Tips for Managing Guilt — Step One Rehab

Having trouble sleeping at night? Perhaps it is guilt keeping you awake. Guilt is usually a signal that we have done something that goes against our moral code. We all have principles we try to live by. Among other things, I was taught the values of hard work, being honest, and treating people fairly.

We all have things we feel guilty about. Maybe you stole a candy bar as a child and have felt bad about it for years. Although, all things considered, it’s not a big deal, maybe it is to you.

As adults, we can acquire guilt from a number of sources. Did we fail to fulfill a promise to a friend, spouse, or associate? Did we do something that caused another person emotional distress or bodily harm? Another common source of guilt can be our sexual conduct, or misconduct, as the case may be.

It’s not unheard of for people to feel guilty about their own, impure thoughts. In my youth, I felt guilty for things I hadn’t even done! Fortunately, I was able to deal with that guilt through the steps I will outline.

The measure of guilt we feel may be in direct relation to the way we were raised. Many established religions have doctrine that is expected to be adhered to. When practitioners of their religion deviate from their doctrine, guilt is often the result. Likewise, many religions also offer a means for dealing with guilt when it arises.

The first tip I will offer in regards to guilt is this: if you’re feeling guilty, it probably means you’re not a bad person. Sociopaths and psychopaths don’t feel guilt. Therefore, don’t be too hard on yourself. Regardless of what you did, you can still avoid being consumed by your guilt. If you do nothing to ease it, guilt will continue to eat away at you. Cut yourself some slack. You’re human and you’re allowed to make mistakes. That’s not to say you shouldn’t feel bad for a time, but don’t waste years of your life bludgeoning yourself for actions that cannot be undone. After all, if you could take it back and change it, would you? If your answer is “yes” then you’re not all that bad.

If you believe in a divine power, do you think that power would forgive you for your actions? If not, why? What makes you so important that you don’t warrant forgiveness? In religious texts, even the most holy of people and the worst of sinners, have begged for forgiveness and received it.

I have a personal motto that I use in regards to guilt. It is: screw guilt (though I substitute a different word). I just don’t have room in my life for it anymore. If anything, I use it as a tool to guide my “moral compass.” If I feel guilty, it’s because I’m doing something I know better than to do. That means it’s time to stop doing that action or behavior. The same goes for you.

Are you staying up at night having nightmares about someone’s wife or husband coming after you? Then stop sleeping with their spouse. Are you always trying to remember what you said because you told different lies to different friends and have to keep them straight? Well, stop lying to your friends. In fact, stop lying altogether.

If you live honestly, you don’t need to lie to cover up your behavior. I have come to accept this as a universal truth. When you are being honest, you live freer, breathe more easily, and walk with lighter feet. People generally place their trust in you, and when they do, that will make you feel better about yourself.

The only exception to not lying that I will note is the little-white lies. I believe that most little white lies are okay unless they cause you guilt. Here’s an example: your wife asks if she looks fat in a dress. Don’t say: “no your fat makes you look fat, the dress is okay.”

Just tell her she looks fine. Even if you think she doesn’t. Besides, she’s not actually looking for an honest answer. Trust me on that. She’s looking for reassurance that she’s pretty. Just give it to her, would you?

I can also recall another powerful, negative emotion that quite often will accompany guilt. It is shame. Maybe you have a part of your body you’re ashamed of: a mole, a birthmark, your face, or any other part that I won’t get into here. Whatever it is, it’s your body. You have three options: either feel ashamed about it, get surgery (if possible), or just accept it. Now, the first option isn’t very fun and it won’t make your life any easier. Let’s rule that out. The second option may be very expensive, painful, and unrealistic. The third option, though, will work wonders for you in dealing with shame.

Acceptance can solve so many issues in your life when you practice it as a general attitude. When you try it, you’ll find out. So…feeling bad about your cauliflower ears from your boxing days? Well, accept them. Make whatever it is that you’re ashamed of work for you. If you have confidence, people will be drawn to you.

Acceptance is also a wonderful tool for any other area of your life. Did you try your best at a project only to watch it fail miserably? Just accept the outcome. Maybe you can change it, maybe you can’t. If you cannot change it, why fight fate? To use a decent metaphor: continually beating yourself over the head with a hammer only results in a broken head.

Someone very wise once gave me advice that I’ve never forgotten: just because we accept something doesn’t mean we have to like it. Is your mother in law a royal pain in your butt? Well, that’s what she’s there for. Just accept it. You can’t really get a new mother in law. So she is the way she is. You can’t change her. It looks like you have to accept her and all her many, many, many faults. You never have to like her, but that’s not the point (though if you can find a way to like her, or take a look at some of her good qualities, it may make your life easier too).

Once you start practicing acceptance in your life, no matter what happens, you’ll feel better. Whether it’s guilt, shame, fear, anger, remorse, regret, lousy neighbors, a crappy dinner at a restaurant, or a flat tire, acceptance will save you a lot of grief. If you have a faith in a divine power, pray for acceptance. Watch how quickly your attitude shifts.

So, regardless of the reason you’re feeling guilty, you can take immediate steps to mitigate it. Hopefully you’re already feeling a little better just by reading this.

You may also be asking: but what do I do if the guilt won’t go away? If you have taken all the actions above, and followed them to the best of your ability, you just may need to keep practicing acceptance and self-forgiveness, and give it some time. Otherwise, did you stop to think that you may owe some people apologies? Did you wrong anyone that you can recall? Did you lie or steal from anyone, directly or indirectly? If you have chronic, persistent guilt, then you absolutely must narrow down the cause of it. If you caused a maelstrom of wreckage through someone else’s life, maybe it’s time to clean that mess up.

I will caution you here: the cleaning may not be fun. It may not be pretty. Simply apologizing may not cut it. Perhaps you’ll need to make financial restitution for some of your misdoings. However, the rewards you should receive will far outweigh the sacrifices you have to make to be an emotionally balanced, happy person. Once you are free of guilt, you will be able to look everyone square in the eye. You also won’t be ashamed of who you are or what you’ve done. Furthermore, you will not tolerate anyone who tries to make you feel ashamed or guilty for any reason; you will have no room in your life for negative, miserable people who only want you to mire in the cesspool they’ve created so that they can have someone to share their unhappiness with.

I do not believe guilt exists by its own for no reason whatsoever. As I stated earlier, it signals a violation of your personal moral code. If you truly examine your conscience, and perhaps write down things that trouble you, it is my hope you can find the source of your guilt and deal with it.

About the Author

Andy is a blogger for Step One Rehab. Through his writing, he attempts to raise awareness about addiction, substance abuse, and mental health issues. The goal of Step One Rehab is to match premium addiction treatment facilities with the needs of clients. Andy writes daily articles for Step One’s blog. To learn more, visit their website or check them out on Facebook, or Twitter.


This posting is meant for suggestive purposes only. It is not to be taken as a definitive guide to solving all of your problems. It is not meant to tell you how to live your life. You are free to exercise any free will you wish, and take or leave these suggestions as you see fit. The advice herein is not a substitute for professional help, or meant as therapy. It is merely meant to offer viable options to dealing with guilt that I have personally found effective. It is advised you seek professional help or medical treatment if you need it.

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