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How to Free Yourself from Guilt

Photo by Zara Jay
Editor’s Note

This article was originally published on December 20, 2007, around the time this blog was born. Sometimes, older articles get buried and lost in the archives, but their advice is still applicable today. As I transition into a full-time mom again, I recently experienced some guilt (more on that in a new post soon) and this articled helped to ground me with its gentle reminders to "Let go of the pain. It's all an illusion. Set yourself free. Everything will be okay." Enjoy the article!

Have you recently felt guilty for something you didn’t do?

Perhaps, feeling guilty for not replying to emails? Guilty for not reaching all your goals for the day? Guilty for having spent hours browsing the web aimlessly and not having enough time to do something important? Guilty for telling someone you’d call, but never returning the call? Do you beat yourself up for it?

I’m definitely guilty of having felt guilty. :) I’m also guilty for the self-inflicted mental beating I give myself, afterwards.

Thoughts like these have the power to bring you down. They carry an energy that weighs down on your mind, because part of you is constantly thinking about it. The guilt begins popping up in everything you do. Do you get random tightness feeling in your stomach? A sort of nervousness that you just can’t seem to shake off?

I’ve experienced a great amount of guilt over the past few weeks. Since the birth of this blog, I’ve fallen in love with working on the blog. For all the joy it has brought me, it has taken a tremendous amount of dedication and time. Since I was not prepared for the commitment for blog, I have been neglecting my other commitments and activities. My neglect has been manifesting in feelings of guilt.

The experience of guilt is also a great gift. It gave me the opportunity and willingness to look deeper into this ‘man-made’ emotion. I wanted to share with you my realizations and a simple six step technique I’ve used to help myself overcome this unpleasant feeling.

Realizations about Guilt

Here are some things I’ve observed and realized about the emotion of Guilt:

1. Self Inflicted

All guilt is self-inflicted and created by the mind. It is a feeling that we choose to experience. The feeling is rooted in our ego; a fear of not being accepted by the peers in our social group.

2. Open Issues

Guilt is often caused by open issues that were not addressed. I discovered that if I had a plan for solving the issue, then the feeling would be either relieved or reduced.

3. Feeling of Debt

Often times, we feel guilty because we feel like we owe something to someone, like a debt. Whether it’s social debt, monetary debt, or unfulfilled responsibilities.

One example is not calling a friend after you promised you would do so. Or feeling like you owe a favor to a friend or family, but you haven’t done it.

In my personal example, I have felt guilty for not publishing as many articles as I would like to this blog. I felt that I owned you an article (which sometime eats at me psychologically).  But you see this feeling of “debt” isn’t real and is pretty ridiculous.  It’s just my mind doing its trick to create drama and suffering.  And seriously, I should write only when I’m inspired and able to do so.

4. More Beneath the Surface

The perceived problem causing the guilt is just a small piece visible on the surface. Typically, there are unresolved issues or other meaning beneath what we see on the surface.

Ask yourself – what are these issues? By addressing the surface, the guilt might seem to disappear, but it’ll be back. The problem will surface again, dressed in another form but rooted in the same underlying issue.

The best strategy is to uncover the underlying issue. For example, I felt guilty for not attending a party, especially after some peer pressure from friends. The underlying issue may be that, “I want to be liked and accepted by my friends, I’m afraid that they’ll stop liking me if I don’t go to the party. I need their friendship in order to validate myself.”

One way to address the underlying issue for this example can be: find ways to feel whole and complete about myself without the need to be validated by other people. Practice building self confidence and self appreciation.

Tips for Dealing with Guilt:

  • Fully Experiencing the Feeling – As with overcoming any emotion, the best way is to fully experience the feeling. Spend a few minutes in uninterrupted space, close your eyes, now fully and deeply feel the guilt surge over you. Witness it as a third-person. It will probably hurt, but just be with it, it’s an experience that will help you overcome the feeling. As you fully witness the feeling, you will notice the feeling slowly fade away.
  • Seek to Understand Why – We know that there are more beneath the surface for why we feel guilt in the first place. Ask yourself why? Why are you choosing to allow guilt into your life? What is it about this feeling that is serving you and your ego?
  • Focus on What You Can Do Now – Focus on things you can do now, instead of things you have not done. Guilt is often regretting something you did not do in the past, so recognize that we cannot change time. If we cannot go back to the past, then why are we spending energy pondering the past?
  • Brainstorm Action Items – What are some tasks you can do to remove this feeling of guilt? Write them down.
  • Prioritize – Once you have your list of action items, prioritize them in order of importance. What will cause the greatest relief of your pain? Put a number beside each item.
  • Planning and Scheduling – Once you have your list of action items prioritized, schedule them into your calendar. Plan to tackle each one of these items, with the high priority tasks first.
  • Be Realistic – Realize that you only have a set amount of time each day. Be realistic with what you plan to get done. Please be gentle with yourself, don’t give yourself a hard time if you cannot achieve them. Focus on the high priority items. Think 80/20 rule: What action items will give me the biggest return for my time?




6 Step Process for Resolving Self-Inflicted Guilt


The following is a simple technique I used to overcome these feelings.

(I know there are other techniques out there and I’d love to hear about them. Share with us in the comments.)

Step 1: Create Your Guilt List

On a blank sheet of paper, write at the top: “Things I feel guilty about:”, and list out all the things you feel guilty about. For each item, use a separate line and leave a gap underneath each one (space for 3-4 lines).

Keep writing until you run out of guilt-related thoughts. Do not edit your thoughts. Write down whatever comes to mind. Use multiple pages if necessary. Use only one side of the page, so it’s easy to review this list later.

The idea is to get these thoughts out of your head. You have been carrying these thoughts around and they take up space in your mind. This exercise attempts to clear out some of these thoughts. By having them laid out on paper, we can see them clearly, and come face-to-face with our self-inflicted guilt thoughts.

When I did this, I was shocked at how long my list was. Examples from my own list:

  • Not enough time in a day to do what I want
  • I’m not spending time reading or meditating. I’ve lost myself.
  • Not writing enough articles. So many unwritten articles.
  • Sleeping too late. Not going to bed after Adam waits up for me.

Step 2: Brainstorm Your Guilt Battle Plan

For each guilt, ask yourself, “What can I do about it?”

In the space under each item in your list (from Step 1), describe the actions that you can take to eliminate or reduce this guilt. You might have to break the actions into smaller steps.

Example, list of actions to address my “not spending time reading or meditation” guilt:

  • Schedule reading time daily, minimum of 30 minutes.
  • Minimum of 5-15 minutes every morning to meditate (sit quietly)
  • Wake up earlier
  • Sleep earlier

If you’ve tried, but can’t find a resolving action, then list out positive and realistic statements to reason with this guilt. Example, statements for my “Not writing enough articles” guilt:

  • I am doing the best that I can.
  • I write when I am inspired. It’s okay to post twice weekly as long as I maintain consistency and quality.

Step 3: Create Your Values List

On a new blank sheet of paper, write at the top: “Aspects of My Life That Are Most Important to Me:” or “What I Value Most:”. List out things most important to you, starting from the most important. I used the term things broadly, which can be replaced with people, feelings, opportunities, actions, and commitments that you value. Similarly, for each item, use a separate line and leave a gap under each item.

Imagine, if you can have only one thing out of life, what would that thing be? Write down the first thing that pops in your head. Do not edit your thoughts. Now, repeat the question with “if you can have two things”. It’s important to write without editing.

Here’s a partial list for what I value most:

  • Feeling present, calm, peaceful, healthy, energetic and centered.
  • My family: my parents and my partner, Adam.
  • My blog: readers, connecting with readers, providing value.
  • My job and business.
  • My friends.

Step 4: How to Fuel Your Values

For each item you most value, list out action items you would like to do which contributes towards that item.

Example, for my most valued item, “Feeling centered, peaceful, energetic.”, some action items are:

  • Meditation and quite time
  • Planning and Journaling
  • Reading time.
  • Exercise: Jogging and rebounding.
  • Drinking water.
  • Orderly living space.

Step 5: Create Your Guilt Reduction Action Plan

On a new sheet of paper, write at the top “Things I Will Plan For” or “Things I Would Like to Do Regularly”.

Scan through the action items from both lists. You might find some common action items that exist from both lists. Write these action items out on a separate sheet of paper. These are the higher priority action items that will give you the biggest return for your time, since they contribute towards things most important to you as well. You can list disjoint items as well, but mark them as lower priority.

Example, some common items I see from my lists are:

  • Sleeping early and waking up early.
  • Reading time
  • Meditation & quiet time
  • Reduce email & web browsing time

For me, it became apparent that if I just addressed these items, the quality of my life will increase significantly. Not only will I reduce self-inflicted guilt, but I will also contribute towards the aspects of my life that I value most.




Step 6: Habituate Your Guilt Reduction Actions

Put a weekly schedule beside each item from step 5. Even if you don’t do follow it, this will create the space in your awareness which will allow positive change to happen.


  • Meditation: minimum daily quiet time of 5-15 minutes. I will also do Nithya Dhyaan meditation twice a week (Sundays and Wednesdays).
  • Reading: 30 minutes – 1 hour daily.
  • Sleep: go to bed before 1am daily.

We often don’t do the tasks that we want to do, because we don’t create the time.

Take one action item that will make the biggest difference to your wellbeing. Make it your highest priority and commit to doing it everyday for the week.

It’s important to focus on one action item at a time, so that you can turn it into a habit, before moving on to the next.

I wish you success. Let me know how it goes.


Regardless of what we think the external circumstances are, the real cause of guilt lies within ourselves. We have the power to choose what to focus our attention on, but we often react instinctively and forget to control our perspective. And in the reactive patterns, we unconsciously give attention to guilt and accidentally welcome it into our inner space.

It is possible to stop yourself in your reaction, and witness your inner space as you react. With practice and conscious awareness, it is possible to undo our conditioning for instant reaction, and eventually eliminate guilt completely.

Editor’s note: This article took about 3 weeks to complete, as I have been dealing with this self-inflicted guilt the entire time. I’ve created this simple six step process in dealing with my personal feelings. I have tested and refined the process myself, and I am noticing a positive shift in my state of mind. I hope you may find it helpful in your life.

Allowing ourselves to make changes in our lives for the better takes real courage. What is the one action you would like take to eliminate some guilt in your life? I know that you will have the courage in you to follow through.

For your courage, I applaud you.

What is one guilt you are feeling now (or felt recently)? What actions can you take to free yourself from it? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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About the author

Tina Su is a mom, a wife, a lover of Apple products and a CHO (Chief Happiness Officer) for our motivational community: Think Simple Now. She is obsessed with encouraging and empowering people to lead conscious and happy lives. Subscribe to new inspiring stories each week. You can also subscribe to Tina on Facebook.

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71 thoughts on How to Free Yourself from Guilt

  1. Thanks for the great article. Now I’m wondering if I should feel more guilty. Haha. A man could get insomnia from just thinking about it!

  2. Nice post. Lots of good, practical ideas. As a therapist I love the emphasis on not running from the feeling or trying to push it out of consciousness, but rather trying to discover what message it might have for you.

    I do think it is worth keeping in mind that there are some things for which guilt is appropriate and probably helpful to us if it doesn’t get too out of hand. It is one of our cognitive systems for helping us not to do things that injure us socially (and injure others). I think most of us have some gut level sense of what guilt is appropriate and what is guilt run amok.

  3. ryan bryan

    hi everyone…

    i think i am lucky to have found this blog…i hope you can help me ease the guilt that i have been carrying for weeks!…i got sick due to this matter…

    i am involve in a student organization in a university that i am currently enrolled in…we have this one applicant that is supposed to be in but due to some deliberations that the members had done, he was voted off and i was one of those members who voted him off!

    at the end of the day, i found myself thinking about what happened and suddenly i felt bad and i was not able to sleep very well…

    that applicant was good, brilliant and as what i have heard, he is an excellent student…

    so why did i voted him off?…i voted him off because we got news from our co-member that if that applicant will be accepted, he will be a big threat to the organization because he got attitude problems and that the applicant has hidden agenda in ruining the organization…

    4 of us voted him off and 4 of the rest of the members voted him in…and the screening chair broke the tie and said NO!…the screening chair oversee the applicants during their screening process…maybe the applicant is bright but he can harm the organization…

    and that’s where i based my judgment… but somehow, i think i’m wrong for voting him out..and i cannot undo the deliberation because everything that was settled is irrevocable…

    somehow, the applicant was good and i think i made a mistake for voting him out…what can i do?…these days, i just see myself thinking and feeling guilty about it…

    it feels that i have judged the applicant wrongly…i can’t help it…i feel that i was truly wrong for voting him out and if i have just voted him in, he can continue to the screening process and be one of us…just one vote…if i had just voted him in…one vote can change everything and i it feels that i took it away from him…it feels that i didn’t gave him a chance…

  4. Alex

    Usually I wouldn’t do this and I would keep my guilt list private, but I’ve had a few mini-epiphanies from reading many things like this so I’ve decided it might be better to post it publicly.
    I’m mainly guilty about many mistakes I’ve made in my relationship. I love him a lot and I’ve made him hate me. I’m trying to turn my guilt into fuel to better myself but I’m so upset that it’s difficult.
    I am trying my best, and I’ll keep trying my best.
    I’m feeling guilty about missing school a lot. I know my grades are going down.
    I will get my grades back up and I’ll try not to miss any more school. That’s all I can do.
    I also feel some guilt about my recent eating habits. Since I’m mostly alone and I don’t have any options I end up eating things that have more calories than I’d like.
    It’s better than not eating.
    I’m feeling guilty about how little contact I’ve had with my friends lately. It’s been a tough time and I hope they understand.
    I’m feeling guilty about how little time I’ve had to read and write.
    I’ll start reading and writing more. While writing will be more difficult, a little writing is better than none at all.
    This is all I can really think of right now. I thank you for making this entry. It has helped a lot.

  5. @Evan

    I’m going to save your suggestion and give it a try. Thank you. I’m checking out your blog as well.

    Nice article all the way around btw :)

  6. Hey Tina,

    Free yourself from guilt by nipping the source of the guilt in the butt.

    Analyze the source of guilt: can you do anything about it? If not, disassociate yourself from it. You can’t change it, so why worry? Don’t feel guilty, because it’s out of your control anyway.

    If you can do something about the source of guilt, then change it. Feeling bad for taking too long to reply to emails? Organize a system of email-checking a few days a week, and batch-reply emails no matter what.

    Look at the source of the problem and fix it.

    The latter has done wonders for me. I re-organized my tasks I was just “doing whenever” to be batch-processed, and I started taking care of things right away. Work got done faster, emails replied sooner (got them out of the way during my designated time so I free up my mental energy for other things).

    I nipped guilt-sources in the butt and had more time to enjoy life rather than have “I need to get to that” things linger throughout the day.

    Thanks for sharing your tips, I can relate and have used many of them to free myself of guilt,

  7. Angela

    I enjoyed this article and know from my own personal experience “guilt” will ravage your soul and eventually steal your present life or the ability to be present in your life. I have found refocusing my attention on positive action extremely helpful. The number one thing that helps the most is exercise and meditation…Thank you for all your most helpful insight into an epidemic that affects the human condition profoundly…

  8. raasi

    once i promosed someone to marry. we got engaged. then i backed out . i feel guilty for that.

  9. Kris

    This article was my last read. All I can say now is I felt a heavy burden lift from my shoulders. I am letting go of things and will try to focus more. From time to time I can see myself reflecting on these articles and writing down my thoughts. Another lesson in life at any age we all need reminding and at certain times in our lives some more than others.

    Thank you.

  10. I am going through this as we speak. It’s really hard for me. I’m guilty over some things that I did when I was younger, and I almost feel like I wish I could tell someone but I’m too afraid to do it.

    I did – or at least I feel like – I did something incredibly wrong… I mean, it’s not murder or anything but it’s not like other peoples’, with it just being about that I didn’t go to the nursing-home to see etc., etc…. you know?

    I hope I can overcome it.

  11. c. white

    Guilt, all self imposed. Today is my birthday.
    Last year on my birthday, a friend had a dinner party for me.

    I didn’t spend the day with my parents.

    My Dad died in October. That was my last birthday with him and I wasn’t with him for more than an hour. I miss him.

    Tonight my friends and sisters are taking me to dinner.
    My mother won’t go. For young people she says.

    I’m Sad, and I feel guilty.
    About last year and about tonight.

    I never know the right thing to do anymore. My guilt posseses me.

  12. An impressive share, I simply given this onto a colleague who was doing just a little similar analysis on this. He in reality bought me breakfast because I discovered it for him.. smile.

  13. Kara

    You are an inspiring woman! I have read a lot of your blog and I love it. My first love and first boyfriend who I thought was the “one” broke up with me and we are over. Its over. It’s been a month and since then I’ve been doing a lot of work on “ME” cause …it needs to be done. He left me because I wasn’t me. Or something like that! You should feel very proud of yourself for writing these blogs even at twice weekly is a lot :) There is so much inspiration and you provide so much insight. I thank you a million for all of this. I feel real guilty for all the things that I did and did not do in our relationship. I am 25 and I am on the path of discovering who I really am. I know who I want to be. I just put my all into our relationship and nothing into me. I became very attatched. Unattractive is what that is…..I believe I can do better and I am better than that, that I am a very independant person, and I can make myself happy. I regret loosing that sight with him, he was good to me, but then everything happens for a reason right?

  14. I must say since having my laptop I have let my house cleaning to a minimum.I just spend alot of my time now surfing the net or tv I also been eating to much chocolate since I have had this achalasia which means the muscles in my throat has stoped working and my gullet has shrunk.I have got to sit up to sleep if i dont my stomache contents will end up in my lungs its a very depressing illness.I made a mess of my life through alcohol and done some bad things with my life all this ways so heavey on my mind its like my past have come back to haunt me.I did go to church but because I havent been around people for so long I had a panick attack and felt worse.So finding this site I know is going to help me.Because of a violent up bringin and was molested when I was 9.My dad would sit me in a chair and call me simple and idiot for what seemed like hours so my confidence is zero my mam was a nurse she woke me up wonce by smashing plates on my head so I have become a very screwed up person.I am 51 done nothing with my life and now it has all come back on me since my illness.I think spending 5 weeks in hospital made me think a little to much and now feel more messd than ever.I have become a recluse that worries over the least thing.So like I said finding this site is a god send.I will write soon and let you know how i feel.THANKS AGAIN TINA SU.

  15. Ankita Pandey

    Hi All,

    I have a huge guilt issue.Actually i was bullied a lot in school and college.People used to call me mad,dumb,stupid etc etc.Even my very good friends did that.I was very ambitious in my life…..but poeple used to make fun of my ambitions etc……….i kept thinking about all such things………i think that whether i am actually mad or not………..i feel as if two people are inside me…………one good and another bad………..sometimes i feel i am alone in this world etc………….n i just want to run away from all this……………i feel like i hurt the people around me etc…….

  16. jimindigo

    There is a solution that needs to be checked out,
    and that is: would your parents disapprove of you
    if they knew what you did,or did not do?
    Sometimes,the person does not ACTUALLY think
    whatever it was is that wrong,but the parental old
    tapes may be running (silently).

  17. Pauline

    Hi what if you feel guilty about an act which may have affected someone else’s life negatively, how do we cope with that?

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