Guilt can come from a hundred different sources every day. Maybe something triggers a cringe-worthy memory, a time you hurt someone dear to you or fell morally short in a difficult decision.
At its root, guilt is a sort of self-regret — that you could have been a better person or you did something questionable or downright wrong. It serves to improve your moral compass and helps you grow and mature while you learn how to stop feeling guilty.
However, guilt can also be unfounded. In some cases, as with “survivor’s guilt,” situations arise where luck or unknown variables cause an unforeseen or unavoidable outcome. In these cases, guilt does nothing productive, since there’s no lesson to learn. It’s important to learn how to stop feeling guilty in these situations, too.
Whichever guilt you experience, there are positive and negative ways to put your conscience to rest. Here are a few of the more productive coping mechanisms to stop feeling guilty and to avoid a life defined by your past mistakes.
1. Why Are You Guilty?
Guilt often occurs when your actions contradict your goals. If you want to lose weight, and you binge your way through a large pizza during a Game of Thrones marathon, you’re probably going to feel guilty. If you want to be a nice person and you get caught talking about a friend behind her back, similar feelings arise.
Identifying both your goals and the actions that spark guilt because of these goals is the first step to eliminating your guilt. By figuring both these factors out, you can begin to reduce your contradictory actions, getting rid of your guilt and pursuing your goals more effectively.
Of course, some guilt stems from unfounded sources, and identifying these guilt triggers is equally important. If you cannot pin a goal — or a positive attribute about yourself — that the triggering action is contradicting, the guilt you are experiencing is not healthy, and should be identified accordingly.
2. Make Amends
For any guilt that stems from hurting or neglecting those close to you can be easily remedied — ask for forgiveness and demonstrate change. If you lied about something, come clean and ask for forgiveness. Again, it’s important to examine what makes you feel guilty — and why — before this, and to determine if the guilt stems from a legitimate source.
Most importantly when making amends to others, it’s important to approach the station neutrally and proportionally.
If the guilt or anxiety is caused by a falling out between a former friend — or something similar — find a way to talk objectively and better understand the situation that created the animosity. However, prepare yourself to act humbly if you know you were in the wrong.
In general, making amends is much easier than it seems. If you have grown distanced from someone you were once close to, reconnecting can be a beautiful and cathartic experience for both of you. Don’t overthink it — sometimes making amends is as simple as spending more time with a friend, or being nicer to a loved one.
If your guilt trigger is an internal one, and you have figured out its source, some adjustment on your part will go a long way to eliminating the guilt. Understanding the useful benefits of guilt is a huge step. Changing yourself to reduce the shameful feelings may seem like a compromise, but positive change is something we should all strive for in our daily lives. If you undertake a repetitive pattern of actions that result in guilty feelings, it’s time to change.
4. Be Nice
Beyond changing the factors that make you guilty, some residual guilt is bound to stick around. To get rid of this, try to throw some good vibes into the world. Being unconditionally nice to strangers or friends can go a long way toward getting rid of the baseless guilt.
5. Clear the Rest Away
Any guilt that comes from a loss or other sources entirely outside of your control is an unconscious expression of grief or regret. While they will persist, understand that there is nothing you can do to change the reality of the situation and that you are not to blame.
Following these steps will help you minimize the guilt in your everyday life, and become a better person in the process. Remember — guilt is helpful at times and often warns you when you start to lose yourself.
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