In many ways, guilt is a form of resentment that is primarily directed at self rather than at others. We resist against accepting something that happened, and tell ourselves that we should have done or not done something to make it different. When unresolved and allowed to build, stored guilt can reach overwhelming proportions that reinforce avoidance of feelings and may lead to addictive coping patterns. Like other resentments, guilt can function as a defense against feeling helpless or as a kind of self punishment in an attempt to make amends. While we are powerless to change the past, perhaps guilt is designed to be part of our emotional guidance system to help us create a better future.
In order to be able to effectively utilize guilt in our emotional GPS, those collections of old guilt need to be defused so there are no bombs waiting to be detonated. Energy work can generate powerful and non-threatening release. Talking about guilt feelings with someone you trust or expressing your feelings in art or dance or music can make the feelings more manageable. Prayer, meditation, breath work, psychotherapy, cognitive exercises, and other techniques offer ways to release and reorganize emotional holdings. Taking action to make amends for past behavior can be emotionally freeing, either directly with those involved or by doing something good for someone if it is not feasible or wise to make direct amends. The definition of "amend" is literally "to change", and most often guilt based amends will need to be made to yourself. Perhaps the biggest change in behavior is to be able to listen to our feelings as immediate and concise input about our behavior so that we can modify our actions in ways that better serve how we want to live. To forgive past guilty feelings and no longer need to avoid them or use them as punishment sets us free to employ our emotions gratefully and gently as part of our inner guidance system.