7 Questions to Help You Deal with Guilt & Shame

We all know this: Guilt and shame are powerful emotions. 

Unless we choose to deal with them in a healthy manner, they may completely consume us and our thoughts - and involuntarily anchor us back to our mistakes from the past, every single day.

So how do you move on with life after you've done something you’re not proud of? How do you enjoy life every day when you’d rather go back and fix your mistakes? 

That’s what I’m talking here - effective ways and strategies to learn how to deal with guilt and shame, forgive yourself and move on with your life.  

Read on to learn what are the seven questions you need to ask yourself to deal with guilt and shame. 

  1. What are you feeling? 

The first step in dealing with guilt and shame is acknowledging them. If we are completely honest here, we’ve got to admit that guilt and shame aren’t exactly the world’s most pleasant feelings. 

However, you’re not doing yourself a favor by denying the negative feelings you have. 

Give yourself a break - you can’t hide from your own emotions. They are there to be felt in full. 

Let yourself feel disappointment and grief and anger, for whatever the reason. Get them all out of your system. It won’t be the best feeling in the world but afterward, it’ll feel like a huge weight has been lifted off your shoulders!  

2. Are you projecting? 

Sometimes, we feel guilt and shame over things we had little control of. 

While taking responsibilities from your mistakes is great, torturing yourself daily for something you had no power over is mentally and physically exhausting. 

So don’t be too quick to judge yourself. 

Was it what happened really your fault? Are you really the only one responsible for it? Even if you acted differently, would it really have made a difference?

If the answer to all of those questions is no, stop with the rumination - and let go of the past. Whatever happened probably wasn’t nice but it wasn’t your fault. Even if you hold yourself responsible for the rest of your life, you probably won’t be able to fix it. 

3. Whose standards are you violating? 

If the reason why you’re dealing with guilt and shame is reasonable, it’s time to dig a bit deeper under the surface and understand why is that so. 

Feelings of guilt and shame reach the surface when we feel that some of our standards, values or beliefs have been violated. 

Let’s take a very basic example to explain this. 

Let’s say you have very strong beliefs about saving the environment. One of your strongest values suggests that using plastic - especially single-use plastic - is wrong. However, there might come the time when there may not be any other option available at the moment and you’re forced to use it. 

Should you feel guilty then? 

Well, probably not. Before you come too hard on yourself; ask: Whose standards am I violating? 

If you’re holding on too strong to your beliefs and values - which isn’t that bad of a thing - you may benefit from taking a more realistic approach. Sometimes, we’re all left without too many options and have to act the opposite of what our values would say. 

4. What would you do differently this time? 

We all fall in the trap of judging our past self from a present-day perspective. 

Drop the coulda, shoulda, woulda. Don’t judge the person you used to be - or the beliefs and values you used to have. 

You’ve made that choice/decision with all of the available knowledge you had back then. You didn’t know what you know now. You were a different person! 

You’ve surely grown as a person ever since. You’ve learned from your mistakes - and you know how to take better care of yourself. 

And to soothe yourself, ask: If given the chance, what would you do differently this time? What would you say? How would you act?

Those answers alone may be enough to put an overthinking mind to rest. 

5. What would you tell your best friend to do if they were in your place? 

Empathy towards yourself is the strongest tool you have to combat negative feelings from the past. 

When it comes to dealing with guilt and shame, the friend talk is a great exercise to develop empathy.

Approach yourself from a third-person perspective. You may be surprised to notice then just how bad we treat ourselves in our heads. (and we would never do that to our friends!) 

If this was happening to your friend, would you judge them this harsh? Which advice would you give them instead? How would you help them move on? 

Write down those answers if need be. And then treat yourself as your best friend. Trust me, it will make a massive difference. 

6. What can you do now to make yourself feel better?

No matter how strong you hold onto the past, you won’t be able to change what happened. 

It’s time to move forward. Put self-destructing thoughts into positive action. What can you do now to make yourself feel better?  

If you’re still doing whatever it is that’s making you feel guilty, it’s easy - just stop doing it. If the beliefs and values of other people are holding you hostage, it may be the time to set new values for yourself. 

And if you’re still ruminating about how you could’ve said or done the right thing, then learn your lesson from it. It’s okay - you’ll know better next time.  

7. Forgive yourself and let go of the past 

Dealing with guilt and shame requires one final step: forgiving yourself. 

This is the hardest part for many. 

If you need to apologize to someone, do it - but do it for your own sake. Remember that sometimes, others might not feel comfortable forgiving someone who made them feel bad and that’s okay - their feelings should be validated as well. 

And if the only person you need to forgive is yourself, let go of the past. You can’t turn back time no matter how bad you make yourself feel. 

Unpack your emotional baggage, learn your lessons and move forward. Seek peace and you’ll find it deep within. 

Do you struggle dealing with guilt and shame? What do you do to forgive yourself?

Share with me in the comments and let me know - I’d love to talk more about this with you! 

P.S. Right now, I’m working on an online course about dealing with emotional baggage. Click on the link to check it out!