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4 Ways to Ditch Guilt for Good

Guilt -- it's toxic, it eats away at you and it can stay with you for a lifetime. It's often a mix of many different emotions like sadness, hurt, anger, frustration, fear, jealousy, pride and shame.
09/17/2015 03:00pm ET | Updated December 6, 2017
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Guilt -- it's toxic, it eats away at you and it can stay with you for a lifetime. It's often a mix of many different emotions like sadness, hurt, anger, frustration, fear, jealousy, pride and shame.

It's a parasite that hooks into your brain and tells you things like, "You're a bad person." "You're worthless." "You deserve to suffer."

I've done some things in my life I'm not exactly proud of (I'm guessing you probably have too). But at some point you have to let go of the guilt and move on.

So here are four ways to ditch guilt for good.

1. The friend test

It works like this: If your best friend told you that they [insert your current gnawing guilt here]:

  • What would you say to them?
  • Would you reassure them?
  • Would you judge them?
  • Would you tell them they're a terrible person?

Think about the advice you'd give to someone you care about if they were in your situation.

It's likely you wouldn't be nearly as critical of them as you are of yourself.

2. Apologize and seek forgiveness

It can take courage to admit you were wrong, but if you feel it -- say it.

Don't bottle it up. The likely outcome will be that the person you're apologising to:

  • Didn't think it was such a big deal, you'll hug it out and move on;
  • Will be upset but appreciate your apology, you'll hug it out and move on;
  • Will be upset, and appreciate your apology but will want some time to rebuild the trust; or
  • Will choose not to forgive you.

Also, please know that sometimes people will choose to stay angry. It might not be about you or what you've done. In fact, it might have nothing to do with the current situation at all -- it could be other stuff completely and if that's the case, that's their problem not yours.

If they won't forgive you, forgive yourself and move on.

3. Forgive yourself

We all get snappy and say the wrong thing. We all do things we wish we could take back. But at some point you have to let it go, forgive yourself and stop using your mistake as a reason to label yourself "bad."

You are not the problem. You made a poor choice. We all do. So stop telling yourself that this one mistake proves you're worthless.

It's not worth turning one mistake into a lifetime of misery.

Instead, take some time to remind yourself of all the nice, kind and thoughtful things you've done for others -- there's plenty of evidence that you're a good person if you look for it.

4. The reflection test

The only person you hurt by holding onto guilt is you. Think about it:

  • If you hold onto this guilt for another 30, 40 or 50 years, what will it do to you?
  • How will you feel?
  • How will your relationships be?
  • Will your guilt stop you from connecting with others?
  • How will you feel about yourself?

Looking into the future like this can help you release things quicker. Instead of looking back years from now and thinking, "I wish I hadn't tortured myself for so long about [insert your gnawing guilt here]," let it go now.

Ask yourself if it's really worth holding onto this guilt. Does it help you or hinder you

Summary

1. Be your own best friend -- treat yourself with a little loving kindness.
2. Do what you can to fix the situation. If you can't fix it, learn from it.
3. Forgive yourself -- don't turn one mistake into a lifetime of misery.
4. Reflect and release.

And remember, the only person you're hurting by holding on to guilt is you.