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Healthy Minds Healthy College

Dealing with guilt

March 11, 2015


Everyone experiences guilt at one time or another during their life. While some guilt can induce positive change, it can also become self-destructive, wasting energy and adding unnecessary stress to your life.

Read on for some tips on processing these feelings so that you can eliminate, or at least minimize, your guilt.

  • Choose not to rehearse guilt. 
Do you find yourself repeating the same guilty thoughts over and over again? They won’t go away on their own. You must choose to make them stop. 

To do so, make an effort to catch yourself when you find yourself wandering down that painful mental path. Put up a mental stop sign. You can also choose a physical action, such as snapping your fingers, to remind yourself to change direction. Then, deliberately focus on something else, such as your plans for tomorrow. Focusing on something positive in the future is a conscious reminder that there is more to your life than negatives from the past.
  • Choose to accept what cannot be changed. 
Chances are you’ve already changed anything that needed to be changed about the situation so a self-imposed “penance” for past mistakes accomplishes nothing. It doesn’t change or make up for the past, it simply ruins your future. The proactive thing you can do now is accept that the only thing you can change is your future.
  • Choose balance. Guilt keeps us focused on the times we imagine we failed. It blinds us to all the other times when we were successful. So the next time your mind drifts into unhappy, guilty thoughts, choose to refocus. Actively remind yourself of times where you made good decisions, were responsible or did something you were proud of. Write down a list of the things you did. Force yourself to remember what went right. Recognize that there is, and always has been, a balance between your failures and your successes.
  • Choose forgiveness. 
Forgiveness is a necessity in any relationship, including the one you have with yourself. Treat yourself with the same degree of love and acceptance that others give you and that you give others. Only then will you be able to heal.

The world benefits from individuals who choose to learn from their mistakes and move on to make a difference. Don’t let guilt keep you locked in a lifetime of misery. Choose to forgive, to love, and to move forward.