14 Guilt Synonyms And When To Use Them

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant
Updated December 15, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team
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At times in your life, you might experience feelings of guilt. Sometimes, you may feel that "guilt" is not quite the right word for your feelings, but you don't know how to describe it.

Understanding guilt may help you identify a synonym that fits your feelings and situation. Knowing synonyms for this emotion and fully understanding what it means to feel guilty may help you articulate your feelings to your loved ones or a therapist.

Guilt And Shame Can Lead To Certain Mental Health Conditions

What Is Guilt? 

Guilt is defined as an involuntary emotion rooted in self-examination. Often, it is a feeling that occurs when someone perceives that they have broken their code of conduct or have violated a standard universal moral code or social rule. 

However, guilt may be felt when no code has been broken or when there is no direct responsibility. Thus, some could argue that guilt is about perceived responsibility. It can be common for individuals to feel guilt frequently, even when they don't feel it is logical. 

Why Is Guilt Important? 

Guilt, like any emotion, may be significant. Healthy feelings of guilt may help us make moral and universally acceptable decisions about our behavior. People who frequently feel guilt may be empathetic to others or consider the consequences of their actions. Guilt can have an impact on the self and interpersonal relationships.

However, too much guilt may lead to shame, a similar yet often challenging emotion. While guilt can be the feeling that something you've done is wrong, shame is often defined as the feeling that you might face judgment or ridicule for what you have done or that you are "bad." Shame often leads to feelings of inadequacy, depression, or poor self-image. It may also lead to strained relationships with others. 

Guilt can be challenging to measure psychologically because it is often an internal process and emotion. However, researchers have recently found methods to measure guilt. This measurement may be necessary for psychology because it allows a psychologist to determine if an experience of guilt is typical or part of a more significant mental health concern.

Guilt Synonyms

At times, saying that you feel "guilty" may not communicate your feelings effectively or accurately. The following list of guilt synonyms could help you better articulate your feelings. 


Culpability, in short, is blame. When you feel culpable, it may mean that you are blaming yourself for something you feel you are responsible for: something you did or left undone. Either way, culpability is often perceived. Culpability can also be placed on you by someone else.


Feeling disgrace may mean that you are experiencing a state of shame. You may be told that you are a disgrace by others if you have done something that they blame or judge you for. Individuals may feel disgraced because they feel incredibly guilty for something they have done that they perceive as wrong.


Liability may be defined as answerability and responsibility. You may feel liable when you are responsible for something that has happened. You may not feel actual blame for what you have done, but you may experience liability when you know something was your fault. Liability may be used in a legal sense, as well. For example, you may be liable for legal damages if you damage someone else's property. 


Feeling regret can mean you remain upset over a past action, failure to act, or feeling. Often, feelings of guilt come with regret and vice versa. However, it can be possible to feel regret without feeling intense guilt. At times, if you regret something but do not feel guilt, you may feel guilty for not having feelings of guilt. 


Remorse can be similar to regret. When you feel remorse, you may have unpleasant feelings about something that has happened or something that you did. Remorse often goes hand in hand with feelings of guilt. You might feel bad about what you did, so you wish you had not done it. You might decide to apologize or try to make up for your actions. 


When you feel responsible for something, it could mean that you are to blame for what happened. For someone who experiences feelings of guilt quickly, feeling responsible for a situation may not necessarily be logical. For example, it may not be your fault if your child falls on the pavement and gets a bruise. However, you might feel guilty and take responsibility to watch them more carefully next time. 


Contrition is another potential word for regret. When you feel contrition, you may feel sorry for past actions. A common use of the word "contrition" is the ritual of committing an act of contrition within the Catholic church—an act that demonstrates remorse for "sinful" thoughts or actions.


Dishonor is another word for strong guilt. When you feel dishonor, you may feel that an action was morally wrong. Dishonor may be felt by people who hold themselves to a stringent code of conduct or ethics and feel that they have broken that code. It may also be used in a religious or cultural setting. 


Infamy is less about internal feelings of self-image and more about the perception of others. You may feel that you are living "in infamy" if you have done something you think has given you a bad reputation. However, this feeling may be internal and not backed up by social rejection.


Onus is another word for burden, and guilt may feel like a burden. When a situation arises that you feel negatively about, your emotions may feel like a burden that you must carry. Such burdens can become overwhelming if you ruminate on them. Thus, it can be helpful to discuss feelings of onus with a therapist before they grow.


Penitence is another word for severe guilt, meaning that you might be ashamed of what you have done and feel extreme sorrow about it. When you feel penitent, you may wish to do something to make up for the offending actions or words. The sorrow accompanying penitence could lead to depression or feelings of low self-worth if left unaddressed.


Self-condemnation may be a challenging guilt synonym. When you feel self-condemnation, you may pass severe judgment on yourself because of what you did (or failed to do). Self-condemnation means that you not only feel guilty but also criticize yourself to the point that you cannot move past your guilt and shame.


Self-reproach is another guilt synonym, like self-condemnation. With self-reproach comes feelings of guilt, shame, low self-worth, blame, and sorrow. 

When you experience feelings of self-reproach, you may feel stuck focusing on the offending actions or words. You may be overwhelmed with these feelings and struggle to move on from them.


Peccability is an often-unknown guilt synonym. The word is the opposite of "impeccability" (meaning immaculateness or blamelessness). From a religious perspective, peccability can also be used to describe "sin." You may feel extreme shame over your words or actions when you feel peccable. You might even feel you have "sinned" against your religion or a universal moral code.

Guilt And Shame Can Lead To Certain Mental Health Conditions

Getting Help With Guilt

Mild feelings of guilt are often typical and temporary. However, if you are feeling such intense guilt or shame that you are fixating on it, unable to move on, or experiencing sorrow that interferes with your daily life, you may want to seek out support from a mental health professional. 

Studies have shown that people who experience shame are at greater risk of developing anxiety and depression. A trained therapist can discuss your feelings with you and help you resolve feelings of intense guilt. 

People who experience extreme guilt and shame often withdraw from others. In some cases, they may not want to leave their house. In this case, online therapy may be an option. Online therapy with a licensed professional has been shown to help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression

If you're ready to reach out for emotional support, consider signing up for a platform like BetterHelp for individuals or Regain for couples. Both platforms offer a match-based system to find you support from a therapist who may specialize in your concerns. 


If you are struggling with feelings of guilt or shame, help is available. With a mental health professional's support, you may learn to manage these feelings. Consider reaching out to a counselor to get started. 

Release the weight of guilt

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