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How to Stop Feeling Guilty and Move on from the Past

Despite being of a negative nature, guilt ought to be used as a sign or a motivator for improving emotional intelligence and mental health. However, it shouldn’t be used as a motivation tactic.[1]

Guilt, triggered as a biochemical reaction of an event with bad outcome, is a negative mental energy (negative emotion), a repetitive feeling of having a bad conscience about having done something wrong or not having done something.

Consequently, there is an inner conflict that impacts self-worth, leaving a feeling of insecurity which results in lack of control over actions. Remorse follows as a result which leads to inward self-punishment that has humiliating effects on the mental health like, anxiety, doubt and complex of inferiority. It’s no wonder that one’s self-confidence is destroyed when guilt cannot be handled properly.

Obviously, we want to prevent this and learn how to not feel guilty but let guilt trigger a call for righteous action and self-improvement. In this article, we will apply 4 steps and practice to turn guilt into a positive outcome, understanding its dynamic structure as an emotion and get the knowledge of how to not feel guilty ever again.

No matter how many statistics or researches we’re going to read about the different types of guilt that have been classified, and which type of guilt we feel, nothing can help the fact that the guilt has to be faced and dealt with — because its feeling is present (but not entirely real).

The feeling of guilt must be approached with the idea of reducing the pressure of the anxiety and uncertainty created through the big question “What have I done?”

Let’s approach it right away and investigate deeper into that knowledge.

Step 1: Put Guilt Where It Belongs
You probably wonder “How long it takes to get rid of the guilt? The answer is: it can be a lifetime or only a minute – it’s a matter of understanding the origin and the nature of guilt, and your decision about the approach of dealing with it.

The approach begins by understanding the fact that the origin of guilt belongs to the past. Each time we feel guilt, we reactivate a memory of a dead event. For example, let’s say you are in a peaceful state of mind where all of a sudden, someone blames you about a thing you have (or haven’t) done some while ago. Immediately, there is (inflicted) guilt; confusion or frustration you feel.

Since the origin of guilt lies in the past, we want to handle the past to our advantage and not stay in it. Because when we do, we feed the dead event (making it alive and present) inflaming the feeling of guilt constantly. Guilt affects us physically and mentally and invites confusion and suffering to our presence.

The first step for how to not feel guilty is to:

Leave the guilt to the origin of the event – in the past.
Act consciously and constructively – in the present.
This will lift off pressure and enable you to investigate and resolve your guilt. You must act from a neutral position with a clear mind, unclouded by any emotions.

Picture this: A building is burning and you run to save your life. On your way out, you try to save as many people as possible. You have run passed more than twenty people but saved only one. You are still running, not thinking or feeling guilty about the ones you couldn’t save.

You see, you don’t get stuck in the past creating an emotion that is of no use at that moment, but stay present without inflicting guilt on you and focus on moving forward constructively to repair whatever possible. Occupy yourself with present priorities!

But what happens if there is the acknowledgement of direct actual wrongdoing caused? How to not feel guilty then?

Step 2: Improve the Skill of Acceptance
Relax, there is no person in this world that hasn’t suffered or dealt with guilt. Life consist of making mistakes and as a result of a committed mistake, guilt is an ingredient of life.

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When you’re conscious of the wrongdoing, the event still stays in the past, it is irreversible and you can put the feeling behind you by:

Accepting your guilt and the fact that you can handle it. Although the event and the cause are irreversible, its effect is temporary and you have the power to change it.
Expressing will and courage to repair the wrongdoing – firstly, to yourself, and secondly, to the parties affected by the event.
Don’t get intimidated about not possessing a heroic capacity of courage, that’s not needed here. We know that there is a lack of courage in society today, but that little courage to put the guilt behind you and focus on reparation and self-improvement, that much you have.

Acting this way will amplify your courage and you will be able to notice a sense of worth within. Instantly your suffering will cease to exist! You’re still conscious of the guilt but don’t suffer from it anymore. You’re on your way to repair and improve things and become the “better version of yourself”. Alone, this is a great achievement and an act of fulfillment.

Occupying yourself with the search for the right action will motivate you to find out what to do and how to do it.

And what to do when the guilt is self-inflicted?

Step 3: Improve Emotional Intelligence
So many times we have failed at things and felt guilty, and so many times we’ve made others feel guilty. But most of the times, many of us impose guilt on ourselves for no objective reason. The more we impose guilt on ourselves, the more we disconnect from our emotional intelligence, and fail to understand the signals of our emotions and that of other people around us.[2]

Therefore, it is inevitable to understand guilt as a sign for practicing acceptance and behavior improvement in order to improve emotional intelligence. Otherwise, we run the risk of becoming emotionally incompetent.

After a meditation seminar in Switzerland back in 2011, one of my clients said to me that she feels guilty about the global warming and deeply concerned about saving the planet. She was already living a holistic life but still wondered how to make her lifestyle even more eco-friendlier.

I recommended her to travel to a poor country and see the difference between cultures and lifestyles. She decided not to go because of the high CO2 emissions caused by the airplanes she would fly with. On top of that, she resigned from driving to work, taking the train instead which added more hours and hustle in transporting herself. She suffered badly from self-inflicted, inappropriate guilt from things she wasn’t personally responsible for. Her internal conflicts made her feel helpless.

A specific meditation on guilt which I prepared for her, helped her focus on activities in her domain of responsibilities. There she worked diligently achieving real positive outcome and her internal conflicts about the global warming came to an end. She managed to use guilt as motivator to focus on her health and achieve emotional stability. That made her realize that her actions are worthwhile and later got involved in charitable and ecological projects for poor countries.

Most of us are confronted with similar situations in life from which we impose guilt on ourselves without ever inquiring if we are really accountable for any of that guilt. I urge you to accept your position, tune in deeply within your feelings (more effective if practicing deep breathing exercises) and inquire to find out where you made a mistake.

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