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How to Stop Feeling Guilty and Free Your Mind

Is there anything that you feel guilty about?

I think we can all agree that guilt is a heavy burden. Metaphorically, it can make you feel like you are carrying a huge weight on your shoulders. If you allow it to, guilt can hold you hostage and consume your life.

This is the ultimate form of self-betrayal.

I’ve got great news for you… you don’t have to carry around this negative emotion for one day longer.

If you’ve ever stopped to take stock of all the emotions you feel, you’ve surely come across basic emotions like “happy” or “sad.” These are emotions that are easy to understand, and we usually know where they’re coming from. According to Psychology Today, these are hardwired, innate emotions, meaning that we’ve all got them and can recognize them in ourselves and others.[1]

As we all know, life can get messy sometimes. This is when not-so-fun emotions tend to creep up and try to ruin our day, or worse, our life. One of these emotions is guilt.

So, how to stop feeling guilty? You’ll learn about it in this article.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Guilt Defined
  2. Why We Feel Guilty
  3. What Does Guilt Do to You?
  4. The Side Effects of Guilt
  5. How to Stop Feeling Guilty And Set Yourself Free
  6. Final Thoughts
  7. More About Freeing Yourself

Guilt Defined

There are different definitions of guilt, depending on which modality you view it from. I resonate most with a cognitive approach which states that guilt is an emotion that people experience because they’re convinced they’ve caused harm to someone.[2]

This is a trap that a lot of people fall into, including me. Oftentimes, it’s the illusion of possible harm that you’ve inflicted upon someone that causes guilty feelings. It’s really easy to misinterpret the events or behaviors of others.

No matter how you deconstruct it, guilt sucks. The question is…. why do we feel guilty? Once you know where your guilty feelings come from, you can learn how to stop feeling guilty and free your mind to focus on more empowering things.

Why We Feel Guilty

Guilt is a personal experience, meaning that what may make you feel guilty may not bother someone else in the slightest. It all boils down to the moral code that you live by. If you think that something is wrong, and I don’t, you’ll feel guilty for doing it even if I don’t care.

At its core, guilt is a way of recognizing that we have not lived up to our own values and standards.[3] In the words of Brené Brown,

“It’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.”

The most common cause of guilt comes from the things you do or don’t do. Letting yourself down is one thing, but letting someone else down is a perfect recipe for experiencing guilt, which can sometimes lead to shame.

What Does Guilt Do to You?

Guilt, like most negative emotions, isn’t a good feeling to have. Having to rethink your bad choices can drive you crazy and force you to overthink how you could have done things differently.

But, as we’ve already learned, there’s no going back when you’ve followed through with something.

When you feel guilty, you may automatically jump to your own defense. Some people will try to talk themselves into thinking that their actions weren’t as hurtful as they were.

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Sometimes, we try to find ways to believe that the people we’ve harmed deserved it somehow. This is just the ego talking.

When we’re forced to re-evaluate these beliefs, we may become irritable or defensive, which is a self-defense mechanism. On the flip side, when we’ve accepted our guilt, we often try to compensate for it.

So, if you’ve made someone upset, you may do everything in your power to try to make him or her happy again. While making someone feel better can be a great thing, it can also take a toll on your emotional state.

It’s important to remember that trying to hold onto or fix a relationship through the emotion of guilt isn’t necessarily healthy. Choose your battles wisely, knowing that you cannot change the past, only re-write the future. If the people in your life aren’t on board with that concept, it’s time to rethink the friendships.

The Side Effects of Guilt

When you’re feeling guilty, oftentimes, that means that you’re also stressed. If you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done, it only makes sense that it will take a toll on your body. This is why it’s important to assess how your guilt is impacting you physically.

Guilt also takes a toll on an already fragile mental state. It contributes significantly to depression and anxiety, as it very often involves a negative view of self.[4]

The more that you think about things, the more you start to dwell on them. If you ruminate about your actions on repeat, you’re taking up space in your mind that could go to more productive thought patterns.

Don’t let guilt get the best of you. Give yourself a break. Life is way too short to feel guilty all of the time, and it’s bad for your health.

How to Stop Feeling Guilty And Set Yourself Free

It is possible to retrain your brain to stop feeling guilty. Feeling guilty about things that you’ve done wrong is perfectly normal, but when you hold onto guilt for too long, it has the potential to take over your entire life.

This is why it’s important that you retrain your brain to stop feeling guilty. It starts with learning how to effectively cope with feelings of guilt in a proactive way

1. Own Your Decisions

Once you make a conscious decision and carefully weigh your options, it’s over. Agonizing about what you should have done differently will only drive you crazy. The moment that you take responsibility for your choice, you stop overthinking and move on.

Where people get stuck is that they make decisions without thinking about the consequences. As a result, they end up creating situations that lead to stress and guilt. Don’t let life happen to you. Rather, let it happen for you.

The best way to do this is by making decisions and owning them. By choosing any decision (even if it’s not the best one), you are claiming personal ownership. This is how you diminish feelings of guilt and shame and reclaim your power.

2. Practice Self-Compassion

You’re not perfect and nobody is expecting you to be. We all make mistakes. Don’t self-sabotage yourself more than you have to because life is hard enough as it is.

It’s important to realize that feeling compassion for yourself does not mean that you instantly give up responsibility for your actions. Rather, it means that you are finally able to let go of self-hatred and free your mind.

The next time you start to experience feelings of guilt, try practicing self-compassion instead. Make it a daily ritual. Tell yourself that you’re good enough and forgive your wrongs. You’re worthy of that.

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3. Reflect Upon Your Actions

You can’t change anything until you intimately reflect upon what it is that you did to make you feel guilty. Self-awareness is the foundation of personal growth.

When we accept the invitation to reflect upon our actions, we force ourselves to go inwards and do the work to better understand who we are.

Guilt leads to unproductive behaviors like rumination, which compromises your self-awareness by not letting you remain in the present.[5]

There is no point trying to run away from whatever it is that’s causing you to feel guilty. So, why do you feel guilty? Don’t place blame elsewhere. Instead, accept the role that you played in a situation. Once you’ve done this, you can start to think about why you made the mistake in the first place.

4. Learn from Your Mistakes

You’re human, remember? That means that you’re allowed to screw up. It’s a part of the process of becoming the best version of yourself.

Whenever you feel like you’ve made a mistake, it’s important to take the time to think about what you wish you had done differently.

The best way to prevent yourself from spiraling into guilt is to ask yourself, “What can I learn from this experience?” If you’re not failing forward and learning from your mistakes, then you are most likely punishing yourself.

When we learn to experience guilty feelings as a way of receiving information, we are already healing from our mistakes.[6]

Don’t ask for permission from someone to set yourself free from guilt. Give that gift to yourself.

Final Thoughts

Don’t allow guilt to control your life. Living your life feeling bad about yourself is a waste of precious time. Life is short. Forgive yourself, move on and be happy.

Are you ready to stop feeling guilty and free your mind? Take a deep breath and let go. Life is waiting for you.

More About Freeing Yourself

  • How to Learn to Let Go of What You Can’t Control
  • How to Let Go of Resentment and Anger
  • How to Accept Yourself for Who You Are and Be Happy

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Reference

[1]^Psychology Today: What Are Basic Emotions?
[2]^Psychology Today: The Definitive Guide To Guilt
[3]^Psychology Today: What Makes Us Feel Guilty?
[4]^Web MD: Is Guilt Getting The Best Of You?
[5]^Intention Inspired: How To Develop Self-Awareness By Giving Up On Guilt
[6]^The Oprah Magazine: How To Actually Forgive Yourself

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31 Ways to Free Your Mind Immediately

At times, you might have thoughts that you would rather not have, such as persistent worries, little niggles, or recurring concerns that don’t go away. Often, the more you try to free your mind from these thoughts, the more persistent they become. For example: try not to think about a big pink elephant. Chances are the more you concentrate on not thinking about the elephant, the more your mind will actually focus on that image. This is because the mind is not good with focusing on “not doing” something.

The best way to free your mind from unwelcome or unwanted thoughts is to engage it with other thoughts or to remove or resolve the cause of the thoughts you are having. Here are 31 ways that you can free your mind immediately:

1. Forgive

Forgiving another person (or yourself) can help you to move on from the past and release yourself from negative emotions and thoughts.

2. Meditate

Meditation has been used for thousands of years to clear and free the mind. Doing so doesn’t have to involve burning candles and sitting in the lotus position; it can simply be sitting comfortably, allowing thoughts to enter your mind and pass through without engaging in them. Doing this for as little as ten minutes can be enough to free your mind from persistent or annoying thoughts.

3. Exercise

Exercising focuses the body on its physical requirements and takes your attention off your mind. Exercise also releases endorphins and lowers cortisol, often bringing about a more positive and happier mood.

4. Let Go of the Past

Letting go of the past allows you to focus on the here and now, and also helps you choose more empowering thoughts.

5. Be Mindful

Being mindful is the practice of focusing the mind on everyday actions that you might normally do on autopilot. By practising mindfulness, the mind concentrates on the task at hand rather than thoughts and feelings you might prefer not to have.

6. Practice EFT

Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is something that can be learnt quickly (in a matter of minutes) and can help you to feel better immediately. EFT is often also called “tapping”. EFT involves verbalising the problem or issue in hand whilst using an affirmation phrase and tapping energy points on the body.

7. Stop Feeling Guilty

Guilt is an emotion that, when left unchecked, can escalate and leave you feeling trapped and powerless. Practice noticing when you feel guilty and find ways to let go of guilty feelings.

8. Smile and Laugh

Research shows that you will feel better for smiling and laughing, even when you don’t feel like it! Your brain registers the movements of the muscles in your face when you smile and then releases hormones and chemicals that make you feel good. Your improved emotions will make it easier to change how you are thinking.

9. Watch a Funny Film

Watching a funny film is a great way to escape reality! Just taking time out to immerse yourself in another world via a film is often enough to break the cycle of over-thinking.

10. Stop People-Pleasing and Approval-Seeking Behaviors

Many people are people-pleasers or approval junkies, but engaging in these behaviours ultimately leaves you feeling trapped, as though you are living your life for others. Notice when you are engaging in these behaviors and start practicing living life for you.

11. Just Do It!

Do one thing today that scares you or that you’ve been putting off. Your mind will be brought into sharp focus by the adrenaline your body produces.

12. Declutter Your Physical Possessions

A calming environment free from clutter can help you get into a more relaxed state of mind. Without the distraction of clutter around, you are freer to let your mind focus on more positive thoughts.

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13. Visualize Yourself as the Person You Want to Be

Think of someone you admire and imagine how they would handle the thoughts you are having. Then visualize yourself acting in the same way.

14. Make the Decision to Let Go of Toxic Relationships and Nourish Positive Connections

Unhealthy relationships can lead to negative thoughts and stressful states. Nourishing positive relationships will enrich your life, filling your mind with more positive thoughts and memories.

15. Do One Thing Every Day to Work Towards a Dream

Everything starts with the first step. Identify your goal and the changes needed and take the decision to take that first leap: you’ll soon be on your way to achieving your dreams rather than just thinking about them.

16. Try Hypnosis

Hypnosis is a proven therapy that enables your subconscious thoughts to influence your unconscious and conscious thoughts and feelings. Hypnotherapy can improve and resolve issues in your life and free your mind of worries and concerns.

17. Notice the Hobbies or Activities You Enjoy so Much That You Lose a Sense of Time

Do these more often! Engaging in a pastime you enjoy helps to promote a more mindful and meditative state of mind. This state allows the mind to relax and mindfully focus on the pursuit being undertaken, replacing other thoughts that may be  occupying your mind.

18. Let Go of Regrets

To let go of regrets, you could write a letter to yourself or make a list and then burn or throw it into a stream as a ritual of letting the regrets go.

19. Practice Self-Love

Honor yourself and your choices and let go of self criticism and judgement

20. Dance!

Move your body and let go of what you think you look like! This is guaranteed to alter your mood and free your mind.

21. Spend Time Alone

Get used to your own company and enjoy just “being” without the need for constant company, entertainment, or being busy for its own sake.

22. Try something new

Try something new; maybe a new hobby or even a new meal choice. Mix things up and get out of your usual way of doing things.

22. Daydream

Allow yourself time to daydream regularly. This is so good for the soul!

23. Let go of Labels

Notice when you are defining yourself by external labels and let them go.

24. Become Less Attached

What are you attached to? There’s nothing wrong with enjoying things in life, but when you become attached, you rely on something external to make you happy, which traps the mind.

25. Let Go of Guilt

Guilt is a strong emotion that can become overwhelming and all-consuming. Look at addressing what you feel guilty about, and see how you can either resolve the issues you feel guilty about, or how you can be more compassionate towards yourself.

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26. Practice Gratitude

Being grateful allows you to live in the present and see the blessings in front of you right now.

27. Read Inspirational Stories

Reading about people and events that inspire you can help put your thoughts into a different context.

28. Find Like-Minded and Positive People

When you spend time with positive and like-minded people, you spend more of your time in the moment instead of over-thinking or analyzing yourself.

29. Make a Commitment to Keep Learning

Learning helps you to expand your mind, which can help you achieve a more enlightened and informed point of view.

30. Use Positive Affirmations

You are affirming all the time by the way you think and talk. “Things never go my way” is a negative affirmation, for example. You could replace such a thought with a positive affirmation such as “things are working out perfectly”.

Using positive affirmations helps you to make better choices and see things from a different and more positive perspective.

31. Practice Putting Yourself in Other People’s Shoes

Reading, listening, and discussing opinions different from your own can open your mind and help you to see life from different perspectives. This can be particularly freeing if you are stuck in thinking about certain things in a particular way.

Eva S. Milton

Eva, a certified personal trainer founded her blog in 2019 to share healthy & unusual recipes with her clients, to offer nutritional tips, to communicate informative workout ideas, and to curate ‘fitness fashion’ looks. Now, FitnessonToast has grown significantly due to all of her hard work!

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