22 Ways to Stop Feeling Guilty All the Time
All that self-blame can take a major toll on your mental and physical health. Here’s how to retrain your brain to stop feeling guilty.
Quit the blame game
When something goes wrong, we naturally start looking for a person to blame—and that person is often ourselves. But feeling guilty won’t help the situation. Remember that the world is complex, and often a whole series of events contributed to what went wrong. Don’t bear (or assign) all the blame for the outcome, but accept that bad things happen, no matter how hard you try. Try these 28 tiny pick-me-ups for when you’re having the worst day ever.
Get to the root of your guilt
Do some soul-searching and figure out you are feeling guilty, instead of ruminating over it. If you feel like you should be volunteering at your kids’ school more, ask yourself why you haven’t. Have other parents made comments that make you feel like you’re not doing enough? Does the thought of reading out loud give you anxiety, but you’d happily help with snack duty at a class party? You know what’s best for you and your family, so getting to the bottom of your guilt will help you find a solution and get over those guilty feelings.
Keep a guilt journal
As soon as guilty feelings start to nag, jot them down in a journal. Record the time, day, and why you feel bad, then revisit your entries every couple of weeks. Look for any trends that might help explain the underlying reasons for your guilt. Here are easy steps you can take to develop a positive attitude.
Give yourself a true retreat
A vacation is hardly a vacation if you spend the entire time thinking about what productive things you “should” be doing instead. When you feel those thoughts creeping in, remind yourself why you took a break from stress in the first place. After all, getting away from the anxiety of your daily grind is a much-needed break that will help you get back feeling refreshed. Here’s how to ensure your free time is truly relaxing.
Looking out for yourself isn’t selfish—it’s healthy. Realize that sometimes putting yourself first is truly the best option.
Correct your mistakes
Sometimes we spend more energy beating ourselves up for our mistakes than it would take to make it right. If you feel bad that you went shopping instead of playing outside with your kids over the weekend, take them to the park this evening.
Be a friend to yourself
Try to see your mistake from someone else’s perspective. If your friend were feeling guilty about a similar issue, would you want that person to internalize those same feelings? You’re probably being harder on yourself than anyone would expect or want, so give yourself the same benefit of the doubt that you’d allow anyone else. Don’t miss these ways to be nicer to yourself.
Realize you weren’t necessarily wrong
iStock/Eva Katalin Kondoros
Other people’s reactions can make you feel guilty, even when you weren’t in the wrong. Maybe you are in need of a quiet day to yourself when a high-maintenance friend calls with another crisis. Saying “no” while you relax means you set limits to protect your mental health—not that you’re a bad friend. In fact, you’ll probably find yourself able to give better advice if you don’t feel so much pressure. Here are 24 ways you can be an even better friend.
Take a measurable step toward fixing the problems you’ve been beating yourself up over. Start by making a list of everything you’re feeling guilty about. Maybe you let a coworker down, have a tendency of hurting your partner, or can’t stop ruminating over a childhood event. Now take a step to help you make amends. Write a letter, apologize face-to-face, or commit to making a change. Once you feel like you’ve made a positive step, it will be easier to give yourself permission to forgive yourself.
Just say “no”
Make a practice of saying no at least once a day. You’ll regain control over your life and realize you don’t have to feel guilty every time you refuse an extra burden.
Look ahead, not behind
Ruminating over the things you can’t change won’t solve anything—it just lets feelings eat away at you. Instead of asking, “What if?” ask yourself, “What now?” Learn from your past mistakes, and use them to make a positive change to your own life and others around you.
Get someone else’s perspective
If you’re kicking yourself over a specific incident, bring it up with a friend or relative who was there. You might be remembering the situation incorrectly, and a loved one can help remind you of the context and rationalize your actions. Here are ways to make managing stress easier.
Ignore the guilt trip
If a parent, partner, or boss is making you feel awful, take control of your own reaction. Apologize sincerely and make amends if necessary, but don’t let someone else define how your mistake should make you feel. At the end of the day, you’re the only one accountable for your actions.
Check your priorities
Write down your top three priorities, whether it’s your kids, your partner, your career, your spirituality, or your health. If you start feeling guilty about something you didn’t do, pull out your list. Not in your top three? Not worth the guilt trip.
Know your gifts make up for your failures
You might not be gifted in every area, but you do have talents to offer. Maybe you don’t always make healthy homemade meals, but you have never missed your kids’ soccer games. Or even if you aren’t the type to make big romantic gestures, your partner probably knows you will always listen and say the right thing when something happens.
List your good qualities
You are probably your own worst critic, so it’s easy to ignore your good qualities and focus on what you do wrong. But being secure and happy with yourself can do wonders in fighting against that inner critic. Write down ten things you love about yourself, and pull it out whenever you’re feeling inadequate. Here are more tricks to beat negative self-talk.
Remember: Moderation is OK
Quit feeling guilty over your indulgences. Red wine can help your heart, dark chocolate is full of antioxidants, and popcorn is packed with fiber. A little treat won’t kill you (and probably won’t add ten pounds), so give yourself permission to enjoy those little luxuries.
Set aside time to feel guilty
Take five minutes to let those guilty feelings come to you. Now either remedy that problem (give your mom a call, or carve out time for the gym), or take it as a lived-and-learned lesson and forgive yourself.
Know there are things beyond your control
You are just one person, and you weren’t meant to bear the world’s problems. Just do your best and be who you are, and realize that it isn’t your responsibility to fix every problem in society.
Don’t leave guilt unresolved
If you’ve been harboring feelings of guilt from wronging someone, especially a parent or older relative, say something. You’ll feel better if you get those feelings out in the open, rather than feeling regret when it’s too late. And don’t miss these 14 science-backed ways to forgive.
Make an immediate change
Taking a step to right your wrong will help you get past your mistake. If you got seconds at dessert last night, stay an extra 20 minutes at the gym today. If you feel like you’ve been prioritizing work over family, take the day off and spend time with your kids. Now that you’ve made a temporary fix, you can proceed guilt-free, and try to avoid those same mistakes in the future.
Repeat a mantra
If you start feeling like you aren’t worthy of your success, hang a sign that says, “I deserve this” by your desk. If you start feeling like a fake for what you’ve achieved, repeat the saying 15 times and remember all the hard work that got you there. Find yourself feeling too guilty all the time? These are the 28 things you need to stop apologizing for.