Navigating Through Healthy and Unhealthy Guilt

Learning to let go is vital to emotional growth.

We all have experienced feeling guilty about something we did, we said, or a decision we made. Guilt is a complicated emotion that has two sides: healthy and unhealthy.

In general, guilt is an emotional warning sign that most of us develop early on in childhood development. Its purpose is to make us aware of when we have done something wrong.

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When a situation arises that makes us feel guilty, we should be skeptical. Is it trying to teach us something rational and helpful about our behavior? Or is it just an emotional, irrational response to a situation?

When we act on our feelings of guilt in a healthy and positive way, we get to examine our behavior and grow emotionally by learning from our mistakes. By giving ourselves an emotional pass and letting go of our guilty feelings, we embrace the fact that we are all human.

Healthy guilt helps us to achieve our goals, as well as maintain important relationships. We feel guilty when we hurt our friends or loved ones so we try our best to be mindful of the consequences of our actions and behaviors. On a larger scale, guilt helps us to function as a civilized society; it’s our moral and ethical compass.

Unhealthy guilt is experienced as a nagging and exaggerated sense of guilt that is out of proportion to the original situation. We end up feeling bad about ourselves, and it contributes to depression and low self-esteem. Worst of all, it inhibits us from learning from our mistakes and chips away at our self-confidence.

These unexpressed emotions and unresolved conflicts block us from maturing emotionally, and we become gluttons for self-punishment.  

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When we make a mistake, we should acknowledge mistake, feel a healthy dose of guilt, and the result will be the capacity to learn and grow emotionally by living our lives differently in the future.

Chat with Dr. Paula Durlofsky

Do you often find yourself feeling guilty? Do you feel guilty because of emotional and irrational reasons?  I would like to hear from you. Please comment below or email me at


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