18 Guilt Synonyms and When to Use Them

By Nicole Beasley

Updated December 13, 2018

Reviewer Kelly Kampf

There are a lot of times when you might feel guilt, or someone might try to make you feel guilty. It could be for something that you did, or it could be for 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.

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t can be very helpful to understand exactly what guilt is and know 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 born out of self-examination. The psychological definition is a feeling that occurs when someone makes the realization 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. Feelings of guilt help us 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, which is a bad thing for anyone to experience. While guilt is a feeling that something one has done is bad, shame is a feeling that the person is bad. Shame often leads to feelings of inadequacy, depression and poor self-image. It can also lead to problems with 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 the psychologist to determine if the guilt feeling is normal or is a part of a potential neurosis.

Guilt Synonyms

There may be times when you need to understand your feelings or describe them to someone else. Knowing the right guilt synonym for what you are feeling can help you do that. You may find that if you are suffering from extreme cases of guilt, shame or depression, that talking to a professional can really help you work through your feelings and come to forgive yourself and love yourself more completely.

The following list of guilt synonyms will help you better articulate what you are feeling. Sometimes saying that you feel guilty does not really make you feel that you are communicating your feelings effectively. There are many nuances to feelings of guilt, and sometimes a guilt synonym will make it easier to explain to others.

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Culpability

Culpability, in short, is blame. When you are feeling guilty, it means that you are blaming yourself for something that you feel you are responsible for. You may be feeling culpability for something that you did or something that you didn't do that you feel you should have done. Either way, culpability is often perceived. Culpability can also be conferred on you by someone else.

Disgrace

Being in disgrace means that you are in 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 in disgrace with themselves because they feel guilty for something that they have done that they perceive as being 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 guilt, where you feel blame and shame for what you have done, but you may feel the liability where you know something was your fault. Sometimes feeling liability but not shame can cause feelings of guilt. You may feel guilty for not feeling shame over something you were liable for.

Regret

Feeling regret means that you are upset over a past action that you have done or a feeling that you should have done something that you did not do. 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 those feelings of shame.

Remorse

Remorse is a similar word 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 usually lead to apologies to the party that you feel you have wronged.

Responsibility

When you feel responsibility for something, it means that you feel that you are to blame for what happened. When you feel responsibility, it means that you do not believe that the bad thing that happened would have happened if you had not played the part that you did. For someone who feels guilt easily, feeling responsibility for a situation may not necessarily be logical or mean that you were to blame. Others may see things quite differently.

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Contrition

Contrition is another word for regret. When you feel contrition, you are feeling sorry for what happened or what you did. The most common use of the word contrition is to commit an act of contrition, such as done within the Catholic church. This would be an act that you do to show your remorse for what you have done to another person or the part you played in a bad situation.

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Dishonor is another word for guilt. When you feel dishonor, you feel that the bad thing that you did was dishonorable and therefore you feel guilty about doing that thing. Dishonor is usually felt by people who have a very strict code of conduct or ethics that they hold themselves to, and they have broken that code.

Infamy

Infamy is less about internal feelings of how you feel about yourself and more about how you think others feel about you. You may feel that you are living in infamy if you have done something that you think has earned you a bad reputation. However, sometimes you may feel that something gave you a bad reputation when in reality no one else feels you are to blame for the thing you feel is causing your infamy.

Onus

Onus is another word for burden, and guilt is definitely a burden. When a situation arises that you feel badly about but you don't necessarily feel guilty, you may feel that it is a burden that you must carry. Such burdens can become overwhelming if you ruminate on them, and it can be very helpful to discuss feelings of onus with a therapist to avoid them leading to depression or other neurosis.

Penitence

Penitence is another word for guilt, meaning that you are shamed by what you have done but you also feel extreme sorrow about the situation. When you feel penitent, it means that you wish to do something to make up for the bad thing that you did. The sorrow that accompanies penitence can often lead to depression and feelings of low self-worth.

Self-condemnation

Self-condemnation is one of the most extreme and unhealthy guilt synonyms. When you are feeling self-condemnation, you are really beating yourself up about what happened or what you did. Self-condemnation means that you are not only feeling guilty, but you are berating yourself for what you have done so that you cannot move past those 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 are in self-reproach you are likely ruminating quite frequently on the bad thing that happened or that you think you did. You may be quite overwhelmed with these feelings, and you continuously beat yourself up about it.

Peccability

Peccability is another guilt synonym. It can also be a word used to describe sin. When you feel peccability you are extremely shameful over what you have done. You may even feel that it was a great sin against your religion or a universal moral code.

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Getting Help with Guilt

Mild feelings of guilt when you know you have done something wrong are normal. But if you are feeling such strong feelings of guilt and shame that you are ruminating about it and feeling sorrow, you may want to seek out help from a therapist. A psychologist has ways of measuring your guilt and looking at the situation from a more logical point of view. They can easily determine if your guilt is natural and normal, or a sign of a deeper neurosis.


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