Exploring How To Deal With Guilt And Move Forward

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated May 23, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

When guilt is appropriate, it can help us make amends for the wrongs we have done or motivate us towards better behavior in the future. However, if guilt becomes excessive, it can have very negative effects and can even be connected to mental health conditions such as depression. 

Let’s explore several different types of guilt, the negative effects of excessive guilt, and how to address guilt in healthy ways.

Are you experiencing overwhelming guilt?

Common types of guilt and why you feel them

Guilt and shame can be common. There are several reasons why you may be feeling guilty, and these can range from person to person. 

Hurting someone

Guilty feelings can often originate from the thought that you have harmed someone. Individuals who have feelings of guilt may often have thoughts that assign themselves responsibility, and they may feel guilty for someone’s hurt if they see it as their fault. In many cases of hurting someone, recognizing and apologizing for the harm caused is a sign of healthy guilt.

Sometimes, these guilty thoughts could be accurate, but at times, these thoughts may assign excessive responsibility without any true connection to the events or actions. Try to watch out for negative self-talk.

Blaming yourself

Another situation in which you might feel guilt involves blaming yourself for things that go wrong in your life or for not reaching your goals. If you get into the loop of self-blame, it can be easy to slip into a near-constant state of guilt. Persistent guilty feelings can become a burden, and if you're dealing with guilt frequently, it may be helpful to find a therapist who can guide you to improve your mental health.

Actions related to guilt

One specific type of guilt is related to something you did wrong, which could include actions involving someone else, breaking healthy boundaries, or doing something that goes against your own values or ethics. For instance, you might be trying to quit a habit, such as smoking or gossiping, and feel guilty when you smoke or gossip. 

When not excessive, these guilty feelings can be useful in that they can help you to make changes with your actions, and you have the chance to make amends to those who you may have wronged. In this case, guilt isn’t necessarily a “bad” or negative emotion to experience, and it may even help you learn from and deal with your mistakes.

Thoughts that trigger guilt

Another type of guilt can involve thoughts rather than actions, often triggering toxic or painful emotions despite not taking any harmful action. Perhaps you are thinking of doing something wrong, and you feel guilty for even having the thought. Acknowledging those thoughts, vowing not to act on them, and then working to reduce them with conscious efforts can help in feeling guilty less intensely.

Guilt over something you didn't do

While some forms of guilt result from our thoughts and actions, there are also forms of guilt that focus more on what we didn't do or what we could have done differently in any given situation. For example, tragic events involving the injury or death of many people are out of your control but may cause you to feel a form of intense guilt called survivor guilt. Even if you weren’t involved in the incident, you might feel responsible, and guilty. If you experience this form of guilt, it may be helpful to seek professional support.


Dealing with unhealthy guilt

Any type of guilt can become unhealthy if it becomes excessive or is allowed to fester. Feeling guilt at times can be common, but if you spend excessive amounts of time stewing, it may have harmful effects or be a sign of something deeper going on.

Excessive guilt as a possible symptom

When you cope with excessive or inappropriate guilt, you could be exhibiting symptoms of depression. Excessive guilt can also be associated with childhood trauma or even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sometimes, bipolar disorder and other mental health disorders can be associated with guilty feelings as well. Therefore, if you are showing signs of excessive guilt, it could be a sign of a deeper concern that you might want to address with the help of a trained mental health professional. They can offer advice, diagnosis, and guidance for dealing with this guilt.

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

The potential impacts of unhealthy guilt

Carrying unhealthy guilt can give you a warped sense of yourself and create a feeling of low self-worth, which can negatively impact your emotional well-being over time. This kind of guilt can be insidious and self-destructive. It may also lead to anger and resentment toward yourself and others. 

When guilt becomes consuming, it may negatively impact your relationships with others because you are focused on yourself and your negative feelings. You might not consider how you are interacting with others in the present moment. In some cases, difficulty managing constant feelings of guilt may even contribute to physical health concerns. If you believe this may be the case for you, it can be helpful to seek medical advice in addition to mental health services.

How to deal with guilt

If you find yourself struggling to figure out how to deal with guilt, it can be helpful to know there are healthy ways to cope with the guilt instead of feeling paralyzed by it. 

Gather facts

Sometimes, our incorrect perception of a situation can create excessive levels of guilt. If this may be the case for you, try to first look for evidence that you aren't doing enough or that you have done something wrong and see what the facts say. Staying up-to-date on reality may help mitigate negative emotions surrounding guilt. Consider asking others to give their point of view to help you adjust your viewpoint and lessen guilt.

Practice positivity

Practicing self-reflection may lead to positive outcomes and self-improvement. To combat the negative feeling of guilt, take time to deliberately focus on your positive traits and actions. Consider giving yourself a dose of self-gratitude daily by listing out some of these positive examples. This habit can help you put your thoughts of guilt and actions in perspective and give yourself credit for positive things rather than focusing solely on your perceived mistakes.

Forgive yourself

Nobody is perfect, and we all make mistakes at times. Self-forgiveness and self-compassion may help in overcoming guilty feelings. It's about understanding that everyone can feel guilty, but it's how we deal with it that counts. Try to recognize this and forgive yourself for past mistakes, accepting the reality that we are all human. This self-acceptance can positively affect your emotional well-being.

Address your thoughts about guilt

Negative thought patterns may trigger guilt or contribute to a negative perception of oneself as a bad person. There can often be a tendency to think in black and white instead of recognizing the “grey areas” in many situations, and this can be especially common for individuals with major depression. If you look at the various aspects of a situation, rather than simplifying it into one extreme or the other, you might be able to see the nuances of the situation and give yourself more grace, rather than only seeing reasons for guilt. 

Seeking support from a professional

Working through guilt on your own and making amends can be challenging, and sometimes, there may be further concerns underneath your guilt that you’d like to address. For instance, you could be holding onto feelings of guilt, hurt, resentment, or even low self-worth, or you may have found that your excessive guilt is connected to a mental health condition. By working with an in-person or online therapist, you can address those feelings of guilt and learn effective coping strategies, especially when dealing with guilt makes everyday life challenging.

If you’re considering online therapy for addressing the excessive guilt you’ve been experiencing or its underlying causes, studies have shown that online therapy can be just as effective as face-to-face therapy for a range of concerns. For example, a literature review of 64 articles containing 14 studies on online therapy as compared to traditional therapy found the effectiveness to be comparable. Participants in the studies experienced a range of mental health conditions and received a range of therapeutic treatments.

Individuals experiencing excessive guilt may feel overwhelmed at times, and the thought of seeking help may feel intimidating. With online therapy through BetterHelp, you can speak with a licensed therapist from the comfort of your home or wherever there's an internet connection and at a time that works for you, which may feel easier for some people.

Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar concerns. 

Are you experiencing overwhelming guilt?

Counselor reviews

“In the last 7 months or so, Lois has really helped me in reshaping my perspectives on my relationships and my involvement in them. I have seen a great deal of personal growth occur through her attention and guidance. I have been able to understand where my struggles had come from and deal with difficult ideas like blame and guilt. I'm very grateful for her time and attention and I'm confident that my personal relationships will be stronger and healthier as a result of working with Lois.”

“This therapist took me from a place where I was broken mentally and showed me how to put myself back together again without any sort of shame. I don't think people really have an understanding of just how important therapy is in transforming your entire life, until you have a good therapist. Just to be clear, not all therapists are good therapists, but you'll know one when you work with one! For anyone reading this I hope you find one that works for you.”


While some amount of guilt can be useful at times, when guilt becomes excessive, it can have very negative effects. There are many different types of guilt, but there are also many ways to address it. If you are experiencing high levels of guilt, you may consider trying some of the strategies above. If you would like more personalized help in addressing guilt, you can speak with an online therapist for support.
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