Why did I do that?

Guilt is probably one of the most toxic emotions we experience. That moment, when we look at our actions or inactions and experience a feeling of guilt, seems to stick like velcro and we carry it around with us wherever we go. 


Or even worse, there seems to be some people who almost swallow their guilt, like a secret that can never be spoken.

Unless we take positive steps to let go of any guilt from the past, it amasses like carrying a heavy rucksack on our back and the burden increases in weight and size as time goes on.

Over time, these stored emotions can show up in physical symptoms.

Guilt is created when we feel that we have violated a moral standard.  As a child, we learn many of our morals from those around us. Some of those learned morals match our moral compass, others don't yet we can find ourselves adopting those morals as our own.  Some of those moral standards are our own and jointly form part of our belief system.

I've found that beliefs are incredibly powerful - people will die for their belief system which is simultaneously commendable and terrifying.

In the world of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), beliefs are considered powerful in terms of coaching and change work. If a client has a belief about themselves that stands in the way of the positive goals they are seeking to achieve, then they are unlikely to achieve those goals without changing the belief first.

For example, if a client has a belief that they are not worthy of success, then no amount of goal setting, coaching, or hypnotherapy is going to facilitate lasting positive changes until the belief is changed. Humans tend to self-sabotage if there is an underlying belief that is holding them back (which then adds to the burden of guilt).

I recently read an interesting concept about the word belief.

The centre of the word 'belief' reads 'lie'.

The centre of the word 'lie' reads 'I'.

I lie to myself.

We often lie to ourselves about who we are, what we have done or said, how we perceive ourselves, and what happened in the past. The stories we tell ourselves about our past actions or inactions are unlikely to match what other people would have said about the same situation.

For example, last year I worked with a woman who was carrying around a huge amount of guilt for the things that she said and did in the past.

Having had an 'adventurous' young adult life, like many of us have, she repeatedly felt guilty for the things she did many decades later. Things that perhaps another person might view as just part of growing up, or even saw as a thrilling and adventurous era of their life that taught them many lessons.

She was also immensely guilty about a 'wobble' in her marriage a few years ago, even though her marriage was now a happy and secure one now. Despite many achievements in her life, she felt that she was an awful person, emotionally overburdened with guilt.

The burden of guilt that she carried around with her weighed her down to the point of total exhaustion. None of which she could change, for if it is in the past then it cannot be changed.

To 'err' is human, yet when we 'err' and our emotional response is guilt, sometimes it can seem to be almost unforgivable - until we find the courage to forgive ourselves.

What would life be like if you changed some of the 'beliefs' you have about yourself?

  • What if guilt was exchanged for forgiveness?
  • What if regret was exchanged for learning?
  • What if shame was exchanged for self-love?
  • What if remorse was exchanged for acceptance?

Instead of saying "I wish I hadn't (x)" start saying "I did (X) and now I know (y)"

Instead of asking "why did I do (x)" start asking "what did I learn from doing (x)"

When it comes to "if only I had" statements - just don't! Stop, for this is dead-end thinking. You’re not giving yourself the opportunity to learn from the past, you’re just lamenting and making excuses.

Guilt does serve a purpose - it alerts us that we have violated a moral standard, either one of our own or somebody else's that we are aware of. See guilt as an alert or a reminder that whatever we have just done or said; it crossed a moral boundary - that is all.

Guilt is a reminder that we have crossed a moral boundary. What you do next will make all the difference as to whether you carry around that guilt like a burdensome rucksack, or you do your best to remedy the situation.

Either change it or learn from it.

If you have said something unkind, apologise.

If you haven't done something you said you would, remedy it.

There are many opportunities in life to feel guilty, remember that you have two options, change it or learn from it. And above all, remember that as a human, we make mistakes, acceptance, forgiveness, and love is the antidote to guilt.

If you're struggling with feelings of guilt, working through your emotions with a coach can be really helpful. You can find a coach that best suits you on Life Coach Directory, or you can reach out to me

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP5 3BN
Written by Nikki Emerton
Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP5 3BN

Having spent the majority of my life not really knowing how to be resilient to life's ups and downs, I discovered NLP, hypnotherapy and coaching. I've found this invaluable in my own life and now use the skills I have learnt and the experiences I have had to help others change their thoughts and behaviours to achieve health and happiness.

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