How To Deal With Guilt (When It Feels Like You Just Can't Break Free)

Photo: Photo by frank cordoba on Unsplash
how to deal with your guilt

Guilt is everywhere. 

Guilt is so common, you might feel like it’s second nature.

Do you find much of what you do — and how you do it — is driven by a feeling of guilt? Do you find yourself mentally beating yourself up over and over?Is that what’s going on for you?

If so, do you know how to deal with guilt, when it's such a part of your life?

For some people, guilt is a habit that's ingrained in their way of life. For others, it’s become a philosophy of life. They’ve been socialized to the point of normalizing it, so that they don’t question it.

RELATED: 4 Ways To Deal With People Who Constantly Guilt You

Your guilt is so ingrained that it’s more of a thought-to-thought process or even minute-to-minute.

Basically, guilt is like the operating system in your brain that calibrates itself from ground zero. Ground zero for you is guilt.

Here is an example of common way guilt might work in your life:

You wake up and immediately feel guilty because you’re going to be late for work. Then, as you get ready and dash out the door, you immediately feel guilty that you didn’t make time to have a cup of coffee with your husband the way you usually do. Later, you realize you forgot to call your friend and wish her a happy birthday.

While your brain is on overload with all of your day-to-day activities, responsibilities, and relationship challenges, you don’t notice that there’s an ongoing low vibrational hum of negativity. "Guilty as charged," circles around your psyche, mind, and soul. This is the insidious part of guilt.

No wonder you’re exhausted all the time!

The formal definition of guilt is often described as a feeling of having done something wrong or feeling like you failed to meet an obligation. It can feel like an internal clock that sounds an alarm every time you feel like you crossed an internal boundary that’s totally invisible to others.

However you define it, guilt is always there for you like a good friend. It’s loyal to you, it never leaves your side. It’s accessible, flexible, and provides easy access. It’s been with you for years and is like part of the family.

RELATED: 5 Don'ts For More Effective Communication In Your Relationship

What is your role in this dance of guilt? How are you participating in it?

Ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Do you demean yourself with guilt? For instance, "I shouldn’t have done that… I could have done this… There I go, I blew it again! I’ll never be as good as XYZ."
    The result of this pattern is you limiting yourself in life from growing and evolving into the best version of yourself. You feel less than others, undeserving and you settle for second best in most things (jobs, relationships, friends, money).
  • Do you perform acts of kindness driven by guilt? You started an argument with your husband when you were tired. When you calmed down, you felt guilty for blaming your him for something that was out of his control.
    Because you felt guilty, you tried to make it up to him by making his favorite dish for dinner, but you really didn’t feel like cooking. Your heart wasn’t in it, but you still felt compelled to do it anyway and it showed. Now you feel guilty about the dinner!
  • Do you guilt others by passively complaining and passing the blame on to someone else? Perhaps your husband thinks, "Well, if she wasn’t always in a hurry, she could have slowed down and done it right the first time." So he tells her, “If you’d just slowed down and paid closer attention, it might have been better.”
    As a result, you've been guilted into doing what someone else wants. It can be a manipulative, unhealthy and an indirect way of communicating a person's wants and needs.

  • Do you surround yourself by people who guilt you into doing their bidding? You were feeling fine until he walked into the room and said he’d be much happier if you would stay at home with him rather than go out with friends or family. Then, when you started to explain yourself, you started feeling powerless (at that moment you were powerless). Then you felt bad and eventually gave in to his wishes.
    As a result, more often than not, you start placing other people’s feelings ahead of your own! People-pleasers are especially affected by feelings of guilt and need to be needed. This is a red flag that can lead to a long-standing pattern resulting in low self-esteem and feeling undeserving of what you want.

Now that you know your guilt patterns, here are four ways to deal with guilt, so that it doesn't have to rule your life:

1. Observe your inner experience.

Notice how you feel on the inside and identify it. Is it negative or positive? If you feel negative around other people, (guilt is negative), then perhaps it’s time to figure out who’re your real friends?

2. You have a choice; you don't have to "buy into" their agenda.

Take the fish hook out of your mouth.

Observe your situation and the people in it. How are you feeling in that moment?

Example: You feel good then suddenly you sense a shift and the person in front of you is saying that they want you to do things their way to make them feel better. The thing is, you don’t feel good anymore!

Ask yourself: “Where did that come from? When did I start feeling negative in that conversation?”

Remember, it only works if you “buy into” their way of thinking. Once you allow yourself to feel guilty you will!

3. Start rehearsing how to respond differently to the other person.

When you’re alone in front of a mirror, practice speaking out loud with a firm audible voice. You can shout “NO! NO! NO!”, 20 times to desensitize yourself to actually saying, “No.” However, the ultimate goal is to feel good, feel strong, and to feel empowered (not anxious) when you are facing the person in real conversation.

Stand tall and say it to the person, face to face:

“XYZ, I know that won’t work for me.”

“XYZ, that definitely will not work for me.”

“Actually, I was thinking of something else, so that won’t work for me.”

Then smile. They will feel your strength and be confused on how to respond.

NOTE: This is not advised if you are in an abusive or domestic violence relationship. If that applies to you, please seek professional help, and/or reach out to your nearest domestic violence hotline, or call 911.

4. Meditate for five minutes.

You are a beautiful, loving, intelligent, vibrant person with good intentions! It is time to put yourself at the top of the list.

Take five minutes and sit in silence, no cell, no TV, no kids, no dogs and just listen to your breath. Check in and ask yourself: “How do I feel?” “What do I want right now?” (a hug, a cup of coffee, silence, a hot bath)? Then do it! 

After ten days, increase your time to ten minutes and so on. You deserve to reclaim power over your life now.

RELATED: 10 Easy Ways To Show Yourself The Unconditional Love You DESERVE

Margot Brown has helped couples and individuals create happier lives for over twenty years. She’s the author of Kickstart Your Relationship Now! Move On or Move Out. You can find it on Amazon and in local bookstores near you.