Self-Forgiveness & Overcoming Guilt

guiltGuilt is good. Yes! Guilt actually encourages people to have more empathy for others, to take corrective action, and to improve themselves. Self-forgiveness following guilt is essential to esteem, which is key to enjoyment of life and relationships. Yet, for many, self-acceptance remains elusive because of unhealthy guilt – sometimes for decades or a lifetime.

Guilt may be an unrelenting source of pain. You might hold a belief that you should feel guilty and condemn yourself – not once, but over and over – or guilt may simmer in your unconscious. Either way, this kind of guilt is insidious and self-destructive and can sabotage your goals. Guilt causes anger and resentment, not only at yourself, but toward others in order to justify your actions. Anger, resentment, and guilt sap your energy, cause depression and illness, and stop you from having success, pleasure, and fulfilling relationships. It keeps you stuck in the past and prevents you from moving forward.

You may feel guilty not only for your actions, but also thoughts: For instance, wishing someone pain, misfortune, or even death; or for feelings, like anger, lust, or greed; or lack of feelings, such as not reciprocating love or friendship, or not feeling grief over the loss of someone close. Although irrational, you might feel guilty for the thoughts, attributes, feelings, and actions of someone else. It’s not unusual for people to feel guilty for leaving their faith or not meeting the expectations of their parents. People often judge themselves based upon the blame or false accusations emanating from others, which they believe to be true. For example, a woman projects her self-centeredness onto her husband and accuses him of being selfish. He believes it, not realizing it is she who is selfish (attribute). She might blame her insecurity (feeling) on him, claiming he’s flirting, uncaring, or indifferent. A man might blame his anger (feeling), or mistake (action) on his partner, and she believes him and feels guilty.

It’s common for codependents to take the blame for others’ behavior, because of their low self-esteem. A spouse might accept her husband’s blame and feel guilty for his drinking or addiction. Victims of abuse or sexual assault frequently feel guilt and shame, despite the fact that they were victims and it’s the perpetrator that is culpable. When it comes to divorce, those initiating it often feel guilty, even though responsibility for their marital problem is shared or was primarily due to their partner.

Guilt should be distinguished from shame, where you feel inferior, inadequate, or bad about who you’re verses what you did. When irrational and not absolved, guilt can lead to shame. Shame isn’t constructive. Instead of enhancing empathy and self-improvement, it has the opposite effect. It leads to greater self-preoccupation and undermines both the self and relationships.

If you already have low self-esteem or have issues around shame (most people do), it may be difficult to concentrate on what it is you feel guilty about. However, this is necessary in order to get past it. Rationalizing or brushing it under the rug to avoid self-examination may help temporarily, but not achieve self-forgiveness. Alternatively, beating yourself up prolongs guilt and shame and damages your self-esteem; while, accepting responsibility and taking remedial action improves it. Here are suggested steps you can take. I refer to actions, but they apply equally to thoughts or feelings you feel guilty about:

1. If you’ve been rationalizing your actions, take responsibility. “Okay, I did (or said) it.”

2. Write a story about what happened, including how you felt about yourself and others involved before, during, and after.

3. Analyze what were your needs at that time, and were they being met. If not, why not?

4. What were your motives? What or who was the catalyst for your behavior?

5. Does the catalyst remind you of something from your past? Write a story about it, and include dialogue and your feelings.

6. How were your feelings and mistakes handled growing up? Were they forgiven, judged, or punished? Who was hard on you? Were you made to feel ashamed?

7. Evaluate the standards by which you’re judging yourself. Are they your values, your parents’, your friends’, your spouse’s, or those of your faith? Do you need their approval? It’s pointless to try to live up to someone else’s expectations. Others’ desires and values have more to do with them. They may never approve, or you may sacrifice yourself and your happiness seeking approval.

8. Identify the values and beliefs that in fact governed you during the event? For example, “Adultery is okay if my spouse never finds out.” Be honest, and decide which values you agree with.

9. Did your actions reflect your true values? If not, trace your beliefs, thoughts, and emotions that led to your actions. Think about what may have led you to abandon your values? Notice that you hurt yourself when you violate your values. This actually causes more harm than disappointing someone else.

10. How did your actions affect you and others? Whom did you hurt? Include yourself on the list.

11. Think of ways to make amends? Take action, and make them. For example, if the person is dead, you can write a letter of apology. You can also decide to act differently in the future.

12. Looking back, what healthier beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and actions would have led to a more desirable result?

13. Do you expect perfection? Has this improved your overall well-being? Perfection is illusory and a manifestation of underlying shame.

14. Would you forgive someone else for the same actions? Why would you treat yourself differently? How does it benefit you to continue to punish yourself?

15. Remorse is healthy and leads to corrective action. Think about what you’ve learned from your experience and how you might act differently in today.

16. Write yourself an empathic letter of understanding, appreciation, and forgiveness.

17. Repeat on a daily basis words of kindness and forgiveness from your letter, such as, “I’m innocent,” “I forgive myself,” and “I love myself.”

18. Share honestly with others what you did. Don’t share with those who might judge you. If appropriate, talk about what happened in a 12-Step group. Secrecy prolongs guilt and shame.

Realize that you can forgive yourself and still believe you were at fault, just as you might forgive someone else even though you think the person was in the wrong. You can regret what you did, yet accept that you’re human and make mistakes. Perhaps, you did your best, given your circumstances, awareness, maturity, and experience at the time. This is a healthy, humble attitude.

If you continue to have difficulties with self-forgiveness, I recommend my ebook, Freedom from Guilt and Blame – Finding Self-Forgiveness.  If you’re suffering from shame, which predisposes you to self-loathing and feeling bad about yourself, it’s helpful to see a counselor. See also my blogs on self-nurturing and self-love and my ebook, 10 Steps to Self Esteem to build your self-esteem.
©Darlene Lancer 2013

118 thoughts on “Self-Forgiveness & Overcoming Guilt

  1. Ma’am ,, there is this girl in my college whom I started chatting with a few months back..though it started on fairly technical issues like exams and all,, it became flirtatious about a month ago,, she was okk with me calling her sexy,, but and praising her figure,, but recently I said that she has a nice behind (I mentioned it explicitly),, and she became very angry.. She is otherwise a great friend and I did not intend to get into a serious relationship with her,, ….I feel extremely ashamed and I do not know how to live with or forgive myself,, please advise ma’am,, I am suffering hell

  2. Dear Doc,first tnx for excellent website.I had a relationship when25 for8 years.We loved eachother v.much,but I realized after5yrs I’d never marry him.Tried 3yrs more.Nothing was fixing it.I decided to end it.It was too sad to destroy my love.I was deeply depressed for1yr.Now,after3yr,despite anew partner,I still suffer a lot.Reading you I realize maybe I’m hurt by the thought of betraying/diminishing Love.It hurts to worrying levels.I have to see him(work&life)and find myself with tears,horrible sense of guilt,huge social limitations(self imposed).I feel ashamed,like if he was still my man and I was cheatin.I feel judged.it’s ruining my life

  3. i have had a boy friend 9 years! 5 years ago when we started high school we was both really confused during that whole year just both so young breaking up and getting back together all the time. well during that time i kissed a boy and when we got back togther we was both yong and it was five years a go!! i feel so guilty but we are so happy now and i have never done anything since then should i still feel so guilty!

  4. Hi. I don’t know where to start, i’m 24 years old and i lied to the woman of my dream, the reasons why i did this even if its not a reason was because i was scared of her reaction. I didn’t cheat on her. long story short i lied because i tried to help my EX because she wasn’t felling so well. i’m the kind of guy who wants to help people even if they did me wrong i’m doing it for myself because thats who i am. its been almost a month since i lied and the woman i love won’t forgive me or reconsider us, i’ve been trying evrything and at the end of the day the only thing i’m feeling is GUILT. Because i lied i know i did… and i lost evrything

    • that matter to me i lost her smile i lost the light in her eyes i lost all i cherished the most all of that because i did not had the courage to just say. Yes i didn’t tell you i spoke to her. we’re living togheter right now and i’m supposed to move out soon but this guilt is killing me i’ll do anything to have back what i had with her because she is the most important person in my life. i would do ANYTHING just to be with her again i don’t want to just forget the guilt to calm my pride. this woman is more important to me than my pride can be. What should i do? because i’m lost right now…

  5. Hii..i have been feeling guilt because of calling at my ex’s number numerous time.i am actually suffering from ocd.i just call to make sure that my number is block.she is married and i feel guilty that it will affect her married life.i can’t even say sorry because my doctor has suggested me to stop doing anything.what should i do??

      • Recently, I said a really bad thing for someone whom I don’t even dislike. Maybe I was in a wrong frame of mind and so I said something bad. I’ve never disliked that person or her friends, in fact I’ve always appreciated them. I felt bad after my actions so I apologized which was even accepted by her. But one of her friend called me up and bullied and misbehaved with me over the phone. I am still feeling very guilty as to why I did something wrong in the first place. I’m sure they must be assuming that my good behavior towards them initially was also fake, whichiisn’ttrue.

  6. I joined a self-help group. A relative of mine had depression. This relative had an interest in the group. I mentioned to the group leader about my relative, stating “If you think I’m bad (re:my depression/anxiety), you havn’t met him”. The intention was to get help and pre-warn the leader of the situation. I feel I have badmouthed my relative. He’s actually a very strong person. I feel guilt, I judge myself as ‘arrogant’ or needing to feel superior. I’m terrified of confessing this to them – it’d hurt them and they’d potentially shame me. This relative is not likely to have contact with the group. Better to confess (fear), or process alone?

  7. I was in a relationship 6months back,but then I broke up with my ex.After that,I got into a relationship with a guy who also had a break up with his then-girlfriend because they were not compatible.Since then we are in a relationship,I helped him get out of his previous relationship but still he feels guilty thinking that he had a physical intimacy with her(when they were together) due to which she got pregnant and later got aborted,How can I help him to overcome this guilt and move on in life,will he be able to ever forget her and love me fully?

  8. I am a girl, I have been in fear and shame for 8 months, when I talked with a man on skype, he is a nice man, and our relationship went deeper, one day he asked me to send him some nude pics without face, I hesitated, but eventually I sent some to him. After sent them, I feel it is wrong, I asked him to delete these pics, and he said he did it. But I am always worrying if he didn’t do it, and if these photos are put on internet,
    I feel shameful about it, I can’t help thinking about it, and the thought went to my mind every time. I can’ go to study, to play, to do what I liked before, in my heart there are all guilty, regret and fear. help!

    • Since you cannot undo what you did, you must learn self-compassion and understanding of why you did what you did. Do the exercises in the blog and in my book, Conquering Shame, to heal from shame and learn self-compassion. I’ll be publishing a book on self-forgiveness later this year.

  9. I have just discovered your website and it is so helpful and sincere. Thank you for sharing your advice and wisdom.
    I have lived with guilt and regret for many years. My question is, how can I forgive myself and release myself from guilt and shame, when the wrongs that I did have real ongoing physical effects on myself, and on those I love, and I live with the reminders of that every day? I did not do anything malicious. The wrongs I have done were because of being reckless, impetuous, foolish, selfish and having low self-esteem. But the effects have been terrible. It is hard to live with this burden. I would welcome any advice. Thank you.

    • Toxic shame causes guilt that never ends. Try the suggestions here and work the steps in Conquering Shame and Codependency. Also my ebook, Spiritual Transformation in the 12 Steps helps overcome guilt and shame.

  10. i cannot control myself, i constantly talk rude to my best friend, we just start talking and then i lose control and i am telling her terrible things, she is saying nothing and then i become mad at her pattience and telling her worse things, i remind her how terrible things she ve done in past to me cause she was talking behind my back and i constantly remind her this. I dont know what to do as i cant control my emotions, sometimes i feel like i hate her and i m trying not to text or call or see her at all but she keeps contacting.Then i feel all day guilty and i feel like a evil and cannot sleep all night but i cant control it. Please help

  11. I’ve been with my man for 8 year, I love him so much, then this week we had our first major fall out due to something he done (not cheating) which lead to me telling him to move out. By the end of the week, altho we still aren’t speaking, it’s obvious that he’s not going to move out and will work things out. My problem is I went out last night, got drunk and stupidly kissed a guy. It wasn’t even a full kiss, just an open mouth peck that lasted like 1 sec. Now I am racked with guilt, I can’t believe I done that I would never cheat on him, am I doing the right thing in not telling him? It would hurt him so much, I can’t stop crying over this

  12. Hello, I have been married recently. But I am unhappy. Feeling Guilty.I loved one girl and wanted to marry her but my parents denied. Then we broke up and she went to her exboyfriend and did everything in terms of physical relationship. In mean time decided of not getting married to any other girl.but after some time I came to know all about what my gf did with her ex. then I was furious and decided to marry someone else. after that her ex dumped her again and got married. then we again got into physical relationship only. i was clear that i dont want to marry her and she also knew. and now i have been married to some other girls of my parent

    • Getting married out of anger and jealousy was for the wrong reasons. I’m not sure what you feel guilty about, but if you believe you should be faithful and are not then you violate your own moral standards. You need to handle your emotions and behavior better and think through the consequences of your actions, which you have to live with. Do the exercises in the blog and see if they help. See my new blog on jealousy.

  13. I made the biggest decision in my life late last year when I choose to go forward with a new girl and leave behind my fiancee whom I’ve known for 3 years. Now I’m starting to feel the guilt. Whenever I saw my ex in my mind it hurts to the point of tears. I’m fragile and tears will just drop whenever I’m alone even for the briefest moment like driving, but I’m fine when I’m with my girl or best friend. I know I’ve hurt her so much after what we’ve been through together and the sacrifices we’ve made for each other. Things were not perfect back then, but those were the most fulfilling 3 years of my life. The pain has been going on for weeks.

  14. went to a bar w/friends, and i was beyond drunk. when they left to the bathroom, a guy came over and asked me if i had a boyfriend, i said yes, and he said he wanted to be my side guy. I told him no thank you but he kept on harrasing me. he then kissed me, and i couldnt pull myself away. My mind was screaming, but my body did nothing. I just said no, i have a boyfriend, but i didnt pull away. the guilt is killing me and i dont think i can tell my boyfriend of 1 yr. because i dont want to hurt him.Sometimes i feel i should break up with him without telling him, but i love him so much. He is the best man ive ever met, and cant take hurting him.

    • Babygirl, it’s not your fault. You told the stranger no, but he disrespected you. In your state, there was absolutely nothing you could have done. You need your boyfriend more than ever before- because you need his support, his unconditional love, his understanding. You also need to understand that the shame you feel is the shame that stranger deserves, not you. As difficult as it seems, you need to tell your boyfriend that you were drunk, that someone forced you to kiss him, that you couldn’t push him away because you were drunk. Ask for his forgiveness, then work together to overcome the habit of drinking too much.

      • Do that, and you will build eachother’s trust because there will be no secrets. It will bring your closer together. With a loved one, vulnerability is invincibility. Addressing the problem together will also prevent something horrible from happening again.

  15. I feel enormous guilt for lying all the time to everyone I love. I have done a horrible thing that has gone on for years. It has caused everyone pain. If I tell them the truth, no one will ever speak to me again. I am so ashamed, I might be a pathological liar. I am horrified with myself. I don’t know how to live with myself. I have harmed myself and cried and cried. I just don’t think I can live with this anymore, I want god to forgive me so I can go to heaven. I just don’t know what to do. I CANT tell my family. I need help.

    • You need to speak to a therapist to turn your life and behavior around. Do the exercises in the blog and read my book on Conquering Shame.” Uncover why you lied and be compassionate with yourself. Making amends is a key way to overcome guilt.

  16. Hi Darlene,
    I have been feeling guilty for a very long time. I’ve been dating my boyfriend for 1 year and 3 months. All was well in the beginning, until I caught him talking to other girls. I was hurt, but forgave him because I understood his explanation of insecurity and fear of losing in relationships. However, shortly after this ordeal, I gave another man a lap dance at a party. There was no groping or kissing, just the traditional lap dance. I thought it was harmless, so I told my boyfriend a few months later. He nearly broke up with me so I panicked. I changed my story calm him down… and 8 months later, I still feel guilty. Help?

  17. i stole money and some things from others..

    i look into another’s personal things..

    and all my past misakes

    i feel guilty of me…hurt to live..how i wil get rid of all these and how i am going to make happy my family…how i going to get a job…how i wil improve to high position in this society..i want to live with self respect who and all avoided me and who and all insulted me but how i dont know…

    but sometimes thinking all my past..i hurt myself and i hurt to live…

    i feel ashame and guilty…i want to die soooooon

  18. hi..i feel guilt and ashame myself for the following reasons..
    1)i start to do al mistakes when i am alone..i stay night alone during my 5th std so i use to see tv by usual when i change the channels i saw one english movie doing sex from that i start to see like that this is my very 1st mistake
    2)then during my 7th std unexpectedly i get one casette which is in my home so i check that what it will be in that ..it is a sex casette which my dad hide it from us.
    3)after seeing that i use to get sex pleasure from myself sometimes till now
    4)whn my sisters staying in my home they use to sight after that also i did like tht sight with boys..

    • Masturbation is perfectly normal and nothing to be ashamed about. Most people masturbate, but don’t talk about it. It is regrettable that your religion or culture makes it so. Other things like lying and stealing, are lessons to learn from and not repeat. Read my book and do the steps to heal. (look on http://www.eurospan.com) Find a counselor to talk to.

  19. Darlene, I’m very young and I struggle with the guilt of disappointing my parents. I acted horribly on a video game, which meant I acted innaproprate and did some bad things for someone my age. I feel like they are diasspointed in me. What do I do?

    • Guilt isn’t always a bad thing. It can motivate us to change our behavior. Tell yourself that you’ll have opportunities to behave differently next time, and then do the right thing. Be proactive instead of focusing on the past. Make amends. Work the 18 tips in the article diligently, and you’ll feel better.

  20. I am 39 yrs Old.. I always feel guilt/shame about past incidents which I feel I did wrong/unethical/misbehaviour always. even incidents in my school time also come to my memory and hurts me a lot. These days I become out of control and guilt conscious make me to shout or curse ,even when I am alone….may be the mistakes are small but it punishes me hard. I went to Psychiatrist and he started treating me for OCD. I feel its a wrong treatment.

    • Trust your instincts. OCD is accompanied by compulsive behavior. Obsessions of shame and guilt can be part of OCD, but may be coming from childhood trauma. Discuss it with your shrink and perhaps eek some counseling for that. Do the self-healing exercises in Conquering Shame and Codependency.

  21. Hello. My names Emily and i would like to forgive myself for something i haven’t done. On instergram i had commented on a boy i knows post “:)” and he took it in the wrong way. After that i got told off by a teacher i know. I trues to explain it wasn’t me. Now all i feel is guilt and im not sure. Please help? 2) Would you be able to help me over come quilt for my siblings and close friends/family. I fell guilt for others, Im not proud of it and i would also love to overcome this problem. Thankyou.

  22. Great ideas in this advice to those struggling with self forgiveness. I think they can be helpful. Meanwhile I wanted to comment about a part of this post which made a suggestion for someone struggling with divorce, on the assumption, “even if it was mostly the other persons fault.” (Indirect quote.) it seems pretty indulgent to suggest a divorce is ever one person’s fault, or even mostly one person’s fault, including divorces due to adultery. Like it or not, two people contributed to that outcome and it’s 50/50, no matter what. I doubt anyone benefits from being an absolute victim, or even a “mostly” victim.

    • I do not agree with you that the fault is 50/50, my ex husband left me after just 1 year of marriage for another woman he met at work. I loved him and I did anything for him, If only he gave me a chance I would have done anything to save our marriage but he left anyway and he is still with her today. Yes I am a victim here, he left me broken hearted, alone and broke and I had to struggle to survive this. Today I am with someone new and life is better, thank God.

  23. I tried on women’s clothing a year ago not knowing exactly what I was doing at the time I knew that it was wrong and I did my very best to prevent it and fight it but eventually I couldn’t fight it anymore. I did my very best to fight this and now a year later today the guilt bites away at me and I think “why me?”, “why did this happen to ME?”. I feel like the sins that I have committed are just too much to handle I lose sight of my identity and I have a burning ache in my hurt for over a year and suicidal thoughts have come into my mind I just want all the old times back before this happened, I would never do it again and I need help please.

    • What you’re describing is shame, not guilt. Whether you were merely curious or expressing a transgender preference, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. if the latter, suppression of your desire may cause you more stress. You may want to seek counseling to help heal your shame. Also, do the exercises in Conquering Shame.

    • What you’re describing is shame, not guilt. Whether you were merely curious or expressing a transgender preference, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. if the latter, suppression of your desire may cause you more stress. You may want to seek counseling to help heal your shame. Also, do the exercises in Conquering Shame.

  24. My bf of 4 yrs was my 1st everything, and I still believe my true love. After we moved in together the sexual chemistry dwindled and I was left missing the attention. On vacation, I let a guy who I was not attracted to kiss me. After the vacation, I txted this guy to hang out – I first did this out of confusion. I didn’t know why I let him kiss me, was I that thirsty for attention? We hung out, he was even less attractive to me but on the 4th & 5th hangout we made out – the 1st time it was very lusty but the 2 time was not and I nipped it in the bud. After a year of guilt I told my bf of initial kiss but not the rest. Feeling incredibly down.

  25. For the past few months I’ve had sexual messages and photos with a person in another country, despite them being engaged. Their soon-to-be spouse found out and wants to call off the wedding because of it and I completely feel it’s my fault. We’ve cut ties so they can rebuild their relationhip but I don’t know how to resolve my crushing guilt over the whole issue, do I need counselling?

  26. I cheated on my husband of 5 years about a year and a half ago with two men. I couldn’t hide it anymore and I told him after basically having a mental collapse. Hiding this from him for so long I now have extremely high anxiety and my guilt, shame and disappointment in myself are still just eating away at me. After much consideration he has decided to try and give our relationship a second chance. We BOTH have a lot of things to work on at, communication being the number one. I kept my feelings to myself on how I felt in our relationship and became depressed and then I cheated. Marriage counseling is in place, how can I begin to forgive me?

  27. Getting on a bit (45) married to a great guy; but I look at old school friends lives on FB; can’t help be envious of them. I feel I never reached my full potential due to completely messed up parenting!! Apart from being deserted by mother aged 5; Father (15yrs her senior & may already have had a drink problem) really hit the bottle; abused me; older sister. Sister was the apple of daddy’s eye & step mother had her own daughter to dote on. I slipped through the net both at school; home. Felt very insecure, guilty, ashamed ; scared; was a very shy child anyway. Ended up in abusive relationships, never held decent job long; no kids.

  28. Please find a way to get past your feelings of guilt towards your ex. I had a very similar situation and it has been emotionally draining with all the after effects of having my 15 year relationship dissolve the day he passed away. It is too painful to deal with someone else’s addiction, no matter what it is. I have had a similar issue with codependency and I promise your RIGHT person is out there. It sounds like you need to do what I am trying to do, and that is to learn to forgive and love yourself. After that, I believe that you will be able to love and cherish yourself and your future partner as a respectful partnership.

  29. We became friends on a dating website six months ago….after that we exchanged mobile numbers and became close,fallen in love..later,at the beginning of November, he started a new business and he already kept me informed that he will he busy and can’t able to contact me often as before.I too agreed,but I started missing him badly and started calling and text him often which he didn’t like..he felt like I was torturing him..and this is what happened..he told me that hre have no feelings or love on me and asked me to let him free.later i realised my mistakes,asked sorry.but he didnt say anything.its been a month,we didn’t talk

  30. A year ago me and my current gf started dating long distance…we were in the initial stage of becoming serious and she was indecisive whether to move closer to me or not…we had many arguments over this, and almost broke up. During that time a woman showed interest in me and I opened the door for her…though eventually I didn’t have sex with her and rejected her, I kind of crossed the boundary. I told my gf and apologized…she was hurt but forgave me for my mistake. Now everything is fine with us…we might get married soon but this guilt has been eating me ever since. Should I get married with this guilt not resolved?

  31. I broke up a with a girl with whom I was involved in for 3 years. The main reason behind my action was that I was loosing feelings for her while she still loved me. Its been 1 year since the breakup, now she’s getting married and she invited me. She said she’ll try her best to be happy with her marriage. This has left me with a huge amount of guilt and I can’t seem to get out of it. Its not that I feel bad for loosing her but I feel guilty for hurting her. What do I do?

    • It’s a symptom of codependency that you would feel guilty for someone else’s feelings. You’re responsible for your actions, not her reactions. Had you stayed in the relationship, she wouldn’t be getting married to someone who presumably loves her.

      • But I’m not worried about loosing her I’m just feeling bad that I hurt her. She still has feelings for me. But I don’t wanna get back. I wanna make peace with myself.

  32. Hello. I recently made a terrible decision that resulted in the destruction of a relationship- I communicated inappropriately with someone who was in a relationship. I have no excuse for this behavior and it has been something I’ve struggled with throughout my life. This person’s significant other found the conversation and proceeded to verbally berate me over the course of days, from multiple mediums, despite my apologies and pleading, threatening personal humiliation. No physical relationship of any kind ever occurred with the person I originally conversed with. I never meant to hurt this person or even become involved romantically or physically with the person I conversed with. Although both parties have been blocked from my social media, and the threats made by this person hold no real value, I cannot escape from my guilt and fear. I have never been spoken to or threatened in such a way. I will be getting help soon, but was wondering if there was any advice you could spare for someone living in a fear and guilt that seem crushing.

    • I’m reviewing this info, because my foster daughter left our home for a codependent relationship with her boyfriend. I’d identify them if I were to be descriptive. Although, we had the advantage of professionals on teams providing interventions, we were still unsuccessful at keeping her here. Sadly, the mental stability of our daughter is (I wish WAS) so affected by their relationship that she chose to move out despite endless budget talks, self-reflection opportunities regarding plan-b’s, etc. Initially, we felt as though it was another example of a disposable bond (hers with us). After review, we see she’s her own victim :(

  33. Hi, i am feeling guilty because my husband left for another woman after 1 year of marriage and when he came back, i could not accept him. Now after 2 years he is still with her and i met someone new but i am stuck in the past and could not move on.

  34. My girlfriend has that guilt that i have seen her naked. she comes from a very conservative family and being naked infront of me is a very big thing for her. She feels the way the society looks at her when i go to drop her or when she comes to my place is something she cannot take. She has started feeling suffocating with me. She loves me but that guilt part is overpowering the love part. I love her way beyond anything, and i dont want us to part ways. Help please! I”ll be grateful to you all my life.

  35. I am trying to get past the terrible guilt and bad decisions I made that changed my children forever. I had a 3 month affair with an old boyfriend from my past, and my ex and I ended up divorcing after many years of marriage. The kids (11 and 14 at the time) wanted to remain with their dad, and the oldest no longer talks to me. It’s been 3 years. I have taken responsibility for what I’ve done and have apologized over and over to the kids. A good friend said to me, it’s as if I’m in a boxing match. I’m in the ring without anyone but me, and I’m beating myself to a pulp. I can’t stay in this horrible pain of guilt and sadness. How do I move on…from the guilt, the shame, and without my kids in my life?

    • It is very difficult for many people to overcome the guilt of divorce – made worse when you’re blamed by a spouse and children. However, responsibility for a marriage ending is shared. Although your husband wasn’t responsible for the affair, the marriage had its problems that led up to it. Try to separate out your regret and sadness from guilt. Punishing yourself won’t bring back your children, but will make you sick. Invest in your life now, and when they’re older and leave home, they may see things differently. Continue to let them know you love them. They do need and love you, though they may not consciously be aware of that. You will always be important to them. Also, it’s not a good idea to allow children to decide with whom they stay after divorce. It should be based on the best interests of the child (irrespective of your affair0. PBS showed a movie on Forgiveness about a mother who left your family and was trying to come to terms wtih it years later.

      • Thanks for your quick reply. Part of the reason I let them stay with their dad was, we lived in an affluent area that I could no longer afford. I was a stay at home mom for 15 years, and am still struggling financially, 3 years later. I have now decided to go back to school, as that is the only way I will be able to financially support myself. If I would have been in a better financial situation, I would have probably done things differently.

        • Don’t know which state you’re in, but most allow alimony, child support, and property division to have made that feasible. If parental alienation has been a factor, look for a support group such as ISNAF. Also, do the exercises in my book onConquering Shame to help heal your past. See the work by Amy Baker on the subject. You might check into low-cost or free legal/counseling services to pursue possible mediation with your ex regarding visitation and with your children. Los Angeles allows for limited free meetings in Conciliation Court, but you can request their father pay for further counseling with the children, which would become a court order if agreed upon and approved in court mediation.

          • Thank you. And YES, parental alienation has played a HUGE role in all of this! You have been a big help, thank you.

  36. I was in affair before marriage and I hide it from my husband. I love my husband and can do anything for his happiness. Bt he now know abt my affair and he just cant digest that and he dnt belive me anymore bt want to continue only bcoz for parents happiness. He is very emotional and nice person. What should I do for his happiness.

  37. Hi Darlene

    I have a problem that i can’t overcome, i think i have insecurities or guilt, i always feel angry or sad whenever my girlfriend goes out, when she is out and i am home or at work i just get this depressing feeling moody , angry etc even when she gets back im just moody and angry i cant really control the feeling, this feeling is destroying me a lot, my mind is just thinking negative things , i do try t o be positive but i end up going back to thinking negative. i value my relationship so much and i don’t wanna destroy it at all, we have a son together. please advice and help i am really going mad

    • It sounds like you’re reacting to something from the past, such as betrayal or abandonment. Write or think about what memories your feelings are triggering. If that doesn’t help, see counseling to ferret out the source of your reaction.

  38. You seem lovely and very approachable, hence my comment. Today, one of my close friends was showing me her new car, all it’s features and the price they paid for it. Unfortunately the car was parked in a garage and as I went to open the door to look inside, I accidentally knocked the door against their brick wall which made a small chip. I feel absolutely gutted and so guilty that I am feeling quite physically sick. I apologized numerous amounts, and offered to get the car fixed, however, the guilt remains. Please advise on how to accept, and move on
    Thanks x

  39. Dr. Lancer, thank you for the article and for your work.

    In hindsight, I see that I have experienced guilt and shame almost my entire life, due to my need to conform to to my family’s/relatives’ image of what I *should* be. One of the hardest aspects of this guilt revolves around sexuality, something that was always considered filthy, bad and immoral by my overtly conservative and religious family environment. Even though I’m at my mid-30’s now, I have never been able to let go of the burden that lust and sexual desire are bad things. I have done therapy for a couple of years, but without getting into the root of the casue. Is there a certain therapeutic approach that’s more suitable for this kind of issues?

    With kind regards.

    • Religion has made sensual and sexual pleasure sinful. I discuss this in my book Conquering Shame. My hunch is that this is on top of other feelings of shame that are more pervasive and that are getting triggered by your sexuality. My book has 8 steps to healing shame. There are specific techniques that can address this issue set forth in my book.

      • Thank you for the reply Dr. Lancer. You provided an important insight that I hadn’t thought before – I always thought that sexual shame was the core issue and not just one of the layers of shame. Thank you for the book suggestion as well, I will sure check it out.

        Kind regards.

  40. Hi i did one mistake i cancelled the marriage due to some silly reason i am feeling guilty too much now he has loved me but now everything is over he got engaged to other girl i cant say atleast sorry also feeling too much guity now every day every second i am hurting myself

    • Notice that one step to overcoming guilt is to make amends. Own your mistake and if you love the man, let him know. Also, recognize that they’re may be deeper reasons why you weren’t sure about him or ready for marriage at all, and validate that in yourself.

  41. This is a little different to all the other ‘confessions’.
    I’m sorry if it’s also a little too explicit but I do need to put in some details as it’ll allow me to depict my situation properly.

    I was getting a blowjob for the first time from my girlfriend (at the time) and she was explaining to me how it was hard for her,because it was her first time. She wasn’t very good at it which I could obviously understand but I was curious as to just how difficult it actually is and how some people are just naturally better than others.

    It got me thinking, how would I do? Could I do any better? I’ve always sympathised extremely well with people, almost to the point of empathy where I genuinely feel guilty or sorry etc.

    I developed this inquisitiveness of what it would be like to give a blowjob so I could actually understand things from the woman’s perspective instead of merely sympathising. However, it was purely and solely when I was turned on. Any other time I was almost repulsed by the thought of MY (and not anyone else’s doing so. Everyone is entitled to their own sexual preference and I fully understand and agree with that) doing such a thing.

    I am feeling EXTREMELY guilty because I am torn between feeling guilty about thoughts of WHAT IF, and whether or not it is actually what I truly want, considering I only feel this way when I’m turned on.

    Thank You for reading my essay. Sorry to make it so long but I needed to make sure I conveyed my situation properly. Thank you for all the support in advance!!

    • There is no need to feel guilty about your sexual pleasure or appetite if you’re not harming anyone else. Sexual preferences exist on a continuum, and many people are bisexual. You don’t mention your age or sexual experience. In my new book on shame, I include a chapter on sexual shame. You may want to seek counseling to get clarity about your preferences and lifestyle choices.

  42. I have guilt that my son will be alone for not having second child, it’s not chance or by choice just time slipped by. Now my son is 11 yrs old and I m 40 yrs old. He is a good boy and don’t want sibling now. Not able to decide should I go for second baby.

  43. Whenever I get stressed, I cannot help but feel guilty for putting my parents in this situation. Basically I’m 22 years old and still living home with my parents and sister, all of whom need the car as much as I do.

    Normally I’m able to ignore this feeling, but after a long day at school, I just can’t help it and end up taking out all my frustration on my poor mother. Being as I need the car alot for school, I’m not sure what to do any more. I just can’t help the guilt of knowing that had I tried harder in high school, I wouldn’t have put my parents and sister in this situation. With my dad out of work right now, I can’t help but feel even worse. Hope you can help.

  44. I have been in in my relationship for almost 10 years.For the most part it was very good but about 6 years ago my (now fiance) developed very severe anxiety. I was supportive of her and have continued to be since then. Previous to her anxiety we had a very healthy sex life but since we have rarely been intimate in the last few years with almost no intimacy in the last three.

    I’m a very sexual person but over time I thought I had gotten used to the lack of intimacy but then about a year ago I started visiting online sites and met someone.We would meet online occasionally.I had no emotional attachment for this person and love my fiance dearly.I went though periods of time of not speaking with this person online,but found myself going back.

    Recently the women asked me to meet her for an “encounter”.I repeatedly told her no that I would feel terrible if I did it and I knew it would hurt my fiance.Then several days ago I gave in and met this women. I allowed her to perform a sex act on me.Immediately after I was ill, overwhelmed by feelings of guilt, shame and regret.

    I worked up the courage to talk to my fiance and she has been very supportive despite being hurt.After all of this we both opened up a lot and we both actually now feel closer to each other. However, I still have this sinking feeling in my chest and stomach and I cannot sleep.It helps to talk to my fiance but I’m afraid I will just not be able to forgive myself.

    Please help….

    • It seems that emotional intimacy has been missing from your relationship as well as sexual intimacy. Conjoint therapy can help you both to resolve these problems and for you to understand your deeper motivations. This should help you with self-forgiveness. Also, see my blog on rebuilding trust.

      • i have been in a relationship for 6 years.we hv never had sex but he had seen me naked.we broke up 4 months ago.my parents are plaaning for my marriage.now i feel guilty for being naked infront of someone whom am not going to marry.what to do?help me to completely get over my guilt and shame.i want to be happy with my hubby in future.

        • You sound quite confused, as am I. Are you sure whom you love, whom you want to marry, and why you were in the two relationships. What are your values and why are you punishing yourself? Answer the questions outlined in this blog and do some soul searching. Only you can remove your guilt. My book, Conquering Shame has a chapter about sexual shame you should read.

  45. Recently I had been in a relationship with a guy I had met over facebook. We used to chat continuously and I was interested in taking it forward though he appeared a bit reluctant. The reason he said was his financial instability. He insisted on meeting personally at his place as he said he cannot be away from there due to business commitements. Though I was reluctant to go initially, later I felt our relation falling apart and badly wanted to mend it. Moreover he used to say he wants to discuss some of his perosnal issues when we meet. Finally I silenced my insecurities and went to meet him. But when he met he was not willing to share his issues. He said he is not comfortable with me asking about it intermittently and will share it some time later. Though I could not buy in his blame of me pestering him with questions I decided to give him the space and time he needs. But inspite of this we were physically intimate and I was kind of forced to be half nude, which I was not atball comfortable with; but agreed to him out of fear of being blamed for not trusting him or considering his feelings. Also we had an argument reagrding his over indulgence in phone when we were together and again i was blamed for not being bold enough when I tried to let him know of my insecurities. But syill he was talking about a future together till i was back.Quite contrary to my expectations when I came back from his place he started keeping distance and literalky stopped responding to my messages. When I insisted he said he is into some personal issues and need some time. I tried to keep myself away but within one week I was down with depression. Now I am doing good but with the help of antidepressants. Two weeks back I tried to talk to him and again I was blamed for being a pain in his neck and a burden as he is troubled with hell lot of other issues. I found that veryboffensive and said goodbye. Two days later he messaged saying his busineess venture got started on that week. I just wished him best. We are not in touch for last two weeks. I do not see any future for this relation. But I just can’t stop tjinking about him and what went wrong. Mostly I am unable to get rid of the guilt that I got physically intimate with him and trusted him so much. I would really like to get out of these spiralling thoughts, accept the relqity and move on. Please help

    • What you describe is twice acting because you were afraid of being blamed, which is afraid of shame. Shame anxiety controls codependents to a large degree. Reading my book, Conquering Shame will help you have compassion for yourself and change your behavior in the future. I also have a blog post on Trust that might help you with issues around trusting untrustworthy people. Sounds like he’s very manipulative, which I will address in my next blog in August.

  46. Recently I had been in a relationship with a guy I had met over facebook. We used to chat continuously and I was interested in taking it forward though he appeared a bit reluctant. The reason he said was his financial instability. He insisted on meeting personally at his place as he said he cannot be away from there due to business commitements. Though I was reluctant to go initially, later I felt our relation falling apart and badly wanted to mend it. Moreover he used to say he wants to discuss some of his perosnal issues when we meet. Finally I silenced my insecurities and went to meet him. But when he met he was not willing to share his issues. He said he is not comfortable with me asking about it intermittently and will share it some time later. Though I could not buy in his blame of me pestering him with questions I decided to give him the space and time he needs. But inspite of this we were physically intimate and I was kind of forced to be half nude, which I was not atball comfortable with; but agreed to him out of fear of being nlamed

  47. I used to spend a lot of time going to clubs. I don’t drive so I always took public transit or got a ride from somebody. On two occasions, however, I got a ride from women who had been drinking at the club. They drove cautiously and nothing happened. The second time, however, the woman’s best friend (who wasn’t there) berated me for letting her friend drive. I was a bit tipsy but I still felt uneasy getting into the car on both occasions. I even tried to convince the women to wait or eat before driving or leave the car there, but both times they convinced me or I let myself hope that they could drive. I feel guilty because we could have been killed or killed or hurt somebody. I think of all the things I should have done differently and I feel awful for not having been more assertive. In fact, that is something I lack, assertiveness. Nowadays, I try to avoid being in situations like that and avoid heavy drinkers and leave the club early, but I can’t get rid of the guilt.

  48. I was with my husband for 7 years and he was my only boyfriend and my first love and we got married and had 2 children, he cheated on me and we ended up separating, and then got back together and then he cheated on me again…. Then we got back together and we just recently got back together but things just arent the same I cant sleep with him or anything and I ended up cheating, and I feel guilty about it but I am so hurt and just beyond myself and dont know how to not feel guilty about it, any tips

    • His betrayal must have been so heartbreaking. Ask yourself why his feelings are more important than your own, how and why did you convince yourself you could trust him again, and what did you do with your anger toward him.

      • ya i just kind of brush him off I leave a lot and do things with the kids by myself try to keep him out of the loop, and there are times I can talk to him and other times where I just snap at him and it is because I really feel sort of trapped… He always twists things to make them my fault and I feel like i did wrong but at the same time i dont… i just want to be happy again and dont know where to start…

  49. Hi, After 40 years of self-imposed guilt, I’m trying to sort it out and figure out how to let it go. I’ve blamed myself for the death of my father and his best friend who died in a plane crash after leaving my HS Baccalaureate. I’ve often wondered if I had delayed them would it have changed, and felt that if they hadn’t come to see me graduate it wouldn’t have happened. It’s “my” fault. There is a lot of story behind this. I don’t know how to let this go. I can’t afford therapy but somehow this needs to end. I’ll try to get your book so I can see if that helps in any way. I really do thank you for giving me a bit of info to help me sort thru this. I think maybe I need to forgive myself for sending them invitations.

    Thanks,
    Cheryl

    • It’s very sad that you would do this to yourself, rather than gratitude to be able to cherish the happy occasion that you both shared together before your father died, which would come with acceptance. There’s an element of anger in guilt. If you can allow yourself to fully feel angry that they died, you might stop turning that anger on yourself. It may result in more sadness and grief, but that’s normal, and can lead to acceptance. Grief includes various stages that include anger and often guilt. What you’re experiencing is part of “bargaining,” thinking “if only I hadn’t” could change the past. We can’t change the past, we can only accept it, and move forward. (I describe the stages in Ch. 13 of my Dummies book).

      Healthy guilt needn’t be rational, but from a purely logical standpoint, no reasonable connection exists that would make you responsible. There were so many independent intervening forces between your invite and his death – his decision to come, weather, his choice of airline and time of day, engineering and pilot errors, where he sat on the plane, etc. Your guilt is purely irrational, and often irrational guilt is based on shame.

      • Hi Darlene,

        There is so much more to this story than what appears. Our relationship wasn’t a good one before he died. He was the pilot in his own personal plane. I know my guilt is irrational but I don’t quite see where shame fits into the picture. I did finally talk to the widow of the other adult in the plane, my dad’s best friend. She said she has never blamed me. It has taken me 40 years to be able to talk to her. I now almost wonder if it’s been so long ingrained in me that I can’t let it go. Does that even make sense?

        No, I’ve not gotten your book yet. I’m disabled and getting out to go shop isn’t that easy for me. I must make an effort to do that or see if I can get it online. I’ve meant to respond several times, but I just forget. I’m sorry. I guess I don’t want to find myself in tears again over this as I am right now.

        Thanks,
        Cheryl

        • I hope practicing the tips in this blog will help you. When we have irrational guilt, it’s often the manifestation of underlying shame that we don’t feel good about ourselves – maybe not about the current incident, but from our childhood, so it sets us up to feel guilty easily and irrationally. Losing someone when you’re not on good terms complicates the grieving process and could be contributing to your guilt. Psychotherapy or coaching can help with that. Also, when we feeling responsible for someone else’s actions, that’s a sign of codependency, and shame underlies that, too. You can find my books on shame and codependency in PDF, Kindle or other electronic format online. They’re cheaper than the paperback. The exercises should help you.

  50. Hi, I just realized that I am co dependent. My boyfriend broke up with me because I basically pushed him away and we do not speak anymore. I feel guilty for acting the way I did and sometimes I find myself constantly thinking about him and I don’t know why. My ex is an addict and no good for me. Ive been reading your book and I’m learning alot about myself. I guess my question is, is my constant thinking about him is that just part of me being co-dependent? I’m just very confused. Thanks

    • Yes, obsession is one of the symptoms, but more than that, being involved with an addict isn’t good for your self-esteem. The addiction comes first, so you’ve been in a relationship where your needs and feelings weren’t valued, and yet you want more of it. That’s the real problem. He did you a favor by breaking up. If he’s blaming you, that’s just what addict’s do. Go to Al-Anon or Nar-Anon and work on loving yourself, and follow all the suggestions in my blog. Good luck on your journey of reclaiming yourself!

  51. I asked someone to have a sex withme,she is our worker and i had not any relationship with her and she oppose me and i didn’t do anything further just asking only, but i am saying now that i mustnot ask her and she is leaving far from me now.what shall i do now to get away from my regret?

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