Can Guilt Be a Good Thing?


    Presented by BetterHelp.

    Guilt is often thought of only in negative terms. It’s an emotion that can make us feel physically ill. We connect it with shame and do our best to avoid it when we can.

    That said, guilt can actually be a good thing. It can help us with our mental health by ensuring that we live in a way that will not lead to shame and guilt.

    In this way, guilt can really be productive. That said, it is a complex and even chaotic emotion that needs breaking down.

    So, read more to learn about when guilt is and isn’t productive. And if you need further resources on guilt, don’t hesitate to consider those offered online by BetterHelp:

    When Guilt Is Productive

    Let’s begin with times when guilt can actually be productive.

    When You’re Trying to Avoid Guilt

    Wanting to avoid guilt can be productive insofar as it keeps us on a moral path. When it comes down to it, this is largely the function of guilt. It helps encourage us to act in a way that won’t lead to the negative feelings associated with guilt.

    That said, if the reasons for avoiding the guilt are bad, then this isn’t necessarily a good thing.

    When Guilt Leads You To Apologize

    Everyone makes mistakes, but sometimes we don’t want to say we’re sorry. Another function of guilt is that it can lead us to make amends.

    While guilt isn’t productive all on its own, if it leads us to improve our behavior then it could be said to be productive. As making amends is essential in life, guilt can thus be productive in this way.

    When Guilt Is Part of Grief

    One of the common stages of grief involves processing feelings of guilt. It may feel awful but it’s entirely normal.

    In this sense, guilt is productive because it helps us to overcome grief and come to acceptance. Only then can we properly move on with our lives.

    When Guilt Isn’t Productive

    Now, let’s consider examples when guilt isn’t productive.

    When You Stay Trapped in a Cycle of Guilt

    While guilt can often be productive, it is definitely unproductive when you become locked in a cycle of guilt—that is, you feel guilty about feeling guilty.

    Such spiraling into guilt leads to nothing good, and you may need to get external help to break free from this limiting cycle.

    When You Feel Guilty without a Good Reason

    There are times we should feel guilty. Then, there are times when we really shouldn’t.

    If you have been manipulated by someone to feeling guilty for something that isn’t your fault, you may know what this is like. We should never feel guilty for something that is not our fault, however.

    When Your Guilt Isn’t Helping You Learn

    We all make mistakes and we’re all bound to feel guilty at one point or another in our life. When we make mistakes and feel guilt, they should ideally help us learn so that we don’t repeat the same errors.

    But when we don’t learn from our guilt, then we are likely to just keep falling into the same negative patterns. Guilt needs to be processed and learned form in order to be truly productive.


    Guilt has a bit of a bad reputation. The word on its own tends to conjure up only negative ideas.

    That said, guilt can definitely be a productive force. For example, it can help us move on from grief, it can help keep us from doing bad things, and it can help us learn from our mistakes.

    While an admittedly complex emotion, guilt serves a purpose and understanding that purpose is key to living a better life.


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