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Letting go of guilt:  a pathway to healing & self-acceptance 

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Guilt is a powerful and complex emotion that can weigh heavily within our bodies and on our minds. More often than not, it is also totally unjustified.  It can stem from actions or decisions we regret or believe were morally wrong. It’s tied to thoughts embedded in ‘should’, ‘ought’, ‘must’.  While guilt can serve as a valuable moral compass; excessive or irrational guilt can be detrimental to our mental and emotional well-being. 

 

Holding onto guilt mostly leads us down a path of self-criticism.  This can in turn hurtle us towards a pathway of self-sabotage with (self) destructive thinking and actions.  

 

In this article, I will offer some strategies to help support you to let go of guilt:


Recognise the Source of Guilt

 

To begin the process of letting go of guilt, it's crucial to identify the source. Reflect on what specifically is causing you to feel guilty. Is it a past mistake, a hurtful action, or a perceived failure? Understanding the root cause of your guilt will help you address it more effectively.

 

Accept your imperfections

Nobody is perfect, and we all make mistakes. Recognise that making mistakes is a fundamental part of being human. Embrace the fact that imperfection is a part of life and doesn't define your worth as a person.  If we never make a mistake, how can we know to try something else?

Understand the difference between guilt and shame

It's essential to distinguish between guilt and shame. Guilt is the feeling that you've done something wrong, while shame is the belief that you are inherently bad or unworthy. Recognising this difference can help you address guilt without harming your self-esteem.

 

Apologise and make amends

If your guilt is related to something you feel you've done that has hurt or upset someone else, consider making amends. Offer a sincere apology and take steps to resolve the situation to the best of your ability. Sometimes, seeking forgiveness and making things right can alleviate guilt.  Sometimes the perceived ‘injured’ party isn’t quite ready to hear an apology or offer forgiveness, and this is out of your control.  However, if you have done as much as you can to ‘right’ the situation, allow yourself to let go of feelings that don’t need to sit with you.  Guilt can trap us into a place where we tell ourselves we need another person to free us (by offering us their forgiveness), but what if that means waiting days, weeks, months, years?  What if that never comes?  People are complicated and relying on other people to release us from guilty thoughts or feelings gives away our power to help ourselves heal from adverse experiences.

 

Learn from your mistakes

View mistakes as opportunities for growth and learning. Reflect on the lessons you've gained from your past actions and use them as a stepping stone for personal development. This shift in perspective can help transform guilt into a catalyst for positive change.  Notice if you are dwelling on past mistakes - this will hinder you from moving forward and relinquishing unnecessary levels of guilt or shame.  Shift your focus to the present and the future.

Practise self-compassion

Be as kind and understanding to yourself as you would be to a friend facing a similar situation. Self-compassion involves treating yourself with love, care and empathy. Remember that you deserve your own goodwill.

 

Challenge irrational beliefs

Often, guilt is fuelled by irrational beliefs or unrealistic expectations we have for ourselves. Challenge these beliefs by examining the evidence and considering alternative viewpoints. One way to do this is to imagine you're in a court of law and you're providing the arguments for both the defence and prosecution.  This is a good way to stretch your thinking so you are not focusing on just one aspect and ignoring other possibilities.

 

Seek professional help

If you find it challenging to let go of guilt and it's significantly affecting your mental health or daily life, consider seeking support from a therapist/counsellor. They can provide guidance and techniques tailored to your specific situation.  There are lots of different types of counselling that can be really helpful in challenging your own thinking and making changes that work for you.  Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT), Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Person-Centred Therapy (PCT) are just some of the potential options.  Connect with a therapist on a reputable platform such as the BACP, NCS, Counselling-Directory or Psychology Today websites.

Summary

Often, guilt is a bit of a front for what is basically nothing more than a bully inside our own heads.  Notice how you are talking to yourself, be aware of the language you are using.  Would you talk to a close friend or family member like that?  In that same tone, with those exact words?  Probably not.  So, if it’s not okay to talk to others like that, then maybe it’s not okay to talk that way to yourself any more either.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letting go of guilt is a process that requires patience and self-compassion. It involves acknowledging your mistakes in a way that keeps an appropriate context for what happened and doesn't over-inflate the situation.  It means learning from mistakes, not torturing yourself over and over again.

 

By practising forgiveness, seeking support when needed, and focusing on your personal growth and well-being, you can release the burden of guilt and move forward with a greater sense of peace and self-acceptance. 

Images kindly provided by:

<a href="https://www.vecteezy.com/free-vector/guilt">Guilt Vectors by Vecteezy</a>

<a href="https://www.vecteezy.com/free-vector/guilt">Guilt Vectors by Vecteezy</a>

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