Think Education

Let it go

Process your guilt in a healthy manner, render a sincere apology and carry on with your life.   | Photo Credit: Pixabay

A friend spilled out his heart to you about a recent break-up. While you didn’t mean to gossip, you conveyed this fact to another mutual friend and, soon enough, the news spread. As the virtual world commiserated and commented on the split, a string of niggling thoughts poked and prodded you. “How could I have been so insensitive?”or “I would hate it if somebody bared my secrets to the world.” or “A good friend now despises me.” Obviously, your friend felt betrayed, but even more troubling is the nagging guilt coursing through you.

In an article in Scientific American, psychologist Ellen Hendriksen offers tips on dealing constructively with guilt. First, reassure yourself that your guilt is indicative of your empathic nature. That you are feeling contrite for having hurt someone shows that you care. Next, don’t hesitate to apologise if the situation permits. The more heartfelt and direct the apology, the better. Of course, we cannot determine how the other person will react. If your expression of regret is accepted gracefully, then it is easier to move on. But if your admission is rebuffed, at least your conscience is spared.

How much responsibility?

However, in some instances, an apology is unlikely to soothe nerves or undo the damage done. If you are wracked by guilt for being the cause of a rather serious road accident, you may fall prey to hindsight bias in which you think you should have known that the kid would run across the road just as you were speeding. In these situations, it may be helpful to discriminate between what you should have known versus what you wish you had known. While the former may lead to self-loathing, the latter stance doesn’t amplify your infraction.

Another thinking error we succumb to is over-responsibility. Was it entirely your fault that your mutual friend leaked the news about the break-up? Can you be held accountable for the kid scurrying across the road? Sure, you need not have divulged the secret to your mutual friend, or you could have avoided speeding in the first place. But don’t overextend your sense of responsibility by taking the entire onus solely on your shoulders. Most life events involve a complex amalgam of factors, some of which don’t fall under your control.

While it is normal and natural to feel guilty for our wrongdoings, ensure that you don’t ruminate endlessly about your misdeeds. In fact, you are less likely to commit the same error again if you process your guilt in a healthy manner, render a sincere apology and then carry on with your life. But, if you marinate in your remorseful thoughts, you are actually directing the spotlight of your attention to yourself. And, chronic self-absorption is likely to make you more myopic, thereby increasing your chances of committing more blunders, leading to a futile spiral of regret and self-reproach. So, the next time you feel impelled to move on after a misdeed, don’t let guilt rein you back.

The writer blogs at and her book, Zero Limits: Things Every 20 Something Should Know, will be released by Rupa Publications.

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Printable version | Mar 1, 2021 6:53:03 AM |

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