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How can I Stop Feeling Guilty About Everything?

Michael Pollick
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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There are times when a sense of guilt can motivate us to make amends, change a destructive pattern or own up to a misdeed. Once the wrong has been righted, this sense of guilt is often replaced with a sense of relief or moral balance. But what happens when a sense of guilt never fully goes away, or is replaced by an even greater sense of guilt or shame? How can a person stop feeling guilty when he or she understands on an intellectual level that he or she has not committed any actual wrongdoing or shameful act?

One of the reasons a person may not have the ability to stop feeling guilty is upbringing. A child who has been unfairly blamed for the wrongs of others, for example, may decide to absorb those feelings of guilt rather than escalate the situation or confront the true culprit. It may be easier to accept the blame for a minor infraction rather than trigger an even bigger confrontation with the real wrongdoers. Over time, a passive child may not be able to stop feeling guilty for either the infraction itself or her inability or unwillingness to defend herself or properly reassign the blame. This early pattern of accepting the guilt of others can make it difficult for an adult to not feel guilty about past events.

Another reason some people may not be able to stop feeling guilty is due to long memories and few opportunities to reconcile them. It is not unusual to replay specific memories over and over again, especially those which leave us with strongly mixed emotions of guilt, embarrassment or shame. An event which triggers feelings of guilt in one person may actually be a blip on the radar for others. If you want to eliminate guilt over past events, you may want to consider psychotherapy or other forms of personal counseling which encourages "talk therapy." Sometimes the mere act of vocalizing a guilt-inspiring memory can help you overcome it and reduce your present day level of undefined guilt.

Sometimes a person's own personality works against them when dealing with feelings of guilt. A perfectionist who fails to achieve an impossible goal, for example, may punish himself with unnecessary guilt for his perceived lack of focus. A person with a tendency to be a people pleaser may torture herself with guilt if someone rejects her overtures of friendship or doesn't praise her efforts on a project. To stop feeling guilty when no reason for guilt exists, you may want to examine what personality traits may be triggering those feelings and what can be done to gain perspective on those traits first. Once a perfectionist learns to live with imperfection, for example, then he or she should not experience nearly as much unnecessary feelings of guilt.

Some people find that they stop feeling guilty when they've either resolved or at least made an effort to resolve past indiscretions. This could mean calling a former classmate or co-worker or friend and making a formal apology for something you might have done or said. You might want to discuss a guilt-inspiring childhood memory with someone who was there and can assure you no permanent damage was done. Feelings of guilt can also be a sign of clinical depression, so you may want to consider having a medical professional prescribe medication for depression or anxiety.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to The Health Board, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon989421 — On Mar 05, 2015

I feel guilty almost every day. I don't feel good about myself especially if I'm talking with my friends and later on I will feel like I should have not said that. I feel guilty when I buy something for myself so that's why sometimes I don't. I don't like myself sometimes and I cry because I know no one will understand how I feel.

By anon950535 — On May 11, 2014

Thanks for the post, I could really relate to this.

When I was little a lot of people were always angry with me for no good reason and now I seem to feel guilty a lot of time (even when I haven't done anything at all). I hope one day I'll be able to have a conversation without feeling bad that the other person has to look at my face, or having to worry about how my joke wasn't that funny, or that I can stop being paranoid about people being angry with me when they don't praise me.

Or that I can stop apologizing about the time I left a party 30 minutes early.

But on the other hand, I'm only 18, so maybe teenage hormones have a lot to do with it. I should be patient a little longer.

By anon357438 — On Dec 04, 2013

Yesterday I was with my uncle and I went to visit his friend, who had a heart attack a few days back and was in line for bypass surgery within a few days. A friend of our uncle’s was at his home on bed rest and he was happy to meet his friend. He offered us a cup of coffee and was smiling and talking and sharing jokes with us, then suddenly he said, (while sitting) and I quote, "I am not feeling good. I am not feeling good," then he just went unconscious.

We rushed and tried to help him but we got no response. I put him on his back and pressed his chest, but I got no response then I took out the car and we put him in and went to the hospital which was very near (three-minute drive). The doctors received us at the hospital and they took him to the emergency room. They tried everything but could not save him.

I have been feeling guilty since last night. I am a dentist so I know about CPR and stuff but I didn’t perform it. I asked others to do it. I was so busy in taking out the car (I was the only driver) that I forgot my primary job at that time: "perform the CPR, try to stabilize the patient and then take out that damned car." Others were pumping his heart but I could do it better. I believe maybe I could have saved his life. I could have done a better job.

By Andy52 — On Nov 22, 2013

I need advice for my husband. He is feeling guilt, not because of anything he did or can control, but he has a genetic disorder and is feeling guilty about his health problems. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

By anon351896 — On Oct 17, 2013

Thanks to everyone for sharing your stories. I'm finding myself feeling guilty over every small detail almost any day. I remember how I used to take the blame from someone else in school when teacher was trying to find the culprit.

I did that out of a number of egoistic reasons: to feel better about myself, to draw attention to myself, to feel a strange mixture of guilt and righteousness. I don't need any of that now, I should be (am) an adult but I still have these guilt trips. I can't say no to anyone, I'm afraid of relationships and I don't know how to be in a relationship. Guilt interferes with my life and prevents me from living normally. I felt guilty starting to write here because my parents were fair and I haven't been diagnosed with a terminal illness.

Here are a few thoughts on how anyone like me could try to fight self inflicted guilt:

1. You have to realize that you are inflicting it on yourself first. Try to vocalize your feelings and rationalize a bit.

2. Search for a reason why this happens.

3. Our mind is wired to do things like we're used to doing (habits). Luckily, our brain can also stop following certain patterns once we realize them and try to abstain. With simple realization and a bit of an effort, we can try to heal ourselves from self punishing over nothing. I am certainly going to try it. I've had enough hating myself, you and I can't be loved while we torture ourselves (not trying to put any guilt here). For a better description on our brain patterns you can look up the video "The Science of Pornography Addiction" (it's safe for work).

4. If you don't feel like you can handle this by yourself, I recommend you seek professional help. Heck, I'm in no place to recommend anything here; I am just like you. It may be costly and someone already said that it might not help, but some of my friends were helped and if you have an opportunity, give it a shot. --D.

By anon349540 — On Sep 27, 2013

I have every reason to believe that I am responsible for what goes on in my own life -- for the people I am friends with, the places I go, the way I express my emotions. And making my own way like that, I have become a complete loser in life. I have it all - a pretty face, slim body, loving parents and a wealthy family, fancy education and amazing friends. And somehow, with my laziness, moodiness, smartypantsiness and clinginess, I've still managed to blow it. I'm that little piece of crap who just can't get the hang of herself. And who else is to blame for the way I interact with surroundings?

I've learned to live with it up until now, since I've been diagnosed with cancer. Even though I'm a paying customer, I feel so guilty for the nurses who have to change my tubes, bring me food and such. I feel like I'm a huge burden on them and just want to cry when they leave the room, because it's so unfair that they have to deal with me. I don't know how to be nice enough to them and the constant "thank-you-so-much"-ing is starting to sound like a broken record.

I wish I knew why I feel this way, but also why I think it's only natural to feel this way. I mean, everyone makes their own faith, and I've proven to be horrible at it.

By anon337878 — On Jun 08, 2013

@post 23, I have similar situations in my life and would like to advice if you are willing. Do you consider living your life alone from them? It helps a great deal when you finally cut lose and build life on your own. Let me know. --Tc

By anon334805 — On May 15, 2013

I feel guilty all the time. My mom and I have different styles. When she buys me something, I usually won't like it. I'm too afraid to hurt her feelings though, so I just smile and pretend it's nice. I don't jump for joy though because I don't want to overdo it.

I was molested as a kid and I can't bring myself to hate the person. I mostly blame myself even though I was six. I think it's because my mom once caught the kid (he was a teenager) with me, and she yanked me out of the room, took me to the bathroom, washed my face and yelled at me. I felt so embarrassed even though I didn't know what was going on. Now that I'm an adult, I should know better - I should know that it wasn't my fault. But I still feel it.

When you get blamed as a child, it not only sticks with you, but I think it also shapes how your brain works and how you see yourself and others. It's terrible.

I love my mom. You have to understand, she's a great person. But I definitely think those rare little choices she made have affected mt greatly. I don't blame her. I'm just awed at how the tiny little things in life can have such a huge impact on the future.

By anon334053 — On May 09, 2013

I am a bit of a perfectionist. Although I know life is not perfect, I do try hard to make everything perfect, at least in my own eyes. If it's not perfect, then I freak out.

I feel guilty a lot, too. I find myself looking into my past a lot and realizing things that I have done wrong. I then think about it for the next week if not for the rest of my life. They aren't overly bad things, just things I have done in intense situations that I could have handled better and to bring them up now would be stupid, as I no longer have any association with it, so it would only bring back bad feelings. It's over, and I know this, but I can't let it go. I've also been made to feel guilty by a lot of people, such as some people have mentioned my family. I am always the first one to say sorry just to keep the peace, even if I know I am not in the wrong. If it's not that, then I am feeling guilty for not being a better person than who I am.

I have actually been diagnosed with depression and anxiety, so I know that's where this behavior comes from. It all comes from experiences back in high school with bullying. You would think after being out for a year, it wouldn't have been a problem any longer, but it haunts you. Although I know this, I cannot seem to beat it. I have trouble believing that people can actually help me because I have been suffering for four years now and every time someone has tried to help me, they haven't been able to because they all think it's so easy to overcome and that by saying a few words everything will be okay. There aren't many of those people either, so I've felt quite alone for that time.

Post 23: Please don't be offended, but your ex is a witch. No one, even if they see it that way, should ever tell someone they are leaving them because they are unattractive, or say someone is unattractive at all. Again, don't take offense, but I reckon she was doing things with him while you were together and just made that up to get you off her trail. I am sure that you are not that unattractive.

I have certainly fallen for some guys who my ex-friends called unattractive and guys have fallen for me and I find myself unattractive. When I first met my boyfriend I am with now, back when I was young and stupid (no thanks to those so-called friends), I was pressured into believing he was unattractive and I could do better, although none of them actually believed I could.

When I got to know him, however, I feel head over heels for him. He became attractive to me. It has now been two years going strong and I love him to bits. I would not replace him for anyone. I truly believe there is someone out there for you, like there is for everyone. It just takes the right person and I believe your ex was the wrong person. I would personally cut off any contact with her at all.

With your family, I sort of know what you are going through. I haven't been beaten as such, but lately, my sister has been horrible. I don't know why, exactly. My parents keep making up excuses as to why, but I reckon it's because she has joined that group in society. You know? The ones who think they own everyone, are all tough and think they are always right.

I believe she uses this way of life to protect herself, as she has learned being tough means you don't get picked on, but she has taken it the wrong way. She has reasons just like mine to be upset, so I understand her frustration and taking it out on people in intense times, but she purposely picks on everyone for everything and finds it entertaining and I am honestly quite sick of it. You would think she would be a more down to earth person after everything she has been through, but instead I always feel tense around her. She gives me those nerves I want to keep away from. It's like when you are face to face with your worst enemy.

I would start a new life without your family if it is that bad. Keep in contact with you mum, but don't talk to her about the past. Keep it peaceful. Talking to them about it, as you have said, only hurts you, so it would be best for your well being to let it go. I know it's a lot easier said than done. Trust me, I do. I deal with people telling me to do this all the time and it never works, but maybe instead of going to your family, go talk to a friend about all of this. Just lay it on them. If you don't have anyone like that then I could talk to you. I will try to help as much as possible.

By anon316681 — On Jan 30, 2013

I'm 15 and my life is just like any other teenager's life, normal if you will. But although bad things are not happening, I feel as though I'm not worthy as a person. I am always feeling guilty about something. I've never really known what that something might be, but it's there, this guilt, hanging over me.

By anon311473 — On Jan 01, 2013

Good article.

I sympathize with Post 19 a lot. My parents always had me under uber strict control, be it within the family, school, church, neighbours, friends, out-loud thoughts, animals, etc. My dad was a severe conservative republican/nra/nazi worshipper who would beat me until I urinated on myself, literally for almost anything, especially if Mom was not around. He is in that 1 percent of humans who feels absolutely no remorse for hurting someone, etc.

My Mom is fantastic, but sadly she was raised Catholic and told that divorce is a sin and she would go to hell if she divorced and all that total crap. Well, she married a guy who beat her. One time, he pushed her down stairs when she was pregnant and the baby was stillborn. She left him, and the Catholic church heard about this and said, "Do not come back." So she married my dad. The way she sees it (was programmed), as long as he is not beating her, then all is well. So I grew up with amazing hate creeping over my shoulder with its love for hurting people (me) and proud to announce it with screaming so loud that it shook my face.

Now I am in my 30s and the family of course pretends that it never happened. And if it did, I either deserved it or it is something like a little spanking for doing something horrid. I was a really good kid. I made some mistakes like anyone, but to this day I can not think of anything I did ever that deserved a wicked slap in the face or an hour long beating, or being screamed at all day, or even a spanking. I have not had a terrible life (I don't have cancer and I didn't grow up eating dirt in Ethiopia), but when I think about my life versus others, it really is terrible. I won't say I was born ugly, but I certainly became ugly fast. This has come a close second place in destroying my chance at a life. First place goes to dear old dad. Mom bought him a "World's Greatest Dad!" mug. So, the guilt is not only here, but gigantic on my chest, in my throat, poisoning my heart and sometimes shaking my hands. I can sometimes 'act' past it, but it is only with minor things -- things that do not matter.

I sadly think and feel that this wicked feeling of guilt (?) is here to stay. I've tried many different therapists, but admitting all of this and more to someone only made me feel worse, and they did not come up with anything that helped and at $100 a session, I could not afford anything more.

@Post no. 18: I recommend that you try to be friends w/that guy. Let him know that if you don't feel it, then it is just not going to happen for you. Give him a list of things on a piece of paper that are your bad points. Meaning, if you two are close enough friends and he says, "I don't want to have kids," then you tell him and write down that you want to have kids and devote your time to them (or if that is too far out, then start with much smaller things).

On person I truly loved (and still love very much) left me just before proposal for a guy that she does not like. He has to go to alcoholics meetings and rageaholics meetings. She mentioned that he does not love her and that she does not like him. When I asked the obvious "Why?" she said that she loves me but is not attracted to me (again I am ugly) and even though she hates him, at least she can 'do stuff' with him because he is somewhat attractive. (she needed a green card too).

So I had the family guilt with everything it included, and the childhood guilt which so many of us had and now, this. The only reason I am still alive now is that I think of the things (really had to force this one) that I did/do not like about her. At first, I could not think of anything at all, then I thought of how she despises my looks. Well, that is not her fault. No one has ever found me attractive (except for Mom's lies), but two females on this planet have liked me before, so do I want to be with someone who despises me? Not really. Still, I feel amazing sadness that keeps so much of my brain occupied in terror, that simply walking looks and feels slightly odd. To add to 18, I wish she told me a convincing lie, like she has a strong sexual fetish for golden showers or something. That would have made things easier, but I already knew/know that she adored sexy lingerie – one of the 700 things we had in common. Yeah, the guilt thing is lead given to you instead of a life preserver. I am almost positive that my life will be shortened by all the stress that comes with it. That enormous strain on the heart and burning in the stomach cannot be a good thing.

I wish the article had some better cures than simply confronting. If I confronted my dad about 1/64th of what he has done, I would either end up dead from the fight, or at the very least kicked out

of the house and family forever. And everyone would stand on his side of the argument as everyone adores my Mom, and she will never ever leave him. Good luck fellow humans.

By anon309480 — On Dec 17, 2012

Jesus forgives all sins as far as your repenting. Repenting is part of the prayer of the saints. We are not permitted to lead into captivity and not permitted to lead by the sword. For those two sins are the sins against the holy spirit. They are unforgivable. If you have always followed the prayer of the saints and have repented, never imprisoned anyone or killed anyone, don't feel guilty baby. You are going to make it as long as Jesus is your personal savior.

By anon307248 — On Dec 04, 2012

I have a friend who's paying for my unlimited plan for my phone. I feel guilty but I'm not in a place to pay for it myself.

By anon306635 — On Nov 30, 2012

I think we all have the guilt feeling and it starts to come under control as soon as we realize that our life is dominated by ego. But when you realize you are not alone, you can feel a incommensurable peace. It's like someone else has been here, and is looking for the same door I am, or someone else just passed by the door I am looking for.

By anon270722 — On May 23, 2012

Great article. Growing up, my parents conditioned me to believe that, no matter how wrong they are, the children are always expected to apologize first and admit that we are wrong even if we have done nothing wrong. They call that “respect”.

I'm now 32 years old and they still stand by this “principle”. No wonder I’m always feeling guilty as if I'm not doing enough to please everyone around me. If others treat me wrong, I'm always first to say sorry just to keep the peace, or because I let others convince me that it’s always my fault.

I hope it’s not too late for me to overcome this. At least I know I'm not alone.

By anon266508 — On May 06, 2012

This really nice guy from my school asked me out but I said no because I don't think I like him as anything more than a friend and ever since then he hasn't been the same and even his friends said it and I feel awful! I blame myself for everything, and I don't want to go out with him because of guilt.

I think I'm trying to make myself like him too, but I don't know what to do. This whole thing ruined our friendship because its awkward now and he is like sad all the time. I'm worried about him and I don't know what to do. Help!

By anon129574 — On Nov 24, 2010

This article is really helpful. It has actually drawn my attention to the need to be careful how one reprimands his children over their mistakes or wrong doing, lest they accept guilt over issues they could have argued it out with you but for fear or respect of our person.

It may be late for me but I will do my best for my children never to accept when they can do away with it and enjoy the freedom of a guilt-free life. Thanks.

By anon129315 — On Nov 23, 2010

Excellent article and with other articles included, haven't read all yet. Your website is one of my favorite as you provide information that rarely is available with out having to hunt for it. Articles are really fantastic!


By anon129103 — On Nov 22, 2010

Let it flow, then let it go. Nice article, S/he said.

By anon128410 — On Nov 19, 2010

It is obvious that the parents have a golden opportunity to contribute immensely to the children's happiness by doing everything possible to prevent guilt from taking a foothold in the children's lives. By doing this the parents will also raise better human beings. It might be too late for the parent, but not for the children.

By Kohav — On Nov 15, 2010

This is a good article, but I find your use of alternating him, her and "him or her" distracting. Am I behind the times or is this attempted political correctness that is detracting from our language. Until someone invents good neutral pronouns (him/her=herm? he/she=hesh?) I think you should revert to the old standard use of the masculine when the intent is either gender since readers understand the intent from the context.

By anon127160 — On Nov 15, 2010

Great article. I have come to learn about guilt on an entirely different level. I agree, when we feel guilt, it's a motivator to take action to correct something. No more than that. If you linger in the feeling, then it is no longer guilt but self attack. (remember, we do it to ourselves!)

Just because you have a feeling doesn't necessarily means it's true or accurate. That is a big mistake people make. Feelings come up for various reasons, but don't assume every feeling you have is 100 percent true and accurate and worthy of your full attention.

However, the force behind the feeling of guilt has been a new discovery for me. Guilt is a trick of our ego to keep us thinking we are separate from God. I started reading "A Course In Miracles" and I have a completely new perspective on life.

Hope you find the same peace I have. -Vincent L.

By carpusdiem — On Nov 15, 2010

This a good article. I would like to follow the posts.

By anon127119 — On Nov 15, 2010

The best way to avoid guilt is to do right. Then you won't have anything to feel guilty about. I suppose some have had guilt trips put on them by others. Reason is the way to deal with that.

Some religions and some religious people try to use guilt and fear to push people to do things they don't really want to do. Christianity should be more about love and mercy than about guilt and fear.

D.W. Bales

By Alizai Riaz Saeeda Rehman — On Nov 15, 2010

A very impressive and very important article. Thanks

By anon122074 — On Oct 26, 2010

Thanks for this post! All my life I've been blamed for lots of things I didn't do. But because I just want to end the conversation, I always end up accepting it was my mistake though I know its not.

Up till now it's the same situation all the time. I'm now 27 years old and I'm trapped. Hoping this article works out for me. Keep posting!

By anon96138 — On Jul 14, 2010

very good post. thanks.

By anon79363 — On Apr 22, 2010

very interesting.

By anon52915 — On Nov 17, 2009

This is a good article, thanks!

By catapult43 — On May 30, 2008

Really, it is fine to feel guilty when we did something wrong. It is our conscience reminding us of the wrong doing. When this is the case we have to correct the wrong doing. That will alleviate the guilt.

To feel guilty for something that is outside of ourselves, or no wrong was done, this is self defeating. Maybe we need to be clear in our own minds, and sometimes some outside help can be beneficial, what is actually happening.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to The Health Board, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide...
Learn more
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