Last week, I shared with you how toxic guilt can affect all of us–ESPECIALLY those of us who enjoy helping others.

It’s one of those emotions that can become stagnant and block us from manifesting our dreams, so it’s really important to get this one under control!

The first step is knowing the difference between healthy guilt (which motivates us to improve ourselves) and toxic guilt (which harms us by keeping us feeling crappy and stuck).

Just knowing the difference between the two and being able to untangle them is already empowering! If you missed last week’s blog post about this, you can check it out here.

In this post I want to share with you some tools for processing toxic guilt.

I found this amazing 5 step approach in a book by Susan Carrell called “Escaping Toxic Guilt” which I’ve adapted for my blog here.

So here they are…

5 Steps to Releasing Toxic Guilt

Step 1: Speak the Truth

The first step is about identifying toxic guilt. This could take some detective work and practice.  Toxic guilt may be hiding under another emotion or may seem to be healthy guilt.  It can take some time to get used to telling the difference between the two, which emotions it could be hiding under, and which thoughts and behaviors normally accompany it for you.

Part of this step is also about feeling it. Just feeling the nasty emotion of toxic guilt, so it can run its course. Emotions stagnate when we cover them up and push them down.  It’s important to bring it into the light where you can see it.

The “speak the truth” part is about telling someone. Confession is an ancient practice that is therapeutic in and of itself.

I’ve heard it said that shame can only live in the dark-well that’s true of the similar emotion guilt also.

Step 2: Claim Your Territory

This step is about recognizing your boundaries and claiming your territory.  Toxic guilt survives on illusion and falsehood, and one aspect of illusion is the idea that you are responsible for more than you can realistically control. This includes how much/how often you can please everyone.

Boundaries are weak when others can intrude and affect us emotionally. We give up emotional property when we make a person (or more than one person) our sole focus.

Boundaries are also unhealthy if they extend beyond ourselves, so that we feel responsible for others.

One way you can take action to set your boundaries is by starting to make small decisions you would normally leave to someone else (because you feel guilty about speaking up). You can also tell others exactly what your boundaries are, and what they can expect (or not expect) from you.

Step 3: Brace for the Storm

Sometimes processing and letting go of toxic guilt is simply an internal process that does not involve anyone else. But other times our guilt gives people in our lives power.

And once they notice that they no longer have this power, they are not going to be happy!

When this is the case, expect a storm to follow and prepare for it. When you establish boundaries and begin to stick to them, you may find people around you having a hard time adjusting to the change. They may try to talk you out of your new boundaries and use manipulative tactics to make you feel guilty. This can cause you to second guess your new decisions. It will be easier to manage this period if you expect it, stay strong, and identify a support network to provide you with reassurance when things get tough.

Step 4: Surrender

Surrender is always a step when it comes to emotional processing.

The way this act of surrendering relates to guilt specifically is captured best by this quote from the book:

Learning to let go paves the way to freedom for people with a proclivity toward rescuing others.

Forgiveness is also a part of letting go whether it’s forgiving others for the storm they inflict on us when we change behaviors or forgiving ourselves. Sometimes we hold onto toxic guilt, because we believe it keeps us aware of the mistakes we’ve made, and we believe it keeps us from making similar mistakes in the future. But letting go means releasing control, and inviting the possibility that we could make the same mistakes again and that’s okay.

This concept of forgiveness is best tied to guilt and surrender with the following quote from the book:

Learning to forgive others enables you to forgive yourself, which is the most difficult process for guilty folks.

Step 5: Toxic Guilt Management

This step is about managing the emotion of toxic guilt as an ongoing process.

Decisions are made in one moment, but working through the emotion and changing behaviors that reinforce it, requires checking back in with yourself over time.

Being prone to guilt involves changing deeply rooted behaviors as well as processing the emotion. Because it’s easy to fall back into old habits, you may have to engage your mind to overcome your instincts.  If you find yourself repeating old behaviors associated with toxic guilt, stop yourself. Keep an eye out for the agendas of others slipping under your boundaries, and be sure to notice if you’re taking responsibility for someone else’s space rather than your own.

Here is another helpful quote from the book I would like to leave you with:

Your ability to take care of others must be balanced with the ability to take care of yourself.

Would you like to find out the best way you (and only you) can create a targeted plan to manifest your dream and remove emotional blockages that are getting in the way?

Call me for a private coaching session to find out the easiest way to get clear and take your life to the next level.

Call 610-420-3040 or email me at