This Is Why You Feel Guilty: And Here’s How to Stop

Paula Jean Ferri
5 min readNov 2, 2017


“Calvin : There’s no problem so awful, that you can’t add some guilt to it and make it even worse.”
Bill Watterson, The Complete Calvin and Hobbes

Guilt is easy to come by. We say we are going to do something and don’t. We say we won’t do something, then do.

It’s overwhelming, even crushing.

In worst case scenarios, it can even be disabling.

For years, I was crippled by guilt of not doing better, not being better.

I was always a disappointment, always letting people down. It took years to get out of this mindset as I slowly started to take control of my life and become better.

Yet, I’m human. I relapse.

Guilt still hits and hits hard, even when I’m doing good things.

Story time: I’ve recently quit my full-time job to pursue my writing. I am working part time and working hard to write and build an audience. I also live in a different state than the rest of my family.

I refer to myself as “the runaway child” when I go home and meet new friends of my parents. Especially since the rest of my family all live close by and watches over each other.

Like when my mom had surgery on both of her feet and couldn’t walk for almost five months.

Like when my grandma also needed surgery on her feet.

Like when my other grandma’s cancer came back.

And I’m not there.

“No one blames her.”
“That never matters,” said Alec. “Not when you blame yourself.”

Cassandra Clare, City of Lost Souls

Not only am I not there, my mom told me when grandma was going in for surgery the next day… and I forgot until Mom let me know it went well.

I can’t even begin to explain the weight of the guilt that set in once I got the text message that her surgery went well.

How could I forget my grandma was in surgery? How did I get so separated from my family that is so close?

I was so embarrassed. There is no way I can let my family find out, right? So let’s add the guilt of hiding something from my family.

It was too much for me. I couldn’t carry all that guilt any longer. Not when I’m distracted when trying to work. Not when I’m trying to live a life with less guilt. I missed feeling lighter without this added burden.

So I caved. I called my mom and confessed what a horrible daughter and granddaughter I am.

I don’t know what I expected to hear, but it certainly wasn’t what I heard. Maybe I was feeling so guilty that I felt I deserved the extra burden of more guilt, but it didn’t come.

My wise mother reminded me that I am trying to pursue a lifestyle that would allow me to be there 24–7 when my family needs me.

She reminded me that by quitting my job I was able to come down for a full two weeks to take care of her around the clock rather than in between errands and after work.

She knew I would forget, this is why she texted me instead of waiting for me to call. It’s like my own mother knows I have a bad memory… She said that’s what her job is as a mother. She is there to support me as I build my life and remind me of the important things to keep me centered.

And I cried.

That guilt and burden was lifted with her forgiveness and she reminded me to forgive myself.

“There are two kinds of guilt: the kind that drowns you until you’re useless, and the kind that fires your soul to purpose.”
Sabaa Tahir, An Ember in the Ashes

Guilt can be useful and make us more productive. It helps us to see that we are lacking in certain areas and helps push us to improve.

Most of the time though, we take it too far. Guilt should not be something that cripples us, causing despair and weakening drive and relationships.

So what exactly is the difference?


“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”
Brené Brown

Being vulnerable is where we have the capability of getting hurt. It is also when we can find the greatest results.

Taking the risk, allowing the possibility of things going wrong, also allows for things to go right.

There is still the chance that things will go wrong. And on occasion, they will. It’s impossible to stop bad things from happening all the time.

However, more often than not, you will be surprised at the rewards of being vulnerable.

Just like with my mom, I was overwhelmed by her love and support. As awesome as my mother is, she isn’t the only supportive person in the world. She isn’t the only person who will validate during times of vulnerability.

If you let them, people will surprise you.

Even more importantly, by opening up and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, we can move forward knowing we are doing the best we can. We are doing hard things by being vulnerable and are not compounding the guilt we already feel.


“To err is human, to forgive, divine.”
Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism

The other way to alleviate guilt is forgiveness. Not from another person, but from yourself.

When you forgive yourself, you allow yourself to be human and to make mistakes.

We allow for it in others, but why not for the one person you know makes all the mistakes?

Maybe that’s our biggest mistake. Not allowing ourselves to make any mistakes, while still not allowing ourselves to achieve all the things we are capable of doing.

We demand perfection of ourselves. Then when good things happen, we think it’s a mistake.

Guilt comes from feeling like we aren’t worth it. Like we don’t deserve it. Like we don’t do enough, aren’t good enough.

So what.

Truth is, we aren’t good enough. We aren’t perfect. That doesn’t mean that good things won’t happen anyways. Just like bad things will happen no matter how good you are.

You will never be so good that bad things won’t happen, and you will never be so bad that something good can’t happen.

Stop trying to take responsibility for things that you have no control over. You have no right to shoulder the responsibilities of the world when you are not the only one in it and making choices.

Start allowing yourself to be imperfect. Forgive yourself for not being perfect, because no one is.


In order to go beyond the guilt that would leave us crippled and stuck, we have to allow ourselves to make mistakes and know that it’s ok.

Mistakes are how we learn and become better. Allowing ourselves to make those mistakes are what will actually lead us to become better.

Let me rephrase that: Mistakes are what allow us to get closer to perfect.

So be vulnerable enough to make them, and forgive yourself to move past them.

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Paula Jean Ferri

I tell stories. I scream. I like ice cream.