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What to do when guilt is spoiling your life!

What to do when guilt is spoiling your life!

Recently I wrote about shame and how to deal with it (Is shame spoiling your life?). Guilt and shame both come from a sense of having done something considered bad, stupid or wrong. Shame comes from a fear of being disapproved of by others. Guilt comes from disapproving of ourselves – we have broken our own code of values.

When we feel guilty, we may try to put things right by confessing and saying sorry. Or we may punish ourselves – for example, in an extreme form, taking an overdose. We may allow others to punish us – putting up with bad treatment, sometimes for years. Or we may anaesthetise ourselves – for example, with drink or or drugs and sometimes over-work.

Sometimes guilt is about things we've done and sometimes it is about things we should have done but didn't – for example not making the time to support a friend in trouble.

Guilt has a bad reputation in the 21st Century but it isn't all bad. It may be guilt which leads the thief to confess and make restitution.

But guilt can be corrosive. It can cause years of misery and erode confidence. And sometimes when we have the courage to explore it, we find the pain we feel is much greater than the pain we caused.

One of the best ways to tackle your feelings of guilt is to work out just what part you played . What in reality was your degree of responsibility?
  • List all the people and factors that played a part in the event
  • Look at the evidence for their contribution to what happened
  • Give them a percentage rating – out of 100
  • Include yourself last
  • The overall total for all must not be more than 100

You can complete a responsibility pie chart like that shown here with the results.

Redistributing the guilt doesn't mean that you get off the hook. But it does give you sense of reality and of proportion.

But labeling yourself as bad, doesn't actually do any good. Much better to examine the facts, say sorry, put things right if you can and move on.

But do look at your own moral standards and the “should” statements that you find yourself using about yourself and other people. Taking a more tolerant attitude which substitutes “I'd like to” for “I should” is likely to make life better, both for you and those about you.

It is right for us to feel remorse when we have hurt or damaged someone else. But guilt without action achieves only our own misery. Recognise your own humanity - like the rest of us, you get things wrong sometimes. Learn to forgive yourself as you forgive others.

As a life coach, I work with people who want to work on their feelings of guilt and shame. If you would like to work with me, please get in touch. My email address is below.

Wendy Mason is a Life and Career Coach.  She helps people have the confidence they need to be successful at work and to change career while maintaining a good work/life balance. You can email her at wendymason
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