How To Deal With Guilt and Regret: How to Forgive Yourself

You must forgive yourself. Allow it to go. Let it go. It’s easy to say but a lot more difficult to do! Everyone has made mistakes a couple of times, whether wrongfully yelling at someone, self-destructive behavior, or slacking at work. With those errors, feelings of guilt overwhelm us, shame, self-condemnation, and Humiliation.

We’ve all made mistakes many times, and the emotions that surface due to our actions, such as guilt and regret, can be intense.

Feeling guilty or regretful are both common emotions that fall into the general category of sadness, but is there any more profound insight that we can gain from these emotions? How do we manage guilt and regret whenever they come up?

Life coaches and counselors have observed that these emotions can cause anxiety, depression, stress problems, and heart disease if not dealt with. Not exactly the recipe to live a blissful life! But if you understand the art of forgiveness and then decide to release the guilt, you can avoid the negative consequences and live your life more happily.

What is Guilt?

If shame tells us we are bad, guilt tells us we’ve done something bad. Both of these emotions can be found in the variety of feelings that we feel when we fall short of our own or other people’s standards and expectations.

If we feel guilty, it’s a signal that we’ve committed a mistake and need to do something to rectify it in the form of an apology or change of behavior. When we realize we have hurt another person and feel bad about it, seeking to make it right, this type of guilt is remorse.

There are four major kinds of guilt:

Natural Guilt

This is how you feel when you do something wrong, such as letting people down. It is possible to feel compelled to apologize for your actions; this kind of guilt tends to last only a few days and then fades when you’ve done the right thing.

Chronic Guilt

This kind of guilt is usually associated with chronic stress, which means that you’ve experienced stress over an extended period of time. Chronic guilt has a major impact on your ability to manage your emotions, and it can affect your relationships and the ability to work or perform. In this way, chronic guilt can be linked to burnout; it may also be associated with times of depression that are severe.

Survivor Guilt

Those who survive traumatic events, particularly when others did not, may experience survivor guilt. The most common response is regret, sadness, and guilt over being happy to feel alive. The emotions of those who suffer from survivor guilt can be inconsistent and difficult to recognize.

Collective Guilt

While other forms of guilt affect people individually, collective guilt is felt by a group of people who are responsible, typically for an event in which people suffer. In this way, it frequently is a result of racism or other issues that are systemic that make the issue of collective guilt more difficult to address.

What does Guilt feel like?

Guilt is felt throughout the body and within the mind. For some people, feelings of guilt can be felt in the stomach. They can be felt as an intense feeling, nausea, or feeling empty. Other physical signs include muscle tension, fatigue, digestive problems, insomnia, and crying.

For others, guilt may affect mood, causing you to feel down, nervous, or even anxious. It can also trigger an intense sense of responsibility for your actions and the desire to rectify the mistake; this can lead to self-criticism, which can result in feelings of self-esteem loss or feeling unworthy.

Sometimes, you won’t be aware of your guilt as it manifests in unconscious ways, including defense and downplaying your shortcomings, lying, or negative self-images at a deeper scale.

Guilt is a strong emotion, but while the emotions you feel about guilt might be uncomfortable, they can be utilized to your advantage.

What can you learn from your own mistakes?

The guilt that we feel is an obvious sign that the actions we’ve taken are out of line with our beliefs. Although unpleasant, it can be beneficial since it’s the feeling that drives us to take action and change our behavior for the better.

What is Regret? Is Regret Different from Guilt?

Regret is different from guilt as it’s an emotion we often experience when an outcome is not what we wanted, counted on, or thought would happen. It’s closely linked to discontent, usually experienced when we believe the result was not within our control, but with regret, we think that the result was due to our actions or decisions.

Learning from guilt could be different depending on the individual, but the primary learning will likely involve the process of self-reflection, introspection, and retrospection on what went wrong the way it did, what caused it, and how you can make better choices immediately, and in the near future and the lessons you’ve gained about yourself during the process.

What are the Most Common Causes of Regret?

Research suggests that about 90 percent of regrets fall within one of the six types of regret:

Dr. Brene Brown’s research into regret revealed that the things we are most unhappy about and regret most are our failures of courage, whether it’s the courage to be kinder, to show up, to say how we feel, to set boundaries, to be good to ourselves, or to say yes to something scary. She goes on to talk about her own experiences of regret:

“Regret is a lesson for me to remember that a life outside of my beliefs isn’t a good idea for me. Regrets over not taking risks have helped me become more courageous. The regrets of blaming or shaming those I love have helped me become more reflective. In some cases, the most difficult learning is also the most effective.” – Dr. Brené Brown, Atlas of the Heart.

Why is Regret such a Difficult Emotion?

Regret is usually caused by self-blame, but sometimes also guilt and it can be particularly hurtful when we’re not adept at recognizing accountability. When it comes to the ways we experience regret, it can range from mild discomfort to deep hurt. It’s also common to underestimate how regret can make us feel disconnected from ourselves and our personal relationships.

Studies suggest that people look at regrets differently in the short term versus over the longer period. 

  • In the short run, we usually regret the bad results where we’ve taken action. 
  • In the longer term, we tend to regret the actions we did not take and the moves we did not do, interpreting them as missed chances and opportunities.

What can You Learn from Regret?

As with other emotions that are painful, the lessons we take from regret could be an effective reminder that change, reflection, and growth are feasible and necessary.

Regret does have a silver lining. Dr. Brown’s research also found that regret emerged as a function of empathy: ‘When used constructively, it’s a call to courage and a path toward wisdom,’ she says.

How to Deal with Feelings of Guilt and Regret

It’s crucial to acknowledge your guilt and regret; the attempt to reduce or hide them might work in the short term, but any relief you get from this strategy won’t last long. Instead, if you follow the tips below, you’ll experience a long-lasting reduction and eventually let go of that feeling. Feelings of guilt and regret could linger in various forms throughout your life; the following steps can assist:

Name the emotion

Research has proven that naming emotions lowers their intensity, so if you’re looking for an easy and simple first step to take, talk about the emotion you’re experiencing. Speak out loudly, “I’m feeling guilty or “I have so many regrets.” If you can not say it out loud, then note it down. Labeling is a type of what psychologists refer to as ’emotional regulation’, which explains how humans deal with emotions and the abilities they can acquire to become better at it.

Be curious about your feelings; think about what they could tell you. Sometimes, the feelings may change from one thing to the next, and it’s a good idea to become familiar with how you’re feeling, the location in your body, and what you consider helpful or not when dealing with emotions.

These abilities can be useful regardless of how you’re experiencing them. It’s a method that you improve and perfect over the course of days, weeks, months, and years. It’s an integral part of our normal development process as we age.

Be clear about the cause of your feelings

If you’re feeling guilty or regretful, you have a reason for the feelings. You may have been unkind to someone, said something you regret later, acted negatively, hurt someone, shunned an uncomfortable situation, caused conflict, or another situation that you are embarrassed about.

If you can get at the root of the incident, and your choices and the consequences of those choices, you can begin to comprehend the reason and cause of what you’re currently experiencing. Only when we bring something to our awareness that we have the chance to work to correct the situation. This knowledge is crucial if we are going to take action to prevent an event similar to this from happening in the future.

Since we are so enmeshed with pride, corrections can be difficult to give freely and receive gracefully. It is possible to say that we are grateful for constructive criticism and feedback or perhaps say we’re open enough to recognize our shortcomings and adjust whenever necessary.

However, even if we learn to accept criticism and corrections that help us improve, hearing these things isn’t always simple, though it could become more of a breeze and get easier. We sometimes tend to be defensive and experience a certain amount of resentment whenever someone gives us criticism or challenges us. This is particularly the case if we’ve never requested feedback but they provide it. This kind of criticism could also push us into despair or cause us to feel as if we should give up.

How Well Do You Handle Correction?

Apologize and try to make things right

Apologize, particularly when our actions cause harm to someone else; it is the first step towards fixing the situation.

An effective apology goes beyond just saying, “I’m sorry.” If you include more details of what you’re apologizing for, convey to the person what you’re apologizing for and that you’re conscious of the consequences of your actions, including this information within your explanation is always helpful. Let the person you apologize to know your thoughts about their emotions during this. Say what you’re hoping to do to be better in the future because this will signal to them that you would like things to be different the next time.

Even if you’ve apologized, that does not mean that the person who apologized is obliged to accept your apology. It could be that they would like or require time to think about what they are feeling and consider what they may want, which is their right. If this is the case, you will likely feel more uncomfortable within yourself, and you’ll require ways to accept the discomfort.

In certain circumstances, there are times when you may not get the closure or forgiveness you’re looking for, so you’ll need to figure out ways to accept the actions you’ve taken. If you’re having trouble with this issue, think about talking to a friend or a counselor who can assist you in coming to accept the reality of the situation.

Commit to doing things differently in the future

An apology can only be completed when you realize that your actions may have harmed others and you pledge to do things differently from then on.

Make a list of the changes you might take should the same situation be faced, and consider strategies to address the problem differently.

Consider your values, whether religious, spiritual, or secular, and consider how your behavior and actions may or might not reflect your convictions; seek ways to bring these two closer; this could require dedication and perseverance, but by keeping these beliefs and values in front of your mind, you’ll naturally start to work towards them.

The process of identifying a goal could be a great way to get started on a change in behavior. For instance, if you feel guilt or regret stemming from something you did, you can set an objective for sobriety and work towards it; this is a crucial and effective way of demonstrating to the world and yourself that you are regretful about the incident and have a commitment to doing things differently.

Work towards self-forgiveness

It can be difficult to forgive yourself since all you can focus on is sadness, regret, or guilt. But being self-critical isn’t the way to go; this only increases your sour mood and makes you feel even more burdened.

Self-forgiveness is closely connected to self-compassion. Self-compassion operates at three levels:

  • Being gentle to yourself.
  • Acknowledging that we all have mistakes.
  • Having a sense of mindfulness.

One of the most effective ways to develop self-compassion is to think about what you would say to a person who is having a similar experience. You are likely to be kind to them and find methods to assist them in viewing things more positively while accepting the situation and reminding them of the positive characteristics of their personality. Apply this principle to yourself.

Talk to someone

Regret and guilt can have a profound influence on your life. So, If you’ve attempted to deal with this issue on your own with no success, it could be time for outside assistance. It could be as simple as talking to someone you trust as a family friend, a community leader, or even a psychiatrist.

Therapy from talking offers help for many emotional issues and mental health issues, and there’s no shame in seeking assistance when you require it.

What Is Forgiveness? Why Is It So Important?

It is a conscious decision to release negative feelings you have towards yourself or someone else. The negative emotions you may experience before forgiveness are those mentioned earlier: guilt, shame, self-condemnation, Humiliation, anger, or bitterness.

The ability to forgive mistakes or misdeeds is vital for your health. Dr. Frederic Luskin at Stanford University stated in his findings that “learning to forgive can help people feel less hurt, suffer less anger, experience less stress, and experience less depression. People who forgive have significantly less signs of stress like tension in the muscles, backache, headaches, dizziness, and stomach upsets. Additionally, they have reported an improvement in sleeping patterns, appetite, and energy levels as well as general well-being.”

Giving yourself and others forgiveness can help you release negative feelings and concentrate on a more positive future; this can also help you strengthen your relationships with the people who are closest to you.

Why Is Self-Forgiveness So Hard?

A lot of times, we blame ourselves for our past mistakes, thinking that we can somehow “make up” the wrong that we’ve made. We go through our days feeling less than; we claim to be losers and are not doing anything to improve; we live in a bind to our pasts, holding the grudges and hurts of our past, even though nobody is aware of our secrets, our negative emotions eat away at the happiness and joy in our lives.

Life coaches and counselors say that the most difficult one to forgive is yourself, not your friend who stabbed you or the dad who didn’t support you, maybe even the person who broke your heart.

Why? Because you know yourself and you live with yourself every day.

How to Embrace Forgiveness

Talk about it

In the case of your past, silence could be fatal, so stop pretending. Let go of the burden of keeping it all inside and discuss what’s breaking your heart. Share the feelings you are experiencing with a mentor, counselor, or someone you are confident in. To forgive, you must be transparent and open about who you really are, both your rights and wrongs, the good and the bad. So say what you needs to be said.

Be honest with yourself.

We tend to think, “If I just pretend it never happened, maybe it will all go away.” It sounds nice, but it’s not true; make the choice to get out of denial and become proactive; recognize the ways in which you’ve made mistakes and the consequences. Note down the specific behavior and actions that cause your anxiety.

Accept it for what it is

You have made a mistake, mistakes, or even done the wrongs. Be honest with yourself; if you have hurt someone, you’ll have regrets.

You do have the option of choosing; your past could keep you stuck in a cycle of shame and guilt, or you take it as it is and enjoy the freedom to move forward and live in the present. Self-acceptance is essential for your emotional well-being, So don’t let it slip away!

Let go

Do not hold onto guilt; it is not necessary to justify your actions in the past or demonstrate your worth; the process of letting go of the past involves burying it and giving up your right to engage in self-condemnation. The choice to forgive is an act; it’s a decision to stop tearing yourself down and begin to see yourself as a worthy human being.

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Dealing with complicated feelings of regret and guilt requires a thoughtful and reflective approach; the ability to forgive oneself is a vital step towards recovery and personal development; this involves acknowledging the mistakes made and their consequences and accepting responsibility for the actions of one’s self. Being self-compassionate can help to break that cycle of regret; focusing on growing and learning instead of dwelling on past regrets can build resilience and well-being. When practicing forgiveness in oneself and towards others, one can clear the way for a prosperous and fulfilled life, a future free of the burdens and burdens of guilt that remain unsolved and regretful. Self-forgiveness is a process that begins by letting go and begin to move forward with a new sense of compassion and understanding towards self. 

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