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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.