Learning from Guilt in Mental Health Recovery

July 4, 2023 Michaela Jarvis

One of the most complex parts of my recovery journey has been facing and letting go of the overwhelming guilt and shame I have attached to my past. These strong emotions can be difficult to work through, but there is freedom in learning from guilt. I am working on finding the lesson in each circumstance and letting go.

Reflecting on the Past to Learn from Guilt Can Be Painful

Deciding to address my mental illness meant also addressing my past -- something I had successfully avoided up until that point. To really evaluate my past, it was essential for me to remove the armor of fake self-confidence and willful ignorance I was hiding behind. After years of mastering the art of avoidance, I was tasked with finally acknowledging my situation.

Once I allowed myself that vulnerability, hurtful, embarrassing, and uncharacteristic memories flooded my mind. I remembered the moments when I had used others, made a scene, or woken up to a mess of my own creation. Some people only knew me during my worst, and I agonized over the possibility that it was the version of me that existed to them.

I felt I had left myself, and others, down repeatedly.

Learn from Guilt to Accept the Past

At one of my absolute lowest points, I gave myself two options: I could dwell in self-pity, or I could learn from the guilt and use my rock bottom as a push-off point. (Thankfully, I decided on the latter.)

Using radical acceptance, I learned to embrace the fact that the past cannot be changed; I must accept a circumstance for what it is. I've come to love the freedom that this acceptance brings me. Instead of becoming absorbed in guilt, I can say, "Well, there's nothing I can do about what has already happened."

This thought process allows me the space to start searching for the lessons in my mistakes.

Learning and Letting Go of the Guilt

Extracting lessons starts with me asking why I had made a particular choice. Had I been trying to find an escape? Or had I been searching for some sense of power? Identifying the driving emotion helps me work out ways that I can alter my future approach or avoid the situation entirely.

Recently, I've been focusing a lot of my attention on the concept of learning and letting go. I will continue to make mistakes, both big and small, but the truth is, so will everyone. Having regrets is part of the human experience. Learning from guilt has given me the ability to appreciate even the most challenging situations in my life.

My biggest takeaway is that shame is not a beneficial emotion -- it's a burden. No matter the amount of shame you feel, you still cannot change the past. You can, however, choose to let yourself enjoy life and evolve into a better version of yourself -- and I think that is beautiful.

APA Reference
Jarvis, M. (2023, July 4). Learning from Guilt in Mental Health Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 25 from

Author: Michaela Jarvis

Michaela Jarvis is continuously on her road to self-improvement while managing bipolar disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and the life challenges that come with being in your 20s. Find Michaela on Instagram, LinkedIn, and her website.

July, 6 2023 at 2:58 pm

Love love love

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