Dealing with the Emotion of Guilt. Part 2: The Steps

This is the second part of a 2-part series designed to both educate you about the emotion of guilt and provide you with the steps you need to take to deal with and resolve the emotion.

In part 1, I discussed several emotions which you might experience when you consider some action you took in the past that yielded results you did not anticipate or want.  The one emotion I wanted to specifically focus on was guilt.  I defined and explained this emotion.  I also introduced you the Basic Relationship Rule (BRR) and listed the 6 steps.

In this post, I will discuss each of the 6 steps and tell you what you need to do to implement them.


Steps 1 -3 focus on you and the other person.

Steps  4-6 involve you dealing with your guilt.

Step 1: Assess the situation. 

The emotion of guilt tells you that you believe you have done something wrong.  Your first step is to review what you did, in light of what happened after you did, including any consequences, and determine whether or not you did anything wrong.

It is entirely possible that you did nothing wrong and that your guilt is not giving you accurate information.

Step 2: Accept responsibility for your actions.

 If you did something wrong, it is imperative that you accept responsibility  for your actions.  Your guilt is motivating you to make the situation right and accepting responsibility for what you did is critical.  If you don’t feel responsible, you won’t see any need to take corrective actions.

Step 3: Make it right with the other person (if possible and appropriate). 

Here you decide what needs to be done to correct whatever it is that you did. This might involve nothing more than sincerely apologizing.

(Incidentally, I wrote a blog entitled: Saying “I’m Sorry” in a Business Setting. My Take in March 2019)

Or, it could involve additional actions.  What you need to do will  vary with the situation, what you did, the context in which you did it, your relationship with the other person and so forth.

You may need to reestablish your credibility, your reliability, your reputation, your honesty and so forth.

Step 4: Understand your actions.

In order to resolve your guilt, you need to understand what led up to your doing what you did. Please note that understanding does not eliminate responsibility which is why you had to take responsibility for your actions in Step 2.

This is where the BRR comes in.

The BRR reminds you that you did the best you could given your Model of the World (how you perceived what was going on at the time) and your Skill Sets (what actions were available to you to deal with your situation).

Your best, in the situation, was not THE best possible action. It was just the best you could do.  Clearly, you need to figure out what you need to do so you have more options available to you going forward.

Your actions stemmed from your perception, understanding and instant analysis of what was happening at the time. Clearly, since you did not get the results you wanted (You’re feeling guilty about what you did!), you need to look at your Model and your interpersonal skills, at the time and ask some important questions.

  • Did you misinterpret what was going on?
  • Did you overreact?
  • Were you defensive when you didn’t need to be?
  • Were you feeling awkward, embarrassed, or inadequate and, therefore, over-compensated?

Perhaps, the actions you took came about because you did not know how to respond to what was happening.  You may have correctly understood what was going down but did not know what to do.

This happens with men who may feel anxious and inadequate in dealing with others and, because the emotion of anxiety leaves them feeling “weak”, go to their anger (as a secondary emotion), feel empowered, and make dumb decisions.

Once you understand and have learned from the actions you took, you are better prepared to make some changes in yourself about how you view and respond in your interactions with others.

Step 5: Forgive yourself.

I have written several articles on forgiveness.

The concept here is that you give yourself permission to move on. You did what you did, you accepted responsibility for your actions, you understand what precipitated those actions and you have made both amends and changes.

Now, it is time to remind yourself that you can let the past go of the past and move on.

Step 6: Let the guilt dissolve.

I’ve added this step as a reminder to you that, just because you have done all the other steps, the guilt you feel may not just go away.

So, when (or if) you experience guilt when you think about your past actions, this is normal.  Should this happen, remind yourself that you have done everything necessary involving the incident from your past and you are ready to move on.

Do this whenever it is needed and the guilt will, in time, dissolve and go away.

You can do it.