They feel GUILTY

Written by Violaine Guéritault, Ph.D.

What is it?

Guilt is a powerful emotion experienced by all of us at one point or another. It’s often associated with a sense of responsibility and remorse when we are convinced that we caused harm either through our actions, our thoughts, or our spoken words. This emotion makes us feel like we’ve fallen short of some standard we wish we had lived up to.

Although guilt is mostly regarded as being a negative emotion, it can also be seen in a more positive light because it can motivate us to learn from painful experiences and change our behavior. However, it’s important to stay vigilant and aware of what’s going on so we don’t let guilt bring us down or impede our progress by paralyzing us. Once again, awareness is the key to finding that balance.

What is the emotion of guilt telling your young person?

Well managed, the emotion of guilt is telling them that they did something wrong or hurtful and that they need to do something to make amends and repair a relationship that matters to them. It’s an invitation to grow as a person. On the other hand, if poorly handled, guilt will only cause them to feel badly about themselves for reasons that are not always legitimate.

Suggestions for your young person on how to manage guilt?
  • Develop their awareness through the practice of mindfulness. It will help them put a name to their feelings and figure out whether their guilt is appropriate, and if it is, what purpose it serves.
  • Encourage them to take responsibility for their actions and apologize right away in an unconditional manner. They shouldn’t try to shift blame onto other people. Being able to say “I’m sorry” takes courage and shows strength of character.
  • Accept that they did something wrong, forgive themselves, learn from their mistakes, and move on. Don’t let them dwell on the past.
  • Help them change their behavior and remember that guilt can strengthen their resilience, help them grow, and build their confidence that they will make better choices in the future.