Stop feeling guilty: How to overcome guilt

Stop feeling guilty: How to overcome guilt

One of the most common questions I am asked is, “How do I stop feeling guilty?”  Many people want to know, “Why do I feel guilty so easily?”, “Does guilt ever go away?”, “How do I let go of guilt?”  Sometimes it is easy to identify that the guilt is related to a clear event where you feel that you have done something wrong, and the guilt adequately reflects that.  For some people it feels like a deeply ingrained state despite there being no clear trigger or event that causes the guilt.  There is an overall sense of feeling guilty for no reason.  So how do you stop feeling guilty?  Let’s take a quick look at the function of feelings to get to the bottom of how to manage guilt.


The function of feelings

Feelings help you to make sense of your experiences and are a normal part of being human.  Feelings provide you with data about your environment, the quality of your internal experience, and how you experience relationships and connection with those around you.   For example, when you are in a safe and comfortable place with people you trust you may experience feelings of contentment and ease. Alternatively, when you are somewhere unfamiliar or unsafe with people you don’t know very well you may feel anxious or fearful.  Feelings act as a signpost that something may need to be addressed.  Similarly, feelings of guilt are a signpost to an issue which requires your attention.  All feelings help you to manage your behaviour and your interactions within relationships.

Essentially, feelings provide data to:

  • inform your awareness and understanding of yourself and others,
  • help you to make informed decisions, and
  • allow you to communicate and interact with others.


What is the purpose of guilt?

Guilt acts as a signpost pointing to a situation where you feel responsible and remorseful because you have made a mistake or failed to do something.  Guilt is often accompanied by sadness, anxiety, or shame which resolves when you have addressed the guilt.  When guilt is used to make amends, it enables you to take responsibility for your actions and amend your behaviour so that you can have healthier relationships.  Guilt is pro-social.  It arises out of empathy for others and acts as a motivator for change and relationship repair.  When you see guilt as a signpost to evaluate your behaviour, take responsibility and make amends, guilt can have positive impacts on your self-esteem and your relationships.


When is guilt too much?

Guilt is too much when it is excessive, persistent, inappropriate, or unjustified.  It then has negative impacts on your self-esteem and relationships.  When guilt is excessive, persistent and inappropriate the accompanying sadness, anxiety and shame persist.  The guilt becomes a metaphorical whip to beat yourself up with, highlighting feelings of inadequacy and giving rise to what health professionals may diagnose as anxiety and depression.

It is important to remember that guilt does not necessarily measure good and bad – it is subjective.  Guilt can also make you feel overly responsible; however you are only responsible for your part in things.  Often there are multiple people and factors that have contributed to the situation.  Guilt may take on a condemning stance lacking understanding, perspective, and forgiveness.  If you suffer from excessive and persistent guilt you may require the help of a counsellor to work through the complexity of what you are experiencing.

Regardless of why you feel guilty there are questions that you can ask yourself which can bring greater clarity about your situation to reduce or stop feelings of guilt.  You might like to consider journalling these questions for deeper understanding.  The act of writing can be helpful to take your jumbled thoughts and feelings from inside and externalise them.  It can help you to see things more objectively when you put it on paper or say it out loud to someone else.  I can’t tell you the amount of times I have heard someone say, “It sounds silly when I say it out loud.”  Ensure you leave yourself time and space to deeply consider each of the following questions:


10 questions to overcome feeling guilty

  1. What did I do that was so bad?
  2. Who did I hurt?
  3.  Am I fully responsible here?
  4.  What part did I play?
  5.  What portion of the responsibility is mine?
  6.  Would I condemn someone else who did the same thing?
  7.  Did I do the best I could under the circumstances?
  8.  What have I done to repair/make amends?
  9.  When will I have done enough to let go?
  10.  Am I ready to forgive myself?


Top 7 tips to stop feeling guilty

  • Remember guilt can be a positive emotion to change behaviour and create healthier relationships.
  • Acknowledge and normalise your feelings of guilt as a pro-social response.
  • Take responsibility for your part.
  • Focus on what you can do to make things better.
  • Forgive yourself for your mistake.
  • Practice self-compassion.
  • Seek counselling if you need extra support.


May the weeks ahead be guilt-free for.  Please keep the comments coming.  I do love to read them.  

I look forward to seeing which theme arises next fortnight.




  1. Dawn

    Reading your blog, I can see guilt drives my bus sometimes to places, I don’t necessarily consciously want to go. And often find that I was guilted into behaving in a certain way, by others.
    Which can for me promote, incredibly negative emotions , it will b great to use your questions as a road map, to identify the source of the guilt, and work on forgiving myself, so I can b open to new beginnings.

    • Amy Islip

      You raise a very good point Dawn. Sometimes the guilt is internal and sometimes it comes from others expectations. Either way, getting clear on the details can help you see it more objectively.

  2. Nicky

    Its incredible that you mention guilt. Today I did/said a stupid thing and was pulled up for it. I immediately stopped in my tracks and realised they were right. I said I was sorry for what I said but couldn’t stop thinking about it all day. The person I hurt accepted my apology but now it’s up to me to forgive myself. That’s always the hard part.
    Thanks for bringing guilt up. I think writing this note to you will help me.

    • Amy Islip

      Thanks for your example Nicky. I’m sure there are many people who can relate to it. Forgiveness of self often is the hardest part. You are only human. You’ll make mistakes. You’re ok. x

      • Mark

        Forgiving myself for my actions is so difficult , especially because I can’t bring myself to confess because of the hurt it would cause . I feel like it would ease my guilt but at the expense of an innocent party.

        • Amy Islip

          Yes, a confession will always cause hurt so it is important to weigh up the cost of the confession (damage to the relationship) versus the benefit (reinstating honesty and trust). The key to forgiving yourself is ensuring that you have understood and addressed the root cause of why you did what you did in the first place. It’s important to try to understand your behaviour through a compassionate lens. Even though it was ultimately harmful, what need were you trying to fulfil? When we understand why we do what we do we can have greater confidence we choose more wisely.


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