How to Let Go of Guilt and Regret – and Forgive Yourself: 13 Tips

let go of guilt and regret

Feelings of guilt and regret are common features of our human experience. However, being plagued with persistent shame and guilt can bring significant emotional suffering in your life. Not only can it suck the joy out of your existence, but it can also ruin your relationship with others.

So, it’s a good idea to learn how to overcome guilt and move on in your life.

What is Guilt?

Guilt is emotional distress that you experience when you believe that you have done something wrong, made a mistake or have harmed others, in one way or another.

If you believe that your actions or inactions have offended, insulted others or harmed their well-being, you experience distress and that is called guilt.

There are 3 types of guilt.

1. Unresolved Guilt

It’s only human to make mistakes. Usually, it’s easy to deal with mild forms of guilt, however, sometimes it is hard to get rid of the feelings of guilt and shame. What causes unresolved guilt?

There are two reasons that might lead to unresolved guilt.

First, when you don’t know how to apologise. In the absence of skills needed to apologise effectively and sincerely, you might find it challenging to get the forgiveness you are seeking from others.

The second reason that causes unresolved guilt is that the person who has been wronged is either no more available or is not ready to forgive you. Maybe the harm that your actions caused is too great for them to forgive you.

In both the above cases, you would continue to feel guilty unless you take some action to deal with those feelings.

2. Survivor Guilt

Survivor guilt emerges because of the circumstances. In this form of guilt, there is really no wrongdoing or mistake from your side. However, the events in life can make you feel as if the tragic or sad feelings that others experience are somewhat because of you.

The survivors of accidents, wars or illnesses are often paralysed by the consuming guilt that they survived while their loved ones could not. They find themselves unable to fully enjoy and participate in life because doing that would bring back the memories of the loved ones who could not make it.

Survivor guilt can also be seen in our usual, day-to-day life.

A student might feel sad even after a brilliant academic performance just because his best friend failed that exam.

An office worker might find it difficult to celebrate a promotion he deserved and worked hard for because his colleagues could not get promoted.

3. Separation Guilt

Humans are not limited to any specific geographic location, especially in this day and age. More and more people are moving from their native places, either for a job, study or a better quality of life.

The separation guilt arises when we focus on ourselves to chase our dreams, legitimate needs, aspirations and in the process, we leave the ones we love, behind.

It’s not uncommon to feel guilty because you are living far away from your ageing parents.

Have you ever felt guilty about taking a job or studying abroad, away from your loved ones? Chances are, you have! That’s the separation guilt for you.

What is the Main Purpose of a Guilt and Why Do You Feel Guilty?

Like every emotion, guilt too has a function in our life.

The presence of feelings of guilt and shame is an indicator that you have acted against your personal standards. These feelings nudge you to stop and reflect on your actions. Guilt signals that you might be in danger of losing your social support and relationships.

People feel guilt so that they can correct their actions, and maintain their personal standards.

The purpose of guilt is to protect your social support, by rendering an apology, making amends and taking corrective measures.

Why You Need to Deal with Guilt and Forgive Yourself

One of the primary reasons why you need to learn how to let go of guilt and regret is to get back your peace of mind.

Holding on to unhealthy guilt could be crippling in more than one way.

The haunting attribute of guilt can have a detrimental impact on your quality of life and relationships. Let’s see how.

1. You Beat Yourself to a Pulp

Excessive guilt can wreak havoc on your self-esteem and can easily spiral you down into mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

Self-hatred leads to self-punishment.

Your life slows down and you feel paralysed and unable to feel any pleasure.

Your wrongdoings and their consequences become the centre of your existence. Even at work or school, your performance deteriorates as you find it challenging to focus and concentrate on the tasks at hand.

Related: How Not to Lose Focus

2. Your Relationships Suffer

Your guilt isolates you and makes you feel extremely lonely.

You start to avoid the person whom you have caused pain by your actions. Why? Because facing them pushes you into an acute state of emotional pain and shame. Such withdrawal breaks all the channels of communication with them.

Unless you acknowledge your guilt and take necessary actions to get rid of it, you would continue to suffer and ruin your relationship with others.

Letting Go of Guilt and Regret

Overcoming feelings of guilt require offering an apology, correcting your behaviours that caused pain to others and finally, forgiving yourself.

Here are 13 tips for how to let go of guilt and regret:

1. Be Ready to Apologize

The surefire way to get rid of haunting guilt is to receive forgiveness from the person who sustained harm because of your actions. Keeping this in mind, the first step you can take to stop feeling guilty is to set an intention to offer an apology to them if they are available.

Once you set the intention to apologize, prepare yourself how to render one effectively and sincerely.

A lot of times, people offer apologies, but instead of resolving the issue, it complicates the matter further. Why? It’s because most of us don’t know how to apologise. We will see what is a good apology and how to do that in the steps below.

2. Express Remorse

Touch base with the person whom you have wronged. Sure, it’s not an easy step because contacting that person again and discussing the matter unleash a lot of backlash from their side. You would require courage, no doubt.

Communicate your deep regrets and tell them that your actions were wrong.

3. Let Them Know You Understand Their Hurt

Put yourself into the shoes of the wounded person. Try and realise how your actions might have caused them feelings of loss, pain or any emotional suffering.

Let them know that you understand how many problems they might have had to face because of you.

4. Tell Them You are Sorry

Yes, you need to admit you were wrong and tell them that “I am sorry”. These are powerful words and unless you say them clearly and sincerely, your chances of getting forgiveness will remain slim.

5. Make Amends or Offer Compensation

It’s not always possible to undo the wrong actions and the damages you have done. However, offering atonement or suggesting actions that might help the offended person feel better, could be crucial in receiving their forgiveness.

Let them know sincerely how much you are willing to make things rights. Offering compensation for the damages could, to some extent, show your level of remorse.

6. Accept That You Violated Their Expectations

Acknowledge the fact, in front of them, that you broke their trust or didn’t meet the expectations they had from you.

Accept responsibility for your actions and tell them you have learned your lessons and you are a changed person now.

Come with a plan and share it with the offended person stating clearly the steps you would take to not repeat the same mistakes again in the future.

7. Ask For Their Forgiveness

Finally, ask them for their forgiveness, sincerely. If they are willing and ready, they might understand your feelings and consider your apology.

8. Be Ready to Forgive Yourself

A lot of times, it is not possible to secure forgiveness from the person whom you have caused pain. Maybe they are no more available to you or they didn’t find your apology effective enough.

What options do you have in that scenario?

Self-forgiveness is your answer!

Set an intention to start the process of forgiving yourself if your excessive guilt is stifling your life. We will see in further steps how to forgive yourself.

9. Acknowledge Your Wrongdoing

The process of self-forgiveness starts with acknowledging what happened, your actions, and the circumstances that caused you the guilt. Have a clear idea of your part that hurt the other person.

10. Summarize the Suffering You Caused the Offended Person

Get an understanding of all the harm the other person had face because of your actions. Try to feel all the emotional pain and get a sense of all the hardships they might have to suffer because of you.

11. Ask Yourself, Did You Intend to Harm?

Try to answer this question honestly.

If your intentions were not as the events unfolded, what were your original intentions?

In case, you intended to harm them, ask yourself, what caused you to do that?

This question is important because it will help you identify your character flaw and then you can take steps to improve it.

12. Make Sure You Don’t Repeat Your Mistake

Self-forgiveness can only be attained when you truly want to change yourself so that the same transgressions are not repeated in the future.

Formulate a plan to change any habits, lifestyle, behaviour and cognitive style that might cause you to make the same mistakes again.

13. Make Contributions

Making contributions to those who have suffered because of you can help you with achieving self-forgiveness. If they are not available, donating charity to those who might need it or making a commitment to work for the betterment of others can help you in the completion of penance.

Related: How to Let Go of Grudges and Bitterness


Learning how to let go of guilt and regret is essential to our peace of mind and quality of life. Using the aforementioned tips to express sincere apologies and learning how to forgive yourself, you can learn how to stop feeling guilty and move on in your life.

Related: How to Forgive Yourself for Cheating and Not Telling

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