7 Prompts for Writing About Guilt 5

Guilt isn’t always a rational thing, Clio realized. Guilt is a weight that will crush you whether you deserve it or not. ~ Maureen Johnson, Girl at Sea

GuiltGuilt is a feeling of blame or responsibility for having done something wrong. In its healthiest form, guilt is a moral compass that helps guide us and keeps us from repeating behavior that we consider wrong or has the ability to hurt ourself or others. Guilt, which is closely related to shame, doesn’t feel good: mentally replaying what happened, wishing you could go back and change what happened, you experience an upset stomach, clamped throat, tight chest, and loss of appetite. Guilt prompts you to apologize when you’ve hurt someone’s feelings, because you want to make things right.

The problem with guilt is that it isn’t always deserved. Wrongs can be imagined. You might experience survivor’s guilt, or feel guilty because you think that you’re not doing enough for your children or spouse. You might feel guilty when you eat or when you take much-needed time for yourself. Unhealthy guilt occurs when you feel responsible for something outside your control or when you’ve not actually done something wrong, and it serves no rational purpose.

[bctt tweet=”In its healthiest form, guilt is a moral compass that guides us.” username=”writingthrulife”]

Some of us are guilt prone — taking on responsibility and blame that is not actually ours to own. Excessive guilt and the resulting feelings of failure can be distracting, hamper your ability to enjoy constructive relationships, decrease focus and productivity, and lead to depression.

If you are prone to feeling guilty, or wonder if your guilt is the healthy kind, the following journaling prompts will help you analyze, process, and find a constructive or positive way to deal with it.

  1. Do you feel guilty for actual wrongdoing or f0r something outside your control? Would you categorize your guilt as healthy or excessive, and why?
  2. Imagine that the situation is reversed and you’ve switched roles with the other person. Would you feel hurt or angry if the other person acted as you have? If not, write about the reasons why you feel that your behavior is wrong, yet theirs would not be wrong.
  3. Is your guilt generated from within you, does it come from an external source or person, or does it stem from a past experience?
  4. In what ways might your guilt have a positive influence on you, or how could you use it constructively?
  5. Is there a way to make amends for what you’ve done? How?
  6. What’s holding you back from moving on?
  7. What can you learn from this situation?

I’d like to hear from you. What is your experience with guilt and how do you usually deal with it?

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5 thoughts on “7 Prompts for Writing About Guilt

  • Sara Etgen-Baker

    Whenever I feel guilt rearing its head into my life, I’m reminded of what one of my college professors said years ago about guilt. In short, he said that guilt is a form of self-inflicted suffering. And why do we humans seem almost compelled to want to suffer? Of course, he was addressing the unhealthy aspects of guilt.

    Your questions will help us deal with even those minor instances of guilt. The important thing for me to remember is that guilt is not real…it is something I create and maintain because I perceive that feeling guilty serves me somehow. Life and age has taught me to let go of guilt. Just sharing!

    • Amber Lea Starfire

      Sara, indeed, why do we feel compelled to suffer? I agree with what you say about guilt (and perhaps many of our motivating emotions) being created in order to serve us in some way. Understanding how our emotions, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors serve (or don’t serve) us is an important part of growing in self-knowledge. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  • Siddharth

    I got divorced a few months ago, and feel extreme guilt to my actions that let to it happening. Though going thru a divorce is not a happy experience, and I guess most people worry about having to start all over again etc, that is not something that makes me so bad. What really makes me feel sad and guilty is that I failed to make and keep happy someone who was of primary importance to me and started giving priority to other factors like job etc. I was out of a job for about 6 months and had started entering into a panic zone, at which time I get a job in another town, and relocated alone. I was staying away for 2 years after which I finally managed to get transferred back to my earlier city, but I guess it was already too late. After few months, my wife moved out, and we had to complete the formalities after that. Though I used to come back as often as possible, it was probably not enough and lost control of the situation.
    I know when I moved due to the job, my wife saw me as abandoning her, because she would ask me why I couldnt have waited a bit and tried longer in the same place. I used to keep telling her I would get a transfer or another job back, but I guess she did not believe me, The thoughts of having let her down and abandoned her haunt me everyday and I think that was the reason why she left ultimately.
    There are times when I can still imagine her crying, but I know its too late and nothing I can do about it.

    • Amber Lea Starfire

      Siddharth, guilt like what you describe can be devastating. But we are all human and make mistakes. It may help to explore these feelings using prompts #4, #6, and #7 above. Your guilt may never go away, at least not entirely, but it can be used as a catalyst for positive change in your life.

  • Ashley Dugger

    Hello, I’m 23 and I’m dealing with a lot of unhealthy guilt issues, and I’m trying to make a mental health journal to work on these issues, I’d love if you could point me in the right direction to really diving into these feelings of guilt and sadness, these prompts are helpful, but I feel like there’s still some things not tapped into in my brain (I hope that makes sense) thank you in advance! -Ashley