Guilt is a natural response a person with a healthy conscience experiences when he believes he has wronged someone, or did not live up to the standards he has set for himself. It acts like a pain sensor that is intended to bring your attention to a matter you need to resolve: you need to do something about what you did or you need to do something to achieve the standard you have set.
And just like pain, guilt is not the end but a means to an end. It brings your attention to a matter so that you can take action on it and not simply suffer the guilt.
The Extremes of Guilt
A healthy feeling of guilt helps you to direct your attention to the issues you need to deal with. No more and no less. Not feeling any guilt may strip you of the motivation to right your wrong, whereas an excessive feeling of guilt will hinder your ability to act.
You must avoid both extremes of guilt (too little and too much) so that feeling guilty can contribute to your growth – which is why human beings experience it in the first place – rather than allow it to act as an obstacle in your life.
Your Sphere of Influence
Since guilt is an emotion that incites you to take action, it is only appropriate for the issues in which you can take action. In other words, you should not feel guilty for matters that are outside your scope, even if it is a wrong that you did.
If the consequences of your action cannot be reversed or mended, you can only learn from what you have done and use the feeling of guilt to ingrain the lessons into your future behavior (if applicable). There are many parents who realize that the way they treated their children during was not ideal, and so they feel guilty for the way they acted as parents.
However, they should only allow their guilt to direct them towards the actions that they can take, such as apologizing or trying to heal a wounded relation. It should not lead them to desire reversing time and undoing what they have done. This is outside their ability and they should not feel guilty for not being able to correct their mistakes.
Release Unnecessary Guilt
If the idea of having treated someone unjustly makes you feel guilty, you should bear in mind that you are treating yourself unjustly when you latch on to unnecessary feelings of guilt. Having high standards for yourself that are unrealistic to accomplish in a single step will not be reached more easily when you are suffering through guilt. It only hinders your progress.
Whenever you feel guilty, identify the cause of the feeling and determine what can be done to correct the situation. Resolve to act on your knowledge if you can take any action, and release any feelings of guilt when you are unable to realistically do anything to correct your mistake.