People can experience guilt for many reasons. Actions they have done, actions they have failed to do, thoughts they feel are wrong, or even things they are not responsible for but feel guilty about anyway. Regardless of the cause, guilt is a difficult emotion to experience.
When you are dealing with guilt, you may see it as something you have to suffer through as a result of your actions. Or you may do anything you can to simply stop feeling guilty, or having to change your behavior or deliver an insincere apology just to alleviate it. Both of these paths keep your guilt from being the useful emotion it could otherwise be in helping you become a better and happier person.
How to Use Guilt Productively
Guilt is a natural emotion, and can even be a good one in moderation. Guilt can help you determine when you have made a mistake and if you should make a change or take action to correct it. But this relies on you reflecting on the emotion and taking action if necessary. To help you determine if the guilt you feel can be turned into productive action, ask yourself:
- What is the source of the guilty feelings you have?
- Why do you feel guilty about these issues?
- Would you judge a person similar to you – similar morals, lifestyle, ect. – if they made the same mistake?
- Can you make a change?
- Do you want to make a change?
In the process of asking yourself these questions, you may find that your guilt is misplaced. Maybe your belief system no longer aligns with who you are and it is time to adjust it, or a relationship has deteriorated to a point where you do not want to put in the effort to change.
But you might also realize that your guilt is justified, and you are motivated to correct the thoughts or actions that lead to it. This shift in perspective enables you to authentically change your behavior for more fulfilling relationships and personal life going forward, without the guilt.
Guilt can also be the result of trauma or various mood disorders like anxiety and depression. In these cases, turning guilt into positive action can be more difficult since it often stems from a non-definite or non-fixable issue. Using techniques to set aside guilt and other solutions, such as therapy, to manage mental health conditions will more effectively manage the guilt you feel.