I'm going to cut to the chase with this article and tell you about all of the things you can do to help overcome guilt and shame.
Overcome by doing good
Here is one beautiful quote I found in an article called Letting Go of Guilt and Shame. I'm no buddhist but I still think it's a beautiful philosophy. Here it is:
“Whoever has done harmful actions but later covers them up with good is like the moon which, freed from clouds, lights up the world.”
In other words, we've all done bad things in our lives. The important thing is to do good from now on. You cannot change the past. Do as much good as you can. We feel bad about the bad things we have done in life but we also feel good about the good things we have done in our lives. So strive to do good every day. Do the right thing as often as humanly possible. Give a little money to charity. Volunteer some of your time to a great organization. Find other ways to get involved and give back. Help someone who is in need. Do whatever you can to do good for yourself and for others.
Listen to your conscience
Another important point I got from another site is that you need to start listening to your conscience so you can avoid doing things in the future that will lead to guilt and shame. Always listen to that little angel on your shoulder and ignore the devil on the other shoulder. If you follow this one piece of advice and get nothing else from this article, I think your life will become much better.
On authentic-self.com, they discuss the importance of forgiving yourself for the mistakes you make. You have to let go of the feelings of guilt and shame that accompany making mistakes. I believe that we use these feelings as a way to punish ourselves when we know we did something wrong. It's almost like self-flagelation and it's really terrible. A lot of the time, we exagerate the size of our wrong doings. We make mountains out of molehills. There's a great book about this called "Don't Sweat The Small Stuff... And Remember It's All Small Stuff!".
Stop trying to be so perfect!
Another thing they suggest you do is actually realize that these mistakes you have made are there to show you that you are not perfect. Noone is. Realize that. Noone is better than you. You're not better than anyone else either. It's unrealistic to aim for perfection. It's self-destructive because everyone has a slip up every once in a while. Someone I know once told me that if your expectations are too high, you will always be disappointed but if they're too low, you'll get bored... so you need to find balance in what you expect from yourself. Accept the mistakes you have made and accept the fact that you will make more mistakes in the future. Be mentally prepared for that. Be strong. I cannot remember who said this but it illustrates my point beautifully. He said something along the lines of: The human experience is all about making mistakes and learning from those mistakes.
Repentance is effective even for atheists and agnostics?
Repentance is a cool idea and it's a concept that is shared by several different religions including Christianity and Buddhism. The reason it's so popular is that it definitely helps. If you promise yourself that you'll do better in the future and you act on that promise, you'll feel better about yourself and the shame and guilt will diminish. Even if you're not religious, this is an effective therapy that can be implemented even if you're a huge atheist or if you're agnostic. It really does help so try it!
If you're a religious person:
I personally believe that if you're a religious person, consulting what your religion has to say about overcoming guilt and shame can be very helpful. Every religion has a different approach to overcoming these disabling emotions... There is so much additional information out there for people of all faiths when it comes to overcoming these feelings. I highly encourage you to continue your research on this topic.
If you're not a religious person:
If you're not a religious person, there are still many things you could do to overcome this.
Emotional Freedom Technique
One thing I haven't personally tried but I've heard about a lot that you might want to look into(again, I cannot confirm if it is truly effective or if its completely baloney) is EFT(emotional freedom technique). If you're desperate, it's worth a shot. I first heard about it through Joe Vitale and it just kept coming up everywhere I looked. I think it's probably a load of nonsense but hey, it might just work for you.
Vent to someone... it helps.
Depending on your situation, it may be helpful for you to talk to someone about your problem. I know that most of the time, it may be embarassing to talk about these things to someone, especially if you are feeling ashamed of yourself. On the other hand, this really does help. There are places on the internet for example that allow you to vent anonymously and the people on the other end often have very helpful suggestions and they can help you. Of course, I cannot guarantee that what you say will remain anonymous if you have committed a very serious crime for instance.
As I did research on this subject while writing this article, I was shocked at how little non-religious information there was out there on this topic.
I would like to ask you guys, whoever you are, if you have read this article to the very end, please make sure to leave a comment with your own helpful tips and suggestions on how to overcome and cope with these sometimes crippling emotions...
Thanks for reading. Cheers!