18 Guilt Synonyms and When to Use Them
Updated March 25, 2020
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.
It 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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 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 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 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 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 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.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How do you make someone forget something embarrassing?
It's not always easy to forget a secret or something embarrassing. The first step to get over something embarrassing is to realize that we all have our moments. Whatever the issue is that you're embarrassed about will fade in your own mind and in the mind of everyone else over time.
Can you train yourself to forget something?
Have you ever tried to forget a secret? The more you try to force yourself to forget about something, the stronger the memory takes hold. The effort that you put into trying to forget a secret or embarrassing situation is actually fueling the memory as hiding it constantly on your mind.
How do you make your mind forget something?
The best way to get over a painful memory or situation is to deal with it. Trying to make yourself forget about something only reinforces it in your memory. Talking to a licensed psychotherapy professional can help you "unpack" the incident so you can move on from the situation.
Why do I forget things instantly?
If you find that you have trouble with short-term memory loss, this can be a sign of a larger medical or mental health issue. Seek professional advice from your primary care provider to rule out symptoms of medical and mental illness.
How long does it take someone to forget something?
Everyone remembers things differently. Some people may forget about a negative or embarrassing incident immediately, while others may linger on the same incident for years -- or even a lifetime. If you're being plagued by painful or embarrassing memories -- that you can't seem to get rid of, talk to a licensed therapy professional to get advice and support.
How do you Unsee something?
As much as we sometimes wish it was possible, it's impossible to "unsee something you've already seen. Our brains are wired much like a computer. The moment you see something an imprint is stored in your brain. Anything related to the incident can trigger a memory. If you're having trouble with processing and moving past a traumatic or painful event, get help from a licensed therapy expert at BetterHelp.com.
Is there a pill that erases your memory?
In the same way that we can't "unsee" things, experts have yet to find a way to erase the mind or memory. While some medications and illicit drugs can suppress or distort your memory, a memory is a biological imprint that can never be completely erased.
Can you deliberately forget something?
Trying to suppress a memory is usually not the best idea. The act of suppressing itself causes you to constantly focus on the very thing you want to suppress. As a result, trying to suppres the memory has the opposite effect and keeps the memory at the front of your mind. If you need help overcoming a traumatic memory or experience, talk with a licensed therapy professional.
Why can't I remember my past?
The experience of time or trauma can cause painful memories to fade. Defensive mechanisms that are built into our minds automatically try to prevent the body from experiencing as much physical pain as possible. This is also the case for mental pain and trauma. Your brain may store the information in a suppressed part of the mind that is only activated by a specific trigger.
How do I erase my memory?
The mind isn't wired for us to erase our memories. Even the most deeply suppressed memories of pain and trauma (as far back as early childhood) remind stored as events in our history. People who have experienced severe mental trauma may act out unhealed pain in their lives. The licensed mental health professionals at leading therapy platforms like BetterHelp can help put you on a path to healing trauma and childhood wounds.
Can you forget childhood trauma?
While the pain of experiencing childhood trauma can lessen with time and the memories can fade, it is unlikely that you will completely forget having childhood trauma. This is why it's important to find an outlet and learn how to work through these issues with a licensed therapy professional.
How can I forget someone fast?
The fastest way to get over someone is to acknowledge the truth of whatever happened. Once you look at the truth, you can understand what caused the situation to take a negative turn. Processing this information with yourself or someone like a therapist can help you to avoid similar negative situations in the future.
How do you remove someone from your life?
If you feel that a relationship, friendship, or other long-term contract needs to end, the best thing to do is to be honest with yourself and the other person about why you no longer want them in your life. Being clear with them (and yourself) can go a long way towards healing the situation on both sides and making a clean break. Remember that breaking up can be a painful experience regardless of which side of the breakup you're on. Get professional help if you're having trouble getting over a breakup or separation.
How can I forget and move on?
Learning how to process your true feelings about negative situations is the best route to take towards healing. Being honest with yourself about how the situation affected you will allow you to process the information and heal faster. Going to therapy can help you gain a new perspective on many negative situations in your life.
Can you erase someone from your memory?
Our brains aren't wired to erase information. This also includes trauma and negative events. Our brains hold on to the negative memories -- as well as the positive ones. This means that you won't be able to erase someone from your memory. However, if you're struggling with how to make the memory of someone less painful -- speak to a licensed therapy professional for help.
How can I forget love?
The pain of losing a love can be hard to bear. If you're having trouble getting over a lost love -- talk to someone about it. Expressing your feelings can help you relieve the pain and frustration behind the loss. A therapist can help you explore new avenues for restoring self-worth and learning to love again.
Can you alter your memory?
Some circumstances in life can alter your memory. For example, if you experienced childhood trauma or an injury to the head, your memories can be distorted. If you're having trouble with memory loss or are plagued with painful memories, speak to a therapist to get help.
What drugs make you forget?
Some medications designed to treat mental illness and illicit street drugs can have an effect on your memory. While it is unlikely that you'll completely forget about something that happened to you, these drugs may have an effect on temporarily suppressing memories.
Is there a drug that can make you forget things?
Some medications for medical and mental illness can have the effect of causing you to temporarily forget things. In some cases, this effect is intentional and can be therapeutic for people with severe mental illnesses like anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or bipolar disorder. Talk to a medical professional if you have more questions about medications.
What drug causes amnesia?
Medications designed as therapy for pain relief or relieving the symptoms of severe mental illness can induce a form of temporary amnesia that can cause someone taking them to forget things. In most cases, especially when medication is used in this way as therapeutic, the effects are temporary and only last as long as someone is taking those medications.