How to Deal with Feelings of Guilt and Regret

Guilt is an unpleasant feeling in which a person feels regret and humiliation for something they did in the past. Guilt can be so intense that it interferes with one’s interpersonal relationships and day-to-day life.

Regret is a negative emotional state where a person feels sad, repentant or disappointed, about an event, and experiencing a sense of loss or sadness for what may have been, or wishing they could erase a prior decision. Regret might prevent someone from being unable to refocus and take corrective action, or it could lead them onto a new road.

Have you ever been lying in bed after a long day at work or school, and just as you’re ready to fall asleep, your brain brings up an argument you had with your parents years ago that you hoped no one, not even you, would remember? Have these memories either brought about feelings of guilt or regret in you that ruin the rest of your night or the next day and leave you restless? 

Guilt and regret can be powerful allies in the process of accepting, healing and learning from these moments from your past. However, having too many of these emotions might generate an imbalance and cause you to feel tired, angsty and unproductive rather than productive and positive.

Acceptance of what happened is the first step in moving forward. We as human beings are bound to make mistakes as we are not perfect and these mistakes are what help us with the healing and learning process. Reminding yourself that these moments were from your past and don’t define who you are now, can help you focus more on the present and the future as well as help with your healing process.

Healing from these guilt and regret infused moments is not easy but is doable with help from loved ones, friends and professionals. It’s easy to remember all the negative emotions from these moments but hard to understand what caused them to happen or understand that they are lessons to be learned and not sorrows to wallow in. With friends and family by your side you can confide in them and be vulnerable without the need to put up a front. It is not weak to show your emotions and is actually quite the opposite, as showing these emotions indicates that you understand yourself very well and are willing to face these uncomfortable emotions from your past that make you feel “off”. It is also important to remember that none of these mistakes you have made define who you are or will definitely happen again in the future, but can instead help shape you into a better person.

If even after confiding in friends or family you still feel feelings of guilt or regret, it is important to seek professional help, like a counsellor who can help you process what you are experiencing so that you can learn it.

Finally, learning from these experiences will help you manage similar feelings again, if you find yourself in a similar situation. Only after healing and accepting that what is done is done can you start to learn from your mistakes. Placing preventative measures such as thinking before you act or speak can help you organise your thoughts and actions before acting on impulse.

Instead of thinking back on these moments and despising them for how they make you feel, understand that they have provided you with experience to help you manage these emotions if they come up again. Smile and look towards the future with pride and confidence.