Guilt and Self- Forgiveness

Dec 3 2017


One minute you are noticing the beautiful blue sky, and the next your thoughts are full of angst. You start thinking about something you regret having said, something you regret having done, or a mistake you made. It feels like your mind has suddenly been kidnapped by self doubt and guilt. The kidnappers have stolen your peace of mind and left guilt, anger, fear and self condemnation. Have you ever experienced this?


Guilt is at times a reasonable reaction. For example, guilt for having purposely hurt someone is reasonable, although forgivable. More often though guilt is a result of being unnecessarily critical of yourself. When we feel guilty we forget our true value and conclude that we are unworthy and unloveable. We often have many reasons for believing we are unworthy or unloveable. We feel guilty because we got mad at a child, made a mistake at work, think we are too fat or too skinny, too boring or too dumb, or don’t do enough for an ageing parent. We may feel too guilty to ask for what we want or too guilty to express what we don't want. Sometimes we can't even identify anything in particular we have done, but guilt nags us, and we feel as though we're not good enough.

Why Can't I Simply Enjoy the Moment?

We want to enjoy the blue sky, feel good about ourselves, form great relationships, but these guilty negative thoughts keep kidnapping our joy, and holding us for ransom. We try to let go of guilt, but it keeps coming back. And when feelings of guilt and unworthiness creep back we may sabotage ourselves. This personal sabotage can take many forms: it inhibits success, deprives ourselves of good things, and opens us up to self harm as we indulge in unhealthy activities like excessive food or alcohol consumption.

Guilt is usually based on something we have done in the past, a result of thoughts, feelings or behaviours we believe are bad or unacceptable.To compound our sense of guilt, others may be quite happy to add a cup of blame to our soup of guilt: Why did you do that? How could you? Why don't you call more? You are so selfish. We are taught to feel guilty, but seldom do we learn how to forgive ourselves if we've made a mistake. Continuing to dwell on previous transgressions keeps you in the circle of guilt and shame.

Forgiveness is the Solution

The prescription for guilt is self-forgiveness. Perhaps more easily said than done as it may feel inherently wrong to forgive ourselves. We feel we should be punished for our transgressions. But it is with self-forgiveness that we let go of regrets and personal criticisms and begin to develop self acceptance. This kind of forgiveness is not granted by anyone but yourself. Forgiveness can loosen the stronghold that fear, guilt and unworthiness have on you. If there is an opportunity to apologize and make amends for hurting someone, then of course do so, but then forgive yourself. How? It begins with a willingness and a desire to let go of guilt. If you have behaved badly think about a loving response you could implement in the future. Try to think about everything you and others have done well. Forgiveness is something that you can not usually accomplish completely at one time. Instead “… you may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely.” William P. Young.

Take a minute and close your eyes. Picture yourself in a quiet spot, perhaps under a tree. Imagine the sun shining on you with just the right amount of heat. Let the warmth grow,let yourself feel unconditionally loved, imagine telling yourself you are forgiven it was just a mistake, a forgivable mistake.Let yourself experience that warmth and love, notice how it feels physically and emotionally as you choose to forgive yourself. And repeat! This isn't instantaneous, remember.