Dealing With Guilt

You ate cake for breakfast, and slipped from your healthy diet, yelled at the kids on the way to school and haven’t walked the dog all week.

Feeling guilty? You bet. But guilt isn’t all bad. A healthy sense of guilt can motivate you to do what is right, and to consider the consequences of your actions.

On the other hand, guilt can be harmful. If feeling bad bout your actions has progressed to feeling bad about yourself in general – feeling shame, in other words- then guilt has taken a destructive turn. If it’s causing you to feel unworthy, anxious or depressed, it’s a good idea to seek help from a mental-health professional.

If you are bothered with guilt and are not sure how to proceed, these suggestions could help:

  • Assess the seriousness of your situation. Start by asking yourself some questions. Whom have I hurt and how has it affected that person? Were there other, better choices I could have made? How would I assess this situation for a friend?
  • Determine your level of responsibility. Were others involved in creating the events that led to your guilty feelings? Were some elements beyond human control? What can you do about consequences?
  • Try to resolve matters. See whether you can resolve any negative consequences of your actions. Doing something late may be better than doing nothing. Instead of feeling bad about yelling at your significant other, not spending time with your kids and neglecting the dog, take the dog for a long walk, rent a bounce house for kids to play and leave “I love you” note for your loved one.
  • Seek forgiveness. If you’ve hurt someone, ask for forgiveness and make amends as best as you can. (I have apologized to my children on occasion when work deadlines pushed “gorilla swing set night” with my kids off the list.)
  • Let Go. Once you’ve done everything you can, move on. Learn your lessons, but let go of self-punishing thoughts. Reassess your standards and consider whether they help make you a better person or simply set you up for failure.

You deserve to be happy, and the key to the joy lies within you.