How to deal with Guilt

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better ”- Maya Angelou. Many times we have made decisions that we thought were the right thing or the best thing to do at the time. Looking back we may realize that our decision may have been a mistake. We all make mistakes, it is part of life. However, sometimes our mistakes may give us a powerful emotion called guilt.

Guilt, a complex and often overwhelming emotion, is something every individual grapples with at some point in their lives. However, when guilt is excessive it can bring many negative emotions such as a sense of worthlessness, anxiety, and depression. Everyone needs to learn to keep guilt in its place. In this article, we will delve into the depths of guilt, exploring its origins, and how to deal with excessive guilt.

The nature of Guilt

Guilt is an emotion that we feel when we have done something that we should not have done or something we have failed to do. This makes us feel that we have fallen short of our standards. Therefore due to our behaviour, we can sometimes think that we are worthless and especially bad. The concept bad or badness of self is the centre of guilt. As Dr David Burns illustrates When the feeling of badness is not present it it can lead to a healthy feeling of remorse. Remorse is aimed at the regret of a behavior while guilt is targeted towards the self ( Burns, 1980). When you feel guilty about what you did certain thoughts may come to your mind:

  • I cannot believe I did that, what was I thinking?
  • Imagine if people found out what I did. What will they think of me? They will properly look down on me
  • My bad/stupid actions are going to get me in trouble and I might be punished. ( this causes anxiety).

Is feeling guilty bad?

The question is, is guilt always a bad thing? That is a difficult question but I think it is better to feel remorseful about what you did rather than guilty because more often than not it causes many internal problems. However what if what you did was truly bad? Well, it is true that sometimes we may do bad things but that does not mean we are a bad person. No one is entirely good and no one is entirely bad. How will thinking that you are a bad person make you grow and do better? Well, the answer is obvious, it won’t.

You will properly think: “ I’m already bad and worthless so why even bother?“ This kind of thinking is what breaks people. It is what makes people not forgive themselves for the mistakes they did and it is what makes people depressed and even suicidal.

The solution

The solution to dealing with guilt is to understand that a bad decision does not make you a bad person. Even many bad decisions do not make you a bad person. To think that you are a bad person is an over-generalization. It means that you cannot do good and that is an illogical and distorted way of thinking because everyone can do something good. Let’s say for example that although you know you are not bad maybe you think that you deserve to suffer.

Okay if you feel that way then how long should you suffer for? What is the duration that will satisfy your suffering? One week, a month, or a year? However long it is the truth is that it is not going to make what you did go away nor it is going to help you so what is the point?

As stated before the key is to keep guilt in its place. How can we do that? It starts with empathy and forgiveness. You are not perfect and you were never meant to be, show me someone who is. Acknowledge your mistakes and understand that making mistakes is a fundamental part of being human. Learn and grow by reflecting on your actions, understand why they happened, and make a conscious effort not to repeat them.


The article above discussed the concept of guilt. Excessive guilt can be destructive and can do more harm than good. There is no reason to torture yourself with the mistakes that you have made. This does not mean that you must approve of what you did but you can accept what you did learn to do better. Moving forward do not forget the wise words of Maya Angelou: “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better ”