The surprising relationship between guilt and compassion

In this podcast (episode #580) and blog, I talk about the relationship between guilt and compassion and how to manage feelings of guilt to improve your mental health, relationships and life! This is a replay of a Neurolive webinar I did on my app. For the full webinar AD-free, please see

Have you ever been caught in a guilt cycle and found yourself spiraling into either shame or brokenness as a result? Guilt is a very complex emotion that doesn’t just have to have a negative impact on our mind and brain. We don’t have to spiral into shame or brokenness when we feel guilty. If managed properly, guilt can be used to help us become more compassionate, not only towards ourselves but others as well.   

As noted in a recent article from the British Psychological Society, there are many reasons to view guilt as a damaging emotion. It is generally viewed as a belief that you have done something wrong, and as a result, caused harm to others and/or yourself. Notably, when someone feels personal guilt in relation to a trauma that they have suffered, such as abuse or loss of a loved one, they’re more likely to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress if the guilt is not managed. 

However, recent research also shows that guilt can have a positive effect on us because it can increase our ability to be compassionate, even though these two emotions may seem contrary at first glance.

We need to remember that guilt is an incredibly complex emotion. Guilt is a response to an action; it is the understanding that “I made a mistake”. This can be useful or negative. It is useful if used in a way that makes us accountable and propels us to change or act in a positive way. It is toxic when it keeps us stuck and creates a shame spiral, or when we feel unnecessary guilt because of a life event that we had no control over.

When guilt results in uncontrollable shame, it makes you feel like “I am a mistake”. It attacks your worth as a human being, often robbing you of the ability to change. It does not motivate you or give you hope, which is why it is so important that we learn to manage our guilt before it takes over our lives.

So, how do we turn our guilt into a more positive feeling? First, it is important to understand the link between compassion and guilt. Compassion is the emotional response to the suffering or distress of others. It involves a deep sense of empathy and a desire to alleviate or help ease that suffering. Guilt often arises when individuals recognize that they may have contributed to someone else's suffering or not done enough to prevent it. What this means is that both guilt and compassion are rooted in empathy. Guilt often emerges from recognizing the emotions and experiences of others, while compassion is a proactive response to those emotions, seeking to reduce the pain or suffering that has been identified.

If managed correctly, our feelings of guilt can serve as a motivator for more compassionate actions. When we feel guilty about our role in someone else's suffering, we may be driven to take steps to make amends, offer support, or prevent similar situations in the future. This motivation, in turn, can lead to acts of compassion, connection and love—towards ourselves and others. 

We can actually use compassion as a way to resolve intense feelings of guilt. When we take compassionate actions to help others, we can experience a sense of relief and healing as we work to rectify the situations that caused us to feel guilty. This can be an incredible learning experience, helping us grow emotionally and mentally.

This is why it is important to recognize the connection between guilt and compassion. It can help us better understand and navigate our feelings and motivations, ultimately leading to more constructive responses to situations involving suffering and the desire to make amends.

For more on managing guilt, listen to my podcast (episode #580). If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).       

This podcast is sponsored by:

Birch. As summer approaches, it is important to think about the connection between how you sleep and your mental wellbeing, especially as the days get warmer! As sleep is so important for our health, focusing on ways to improve our sleeping habits to wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day is key to better wellbeing, and one great way to do this is by focusing on temperature. As I am sure you know, sleeping when you feel hot and bothered is almost impossible, which is why I am a big fan of Birch mattresses, which rely on thermoregulating wool to promote airflow and keep you cool while you sleep. Birch mattresses are also GOTS and GREENGUARD Gold Certified, meaning they are free of any polyurethane-based foams and harsh, unnecessary chemicals and pollutants. The wool in Birch mattresses also makes it hypoallergenic and mildew-resistant! And, unlike other brands, Birch mattresses do not contain fiberglass, which can be harmful to your health.  In fact, Birch has its own manufacturing facility, which is entirely free from products containing fiberglass. I love knowing that the mattress I’m sleeping on is made with natural and organic materials sourced straight from nature without harm coming to the environment or workers. I also love how comfortable, cool and durable the mattress is, without any harmful side effects on my health! And, with your Birch mattress, you get a 100 Night Sleep Trial, along with a 25 Year Warranty! Just go to to get 20% off your Birch mattress (plus two free Eco-Rest pillows!) during their Memorial Day sale (offers subject to change) during their Memorial Day sale! 

Podcast Highlights

0:55 Guilt doesn’t have to be a negative emotion!

2:20 What happens when we don’t manage our guilt 

5:18 Guilt, trauma & PTSD 

6:29 Why managing feelings of guilt is so important 

8:20 The relationship between guilt & compassion

15:49 Avoiding the shame spiral 

17:00 How to use your feelings of guilt to increase your compassion 

This podcast and blog are for educational purposes only and are not intended as medical advice. We always encourage each person to make the decision that seems best for their situation with the guidance of a medical professional.

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