Have you ever felt really bad about something, and promised yourself that it will never happen again? We often feel guilty about things, even when the circumstances leading to the fact are out of our sphere of control, or others – because of their own scales of judgment – accuse us of having done something wrong.
Guilt is often used to control others' behavior. At its core guilt is a natural instinctive guidance system to help us discern right from wrong, but this has been manipulated and corrupted throughout time, with the intention of controlling others usually for selfish reasons. Misplaced guilt can gradually spread into all aspects of our lives, like weeds overtaking a lawn, resulting in destructive choices.
It is helpful to distinguish the difference between guilt and remorse. Guilt is what one feels if they have done something intentionally "wrong"; again, this is a very subjective matter, as some acts can be legitimately wrong or simply erroneously perceived, by ourselves and others. Regardless, guilt is the emotional response to having done—or thought— something about which we are ashamed. Remorse is quite different. Remorse is triggered when we are genuinely sorry for an inadvertent action or when we have neglected someone or something. There was no intent to harm, and we feel genuinely sorry for what has occurred. Chances are we feel guilty when instead remorse is a more appropriate response.
Guilt is a trap which keeps us focused on the past, reliving what we did wrong. Remorse is a much healthier, productive emotional response: acknowledge what occurred, take responsibility if appropriate, and then work toward not repeating the same incident. It is proactive and allows us to move forward whereas guilt produces stagnation.
By avoiding mixing the two, we can more easily process the triggers hidden within the shadows of our subconscious, and take, for the first time maybe, a good look at the blocks that prevent us from moving forward in our lives.