The causes of your guilt might expand beyond the actual event that triggered such an emotional response, and talk therapy can help you figure out what fuels your guilt and how to manage it.
Guilt Is a Biased Judge
The way someone experiences guilt is closely connected to their values and self-esteem.
People with low self-esteem may feel guilty more often, and what you feel guilty for may depend on countless factors, including your childhood, beliefs, and things you’ve experienced in your life.
For instance, people often feel guilty not only for their actions, but even for their thoughts, desires, and weaknesses. One may feel guilty for wishing someone death, feeling angry, or not feeling something, even if these things don’t actually impact others.
Moreover, some people experience guilt because of other people’s actions, thoughts, and traits. A great example of such guilt is what people feel when they don’t live up to their parents’ expectations or reconsider their religious beliefs. Forgiving yourself can be very difficult if you face blame and judgment from other people.
Quite often, victims of abuse feel guilty despite the fact that they are not responsible for the perpetrator’s actions. Besides, when people feel guilty, they may also blame others for things that they don’t like about themselves.
If you want to learn how to forgive yourself for hurting someone or if your guilt is rooted in more complicated issues, you should understand that the path to self-forgiveness lies through self-compassion.
Let’s consider the concept of self-compassion in more detail and think of why it’s important.
What Self-Compassion Is
According to the definition by the American Psychological Association, self-compassion means taking a non-critical stance regarding one’s failures and flaws. Self-compassion and self-forgiveness always go hand in hand, but these are two different concepts, with self-compassion being a broader term.
Self-forgiveness refers to a coping approach that may involve repairing the damage done to your self-esteem and self-image by guilt. Self-compassion is impossible without self-forgiveness, but it’s about more than just accepting one’s mistakes. Self-compassion is what you can use whenever you’re emotionally distressed.
Dr. Kristin Neff describes three key elements of compassion: self-kindness, mindfulness, and common humanity. All of these three ingredients are equally important.
Self-compassionate people don’t berate themselves for their mistakes and failures. Instead, they acknowledge their imperfections and limits. They care about themselves, and they accept the fact that mistakes are an inevitable part of growth.
First of all, mindfulness implies being here and now, focusing on the current moment. It’s important not to ruminate on your past mistakes and failures because such thoughts can prevent you from enjoying the good things in your life.
Secondly, mindfulness means observing one’s feelings without judgment.
It’s important to keep in mind that mistakes and failures are what all people experience in their lives. To err is human, and self-compassion is impossible without accepting failures and imperfections as something natural.
How to Forgive Yourself
If you want to learn how to forgive yourself for something terrible or simply not being able to achieve something, mastering self-compassion is a crucial step.
If your negative thoughts are overwhelming, the best solution is to seek professional help.
A licensed therapist can help you figure out where your guilt comes from, provide the necessary emotional support, and help you learn to forgive yourself. If you want to figure out how to forgive yourself for cheating and not telling or if you experience guilt for any other reason, talk therapy can help you.
Besides, you should replace your negative thinking with thoughts that can actually be helpful.
Here are some tips that will make it easier for you to forgive yourself.
1. Own your mistakes
To forgive yourself, you should first acknowledge your mistakes and take responsibility for them. This way, you will avoid blaming others and accept the fact that you are the one who should forgive you.
In other words, taking responsibility allows you to approach the problem constructively.
2. Give yourself permission to take a break
When dealing with self-blame, it’s important to understand that you need some time to process your actions.
Therefore, you should take a break and distance yourself from what happened so that you can process it in a healthy way. This doesn’t mean that you will run away from your problems. In contrast, you will approach them ready to learn from mistakes and improve.
3. Think of your mistakes as learning opportunities
Your mistakes allow you to learn more about yourself and your capabilities. Reflect on your failures to manage your expectations and set realistic goals. There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious or taking risks, but you should also accept the probability of failure.
If you’ve done something wrong to another person, you can also use this experience to understand what you need to change in your relationships with them or how you can improve as a person.
4. Understand why you did what you did
Reflect on the events and experiences that make you feel guilty. Don’t search for excuses but be self-compassionate and think of why everything happened that way. For example, you could do something because you wanted to fulfill your need for something or because you didn’t know any other solution at that time.
By analyzing the causes of your actions, you can figure out how exactly you need to improve and what you can do in the future to avoid the same mistakes.
5. Seek therapy
If you experience problems with forgiving yourself, a licensed therapist can help you understand what holds you back and what creates roadblocks for your self-compassion.
If your feeling of guilt is rooted in your childhood or past trauma, therapy can also help you deal with your past experiences and replace your negative thoughts with positive ones.
Although talk therapy can be very helpful, many people hesitate to get professional help because of their busy work schedules. Fortunately, no matter how busy you are, you can use online therapy platforms like Calmerry, which offer a more flexible solution.
Guilt is a complex feeling. It can help us reconsider our decisions and improve, or it can get out of control and stop us from living a fulfilling life.
Sometimes, people feel guilty not only because of their actions but also because of their thoughts or mistakes made by other people, and uncontrollable guilt can easily turn into a destructive force.
If you cannot stop thinking about your mistakes or flaws, you should learn self-forgiveness and self-compassion.
Sometimes, forgiving yourself can be even more difficult than forgiving others, so the best solution is to get professional help from a licensed therapist. If you’re still not sure whether or not you need therapy, you can learn more about its benefits.