How to stop feeling guilty

Break out of this common habit with three easy steps to combat toxic thoughts and be better to yourself today
By Karyn Gordon
blonde girl riding red bike happy with legs out Getty Images

Chances are you’re all too familiar with it: that stomach-wrenching feeling that you never do enough or don’t do anything well enough. When I was on CityLine recently, I quickly polled the audience and found out that 81 percent of them regularly feel guilty! And in our blame-driven culture, the cause can be almost anything: not being organized, saying no to our friends, spending too much money, snapping at our husbands or being impatient with our kids. Yet the effects are the same: Guilt makes us irritable and exhausted — one of my clients describes it as a heavy backpack. Ditch the guilt and you’ll feel lighter, happier and empowered. Read on to find out how to conquer it.

Three steps to beat guilt

1. Clue in to toxic thoughts. The trick to changing how you feel is changing how you think. Emotions are a logical reaction to sometimes illogical thoughts. If you think, “I need to please others,” “I can’t let people down” or “I can’t say no,” you’ll feel guilty every time you say no to someone. Start paying attention to these kinds of thoughts as they come up, and ask yourself, “Would I say something like this to my best friend?” If the answer is no, chances are they’re toxic thoughts. Many women are incredibly encouraging and supportive of their friends, while being their own worst critics.

2. Be nicer to yourself. Once you’ve identified your toxic thoughts, try to replace them with gracious, loving ones like “I’m doing the best I can” or “I need to take care of myself, so I have more to give to others.” This one little change will have a massive ripple effect on your feelings: You’ll instantly have less stress and more confidence. And that in turn often makes you more successful in the areas of your life that were stressing you out in the first place.

3. Set clear priorities. Guilt isn’t just a nuisance. Sometimes it’s a red flag that something in your life is out of whack. The happiest women align their lives with their values. Take 15 minutes today to grab a cup of coffee and a pen and paper, and write out a list of your top values: what you would be doing if it was entirely up to you. Then write out what takes up most of your time—and compare your lists. Is something off? Being courageous enough to prioritize only what’s most important to you will leave you feeling balanced—and guilt-free. Karyn Gordon is a leading relationship and parenting expert. Watch her on CityLine weekdays at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. ET or visit


Subscribe to our newsletters for our very best stories, recipes, style and shopping tips, horoscopes and special offers.

By signing up, you agree to our terms of use and privacy policy. You may unsubscribe at any time.