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Guilt is the feeling that you have done something wrong either to another person or to yourself. It is healthy to experience guilt when you feel you have done something you shouldn’t have done and have not taken responsibility.

Sometimes we confuse guilt with shame, even though their origins and impact are different. It is worth learning to separate these feelings, as there are different ways of letting go of them.

This is how you separate guilt from shame.

  • The feeling is guilt when an action, intention, or inaction is the cause of a negative attitude towards oneself. You may think negatively about yourself specifically because of the act itself, but you don’t judge yourself as a complete failure.
  • The feeling is shame when you feel that your whole self is a failure and bad – even this is related to an isolated incident. Shame stigmatises us and judges us holistically; we feel wrong and inadequate.


A sense of guilt arises when you have acted against what is important and valuable to you:

  • You’ve acted against norms, rules, or manners that are important to you.
  • You’ve acted against your personal moral principles or ethical values.

A certain amount of healthy guilt is a good thing. Without it, it might be difficult to recognise and correct your own behaviour. In addition, the feeling of guilt prevents you in advance from doing the wrong thing. When you have experienced guilt, you are wary of selfish, indifferent, or aggressive behaviour.

It is, therefore, appropriate to feel guilt when it prevents you from harming others and acting against society’s values or your personal values. Sometimes, however, you can feel too much guilt.

Guilt is excessive when

  • it is present all the time.
  • you are constantly thinking about what you have done or not done.
  • there is a constant feeling of inadequacy.

Excessive guilt limits life and takes up a lot of energy. Such guilt is not triggered by a wrong action, but by a feeling of inferiority and inadequacy. The background may include, for example:

  • experiences of rejection
  • a loveless childhood
  • a history of having to take responsibility for your life and the lives of those around you at too young an age
  • growing up in an environment where the expression of feelings of anger was not supported and allowed
  • blaming and invalidating parenting styles

Getting sick, having an accident, or being the victim of violence can also create excessive guilt.

When you feel too much guilt, you may

  • feel guilty about the actions, feelings, and fate of others, even strangers.
  • feel that you are somehow universally to blame for everything that makes others feel bad.


Apologies related to excessive guilt can reinforce our feelings of inferiority and unworthiness. To let go of excessive guilt, we have to work through our feelings of unworthiness, inferiority, and shame. It helps if we recognise and acknowledge our feelings and are compassionate and merciful towards ourselves.

It is important to learn to let go of over-responsibility and the pursuit of perfection. It’s also good to stop and think about whether you are really to blame for what happened – whether it was really all up to you.

If your sense of guilt is strong, it can be difficult to let go. If this is the case, you can seek help from loved ones, peer support groups, and therapy.