Guilt, Guilt Go Away; Don’t Come Back Another Day!


Do you know that feeling when guilt shows up and all you want to do is to get rid of it?

That feeling when your heart starts racing, you start thinking that you should have done or said something differently, and because you didn’t, you convince yourself that if you stop feeling guilty, then it would be even worse. I am very familiar with the feeling of guilt and it came up quite a bit this weekend.

I had plans to set aside time to write this weekend as I am in the process of writing a book for clinicians with my graduate school mentor (exciting stuff, right?!). I made inner commitments to myself to write for 3 hours each day on Saturday and Sunday, and because of the pandemic, I literally had no plans. This was a perfect plan. Except it didn’t work… at all!

I probably spent 20 minutes the ENTIRE weekend. And then on Sunday night came the looming guilt “you had all weekend to write this”, “you wrote a 100-page dissertation, you can write a chapter”, “you broke an inner commitment to yourself and it’s just going downhill from here,” etc., etc.

As you are reading this, you may have determined rather quickly that this negative self-talk is completely unhelpful and likely will not motivate me to write again next weekend. Even though we know this is not helpful and counterproductive, we continue to do this.

However, here is the good news. Talking about, experiencing, and labeling guilt is the first step towards squashing it!

Think about the last time you had guilt rush over you, like a 10-foot wave and walk through these steps to help you overcome guilt and move towards success.




Call to mind what led up to the moment of feeling your guilt- where were you, what were you thinking/doing? This can help make sense of what actually caused you to feel guilty.


All of our emotions serve an evolutionary purpose. Fear prepares us when there is danger; Anger kicks in when an important goal is being blocked. Guilt exists when we violate our own morals.

  • If you have done something that violates your own set of morals, or in my case neglected to do something that was in line with my values, then guilt makes sense. When guilt is justified, it prompts us to repair our misgivings.

  • Pro tip: Practice using a script when you feel guilty “it makes sense I feel guilty, given the facts leading to this emotion. I did something that goes against my own personal set of values and that feels really bad. Everyone feels guilty as this emotion is hard-wired in human biology and evolution.”


  • Sometimes, the guilt feels so strong that even when we know what to do to repair our misgivings, we don’t change our behaviors.

    • For example, rather than writing the book chapter, I am writing this blog post :). And yet, my thoughts are telling me “Just write the chapter, you will feel better once you do, AND it’s in line with your values and goals”, I have yet to make real behavior changes.

  • Pro Tip: Challenge your thoughts if you are judging your guilt. (examples of judging include “If it’s in my best interest to do something and I’m not doing anything, then I am doomed. I’m not good enough to do this”-etc.)

  • Become a detective or a scientist and look out for the thoughts that are causing the most harm and then challenge these thoughts

    • For example, I am thinking “If I have trouble sitting down and writing this chapter, maybe it means I am not meant to write a book”. Okay, this is not helpful!!! Yet, this is the thought that is keeping my guilt around longer AND it is leading me to avoid more.

    • Instead, I will be a scientist and detective to find all the data to see if this thought is true.

      • Facts: I have written and defended my dissertation; I have written and published articles; even though I think I cannot write something difficult, I have felt this way before and still completed the work.

      • New thought: Although I am having thoughts that I will not be able to write, I have proven to myself before that I can write this chapter and I need to ensure I have the resources in place to ensure I can follow through on this task. Since my guilt is justified, I am not going to challenge those thoughts.

      • FYI- In my next blog post, I will talk about “hot thoughts” and “mind traps” which are super helpful techniques to use when challenging your thoughts.


  • Problem-solving will come in handy here. So, let’s say my goal is to increase the amount of time I spend working on the book. I want to make sure I create goals that are likely to lead to new behavior changes.

    • Pro tip: If you are feeling guilty about not following through on goals, try to create SMART goals

    • Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-sensitive

      • For example, my goal will be to write 25 minutes a day, 4 times a week this upcoming week. I will also block off time in my phone calendar to ensure that I have the time to follow through with this goal.

  • Problem-solving includes using rewards or reinforcers for when you DO follow through!

    • For example, every time I write 25 minutes this week, I will reward myself with watching 25 minutes of TV.

Try out these four steps in order to take control of your guilt so it doesn’t control you! You can use my examples to assist you in thinking about how guilt affects you- let me know how this works for you!

And if you are my graduate school mentor reading this blog post (Hi, Dr. Friedberg!) I will continue writing our book once I finish this blog post!