Brené Brown, a shame and vulnerability researcher, once said: “I’m just going to say it: I’m pro-guilt. Guilt is good. Guilt helps us stay on track because it’s about our behavior. It occurs when we compare something we’ve done – or failed to do – with our values.” Although we typically think of the pain and discomfort associated with guilt, that is exactly the feeling that propels us towards change. It is tempting to avoid feelings of guilt, however, we know that until we make amends, those feelings will not subside.
The first step to managing guilt is to acknowledge what we have done, or did not do, and to make amends where it is possible. We show in our behavior that we are willing to change and not repeat mistakes to the best of our ability. The second step is self-forgiveness. Sometimes we continue to feel guilt even after making amends and receiving forgiveness from the other party involved. At this point, we practice self-compassion and acknowledge that we are prone to making mistakes as humans. Practicing self-care and seeking support from friends, family, and/or a mental health professional may be necessary to help in processing guilt and avoiding shame. Remember, the difference between guilt and shame is as simple as “I did something bad” vs “I am bad.” The choice is ours to learn and grow from our guilt or let it consume us.