How to Deal With Guilt and Regret

Guilt and regret prevent us from living our dreams of living and limit our personal growth. This week, I have had the opportunity of interacting with two ex-convicts. I could read guilt and regret way before I heard their stories. When your life is characterized by guilt and regret, all the odds seem to be against you. You struggle to love yourself and hold on to past issues as if they will bring healing. Here are ways to help you recover from guilt and regret.

To deal with guilt and regret begin by accepting the situation. Forgive yourself and take corrective measures. Decide today to stop and silence all the negative voices in your head, own up your mistakes, and start living positively, one day at a time. Recovery takes time but with consistent, deliberate action, it’s assured.

9 Ways to Overcome Guilt and Regret

1.     Stop!

While it may feel helpful to regurgitate what you would have done and how the outcome would have been better. Re-living every moment that led to a regretful event only torments you more. 

You are consumed with guilt yet nothing in the past can change. No one can help you snap out of this. You are the only one who can STOP that ‘madness’.

2.     Self-acceptance 

Guilt pains just like a disease. Until you get to a point where you accept you messed up and there is no going back, you are never going to experience relief. Stop denying it, say, “Fine, I did it. I was wrong.” If you don’t do this, you will carry the burden for years.

Maybe you were not even wrong, it’s time to say “it happened and I accept that I cannot change it.”

3.     Forgive yourself

For most people, it’s easier to forgive others and receive forgiveness from others than to do the same for themselves. When you accept and forgive yourself, you take remedial actions and eventually start enjoying life again.

4.     Avoid comparing yourself with others

In pursuit of happiness and treasures of life, we sometimes regret our decisions because we see other people as a reflection of true success. Fine, they may be successful, but it’s not your duty to beat them at their game. You are called to be the best expression of yourself.

The decisions you made in the past may not be changed but trying to match up to someone else’s lifestyle will only lead to making more wrong decisions. Snap out of comparisons and be your own competitor.

5.     Live one day at a time

Guilt and regret paralyze us by causing us to have fear and worry about the future. One keeps wondering, what if these plans fail again? What if I land in debt or other messes? The scriptures instruct us not to worry about tomorrow because tomorrow has its own challenges.

You cannot predict how your future is going to be like. You may be having a bunch of regrets from the past but they do not have to affect your future. The only way to ensure regrets do not take over your dreams is to live each day as it comes.

6.     Practice gratitude

One would think there is nothing to gain in prison but my friend Ken has taught me there is always something to be thankful for. While in prison, he improved on his music writing skills, met other artists, and created a network of music lovers in prison.

While regret is a constant reminder of what you missed out on, gratitude helps us to appreciate the opportunities, lessons, and networks we gained in the process.

7.     Use Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

The remedy is not instant. It takes weeks, even months but it is tried and tested. Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps you to convert your thinking patterns and habits from unproductive thoughts to healing and corrective thoughts.

You can apply tactics such as writing notes to self, talking to yourself in front of a mirror, opening up to a counselor, or prayer and meditation.

Anyone struggling with anxious thoughts about work, relationships, success, or life, in general, can find solace in that their regret will eventually result in better focus and energy. 

8.     Support others

As your mindset transforms, help others going through the same predicament. Listening and empathizing with them will help you to better understand yourself and your process.

As you help others apply daily life lessons, you are also challenged to do the same. You increase in wisdom and minimize the chances of making the same mistakes.

9.     Avoid tearing your confidence down with your words

A common behavior we develop when scuffling with regret is a continuous justification of guilt and regret. We do this by beating ourselves up with words such as, “I deserved this punishment, I was careless,” or “I didn’t deserve a partner like that, she’s too good for me.”

These tearing words give us a false sense of security but at the same time deny us the confidence we need to move on. We need to affirm ourselves more each day, speaking well of ourselves and our situations. It’s definitely harder than the reverse but it’s worth it.

Final Note

The cycle of guilt and regret makes us dwell in the past. We lose many more opportunities and eventually have more regrets than we can bear. This is not only damaging to our self-esteem but our mental health as well. The cycle of guilt and regret kills our versatility, talents, and abilities. But, there is hope.

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Am a graduate sociologist and a regular contributor to national publications such as the American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Journal of Applied Social Science and the Annual Review of Sociology.

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