Guilt is just a destructive emotion that is all about suffering and feeling bad. We all make mistakes. There isn't a person alive that hasn't hurt someone, whether intentionally or not. We all make mistakes and our mistakes affect others. Feeling guilty forever for those mistakes does not help them or us. If you need to right a wrong to let go of the guilt, do it.
How to Stop Feeling Guilty:
1) If you actually did something wrong (according to your own belief system, right the wrong and then let it go. When you feel guilty, you can clean up your mistake by saying: "I feel terrible about what I've done to you. I really didn't mean to hurt you. I am sorry I hurt you. The reason I did what I did is __________. What can I do to make it up to you and earn your trust again?" If the other person won't cooperate, ask them what you need to do, and if they won't accept anything, let it go.
2) Realize that no one is perfect and ask others about their issues and listen to their answers and imperfections.
3) If you made a mistake, learn your lesson and move on. If there really is no lesson to be learned, realize that and talk yourself out of the guilt by reminding yourself to forget the "shoulds" because you would probably do it the same way if you had it to do over again.
4) Ask yourself where the guilt is coming from. Then ask yourself if that is a person you want to be like (because you are following their values). Then ask yourself if that person is perfect? Of course the answer is no, so make a list of all of their imperfections. Then decide he or she does not have a right to judge you and let it go. If this person insists on making you feel guilty, use some of the points on the list to remind that person that he is a hypocrite.
5) Don't "should" on yourself. If the guilt is coming from you, then you have unrealistic expectations of yourself. But most unrealistic expectations come from our parents and other authorities who remind us that we are imperfect. Don't take on their bad view of you or their belief system about the world. Evaluate yourself by your own standards, and stop using the word "should."
6) Don't get sucked in when someone tries to guilt-trip you. "I know I'm not that important to you." "Should you have another drink?" "Isn't that too expensive for you?" "Don't you think you should go home now?" Don't answer the question or you are becoming sucked in.
Instead, state a firm boundary like, "Mother, like I said, I can't talk now, but I'll call you when I get home from work." Or, "I'll decide: when to go home, whether to have another drink, what is and isn't too expensive." Then don't keep talking or they know they got you.
7) Don't make guilt-ridden negative statements to yourself, i.e. "How could I be so stupid?!" "If only I would have been smart enough to(whatever)." "I sure screwed that one up!" "I can't believe I did that!" Instead, say positive statements to yourself. "That may have been a mistake, but I learned my lesson." "It's surprising that I misinterpreted that because I'm usually right on target."
If needed, quietly remind yourself of all of your other good traits and how great you are in other areas.
We have to demand that others accept us as we are. We can't let anyone lay his or her value judgments on us. We can't let others play God with us. And in return, we can't play God with them. Stop asking yourself, "What will people think?" Those "shoulds" keep you from enjoying your life. Those "shoulds" cause resentment, create guilt, and put responsibility where it doesn't belong. What have the "shoulds" done to you?
When we were small children, we trusted our thoughts and feelings. We knew when we felt angry or sad, and we expressed these feelings naturally without thinking about whether we should or shouldn't. Then we were told by our parents and others in society, "You shouldn't feel that way," "What do you mean you don't love your mother?," "Don't you talk to your brother like that!"
We learned to trust our parents' moral dictates: you should respect authority, you should obey your husband, you should always be polite to others. We often trust theirs more than our own.
Stop living your life the way others' want you to. Stop feeling guilty because you're not perfect, when neither are they. Live your life according to your own values and beliefs and no one else's.
About the Author
Carolyn Bushong, a Denver therapist, helps couples & singles: in her office, on-line, by phone. Author of: Loving Him Without Losing You, Bring Back the Man You Fell in Love With, The 7 Dumbest Relationship Mistakes. Has appeared on Oprah. 303-333-1888 http://www.carolynsays.com.