14 Guilt Synonyms and When to Use Them

By Nicole Beasley |Updated April 20, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Kelly Kampf, LCSW

At times in life, you might experience feelings of guilt. Alternatively, someone might try to make you feel guilty over something that you did, orover something you didn’t do but should have. Sometimes you may feel that “guilt” is not quite the right word for what you are feeling, but don’t know how to describe it to anyone.

Understanding exactly what guilt is can help you identify the guilt synonym that fits your feelings and situation. Knowing synonyms for guilt and having a full understanding of what it means to feel guilty can help you articulate your feelings to your loved ones or a therapist.

What Guilt Is

Guilt is an involuntary emotion rooted in self-examination, a feeling that occurs when someone perceives that they have broken their own code of conduct or have violated a standard universal moral code. The emotion occurs when you feel responsibility for breaking that code.

However, guilt can be felt even when no code has been broken, or when no direct responsibility is actually present. Guilt is about perceived responsibility and moral codes. One can feel guilt frequently, even when they have no logical reason to do so by another person’s standards.

Why Guilt Is Important

Guilt is an important emotion. Healthy feelings of guilt help us to make moral and universally acceptable decisions about our behavior. People who frequently feel guilt are more likely to be empathetic to others in various situations, especially those situations for which they feel guilty. Guilt has a great impact not only on the self, but also on interpersonal relationships.

However, too much guilt can lead to shame, a problematic emotional experience. While guilt is a feeling that something one has done is bad, shame is a feeling that one may face judgment or ridicule for what they have done. Shame often leads to feelings of inadequacy, depression, and poor self-image. It can also lead to strained relationships with other people.

Guilt is difficult to measure psychologically because it is a strictly internal process and emotion. However, researchers have recently found methods to measure guilt. This measurement is important because it allows a psychologist to determine if an experience of guilt is typical or is a part of a potential neurosis.

Guilt Synonyms

You will sometimes need to understand your feelings or describe them to someone else. Knowing the right guilt synonym for what you are feeling can give you that understanding. You may find, if you are suffering from extreme cases of guilt, shame or depression, that talking to a professional can help you achieve feelings of self-forgiveness and self-love.

The following list of guilt synonyms will help you better articulate what you are feeling. Sometimes merely saying that you feel “guilty” does not communicate your feelings effectively or accurately. Feelings of guilt have many nuances, and a guilt synonym may make your experience easier to explain to others.

Culpability

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

Disgrace

Feeling in disgrace means that you are experiencing a state of shame. You may be told that you are a disgrace by others who are close to you if you have done something that they blame you for. Much more frequently, people feel that they are disgraced because they feel extremely guilty for something that they have done that they perceive as wrong.

Liability

Liability is the equivalent of answerability and responsibility. When you are responsible for something bad that has happened, you may feel liable. You may not feel actual blame for what you have done, but you may experience liability where you know something was your fault. You may even feel guilty for not feeling shame over something you were liable for.

Regret

Feeling regret means that you remain upset over a past action, failure to act, or feeling. Often feelings of guilt come with feelings of regret, and vice versa. However, it is possible to feel regret without feeling intense guilt. Again, sometimes if you regret something but do not feel the shame of guilt, you may in turn feel guilty for not having feelings of shame.

Remorse

Remorse is similar to regret. When you feel remorse, you have bad feelings about something that has happened or something that you did. Remorse often goes hand in hand with feelings of intense guilt. You feel badly about what you did, so you wish that you had not done it. Feelings of remorse are often followed by apologies to the party that you feel you have wronged.

Responsibility

When you feel responsible for something, it means that you feel that you are to blame for what happened. For someone who experiences feelings of guilt easily, feeling responsibility for a situation may not necessarily be logical or mean that they were to blame. Others may see things quite differently.

Contrition

Contrition is another word for regret. When you feel contrition, you are feeling sorry for what happened or what you did. 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

Dishonor is another word for strong guilt. When you feel dishonor, you feel that an action was morally wrong; therefore, you feel deeply guilty about it. Dishonor is usually felt by people who hold themselves to a very strict code of conduct or ethics and feel that they have broken that code.

Infamy

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

Onus

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

Penitence

Penitence is another word for severe guilt, meaning that you are shamed by what you have done and also feel extreme sorrow about it. When you feel penitent, it means that you wish to do something to make up for the offending actions or words. The sorrow that accompanies penitence can lead to depression and feelings of low self-worth if left unaddressed.

Self-condemnation

Self-condemnation is one of the most extreme and unhealthy guilt synonyms. When you are feeling self-condemnation, you are passing severe judgment on yourselfbecause of what happened or what you did. Self-condemnation means that you not only feel guilty, but also berate yourself to the point that you cannot move past your feelings of guilt and shame.

Self-reproach

Self-reproach is another guilt synonym similar to self-condemnation. With self-reproach comes feelings of guilt, shame, low self-worth, blame, and sorrow. When you experience feelings of self-reproach, you are likely stuck focusingthe offending actions or words. You may be quite overwhelmed with these feelings and struggle to move on from them.

Peccability

Peccability is less commonly used guilt synonym, the opposite of “impeccability” (meaning immaculateness or blamelessness). Peccability can also be used to describe sin. When you feel peccable, you feel extreme shame over your words or actions. You may even feel that you have committed a sin against your religion or a universal moral code.

Getting Help with Guilt

Mild feelings of guilt, especially when you know you have done something wrong, are typical and often temporary. But if you are feeling such strong guilt or shame that you are fixatingon it, unable to move on, orexperiencing sorrow that interferes with your daily life, you may want to seek out help 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 understand Online therapy from BetterHelp is a great resource for addressing any feelings of guilt, and the convenience, affordability, and effectiveness of online therapy make it a flexible, accessible option for anyone.

BetterHelp will match you with a licensed mental health professional who can help you address and manage your feelings of guilt. With BetterHelp’s online therapy, you can access mental healthcare whenever you need it, from the comfort of your own home, in whichever format—video chats, phone calls, emails, or text messages—is the best fit for you. This flexibility also allows you to communicate with a counselor as privately as you wish. The reviews below show how BetterHelp has been able to support others dealing with difficult emotions.

Rhonda has been so helpful for me in overcoming painful guilt and shame so I could move forward with my life. I continue to seek her guidance when life throws new challenges at me. But, I no longer feel Overwhelmed and stuck. I know I have someone in my corner who’s only agenda is to help me. 

Jennifer is caring and very accessible. I feel like I have made so much more progress with her than I have any other counselor. She doesn’t make me feel bad about my less desirable or unkind thoughts. She has this great maternal energy.

Conclusion

If you are struggling with feelings of guilt or shame, know that help is available. With the support of a mental health professional, you can learn to manage these feelings. Take the first step today.

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