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Deborah Wiig
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Regrets, guilt and depression
Learn to change your negative thinking and forgive yourself


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Feelings of guilt are often intertwined with depression. It’s one of the nine cardinal symptoms.

Guilt comes from thinking you’ve done something you shouldn’t have or failed to do something you should have and therefore you’re a bad person.

When we’re depressed, we may find ourselves reviewing our life and dwelling on regrets and losses.  “I wasn’t a good mother;” “It was all my fault that the marriage failed.” We ruminate about lost opportunities or lost youth and we feel worthless or guilty. How we feel comes from how we think. And chances are, your thinking is distorted.

Sometimes we magnify things out of proportion. Sometimes we take responsibility for something that wasn’t our fault. We may have impossible expectations for ourselves. If we made a mistake or failed in some way, we may label ourselves a terrible person.

Cycle of negative thinking and depression“Our brains are wired to think bad things when we’re in a bad mood,” says Dr. Simon Rego, Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “Depression leads to negative thinking and negative thinking leads to depression.  We can get stuck in the loop.”

How can you make peace with yourself when you feel guilt and remorse? When you’re focusing on your regrets, avoid personalizing what happened in the past. There’s a difference between what you did and who you are.

“You have to allow yourself permission to feel what you feel,” says Dr. Rego. “But allow yourself permission to make mistakes. Everyone does.”

It’s important to put your regrets in perspective, he says. Try to look at the whole picture. It takes two to make a marriage work. What role did the other person play?





Woman looking thoughtfulDr. Rego suggests other steps for overcoming feelings of guilt and remorse:

How to overcome negative thinking and forgive yourself

  • Ask yourself “What conclusions am I drawing and are they realistic?”
  • Talk to someone else for a reality check. How do they remember the circumstance that you feel guilty about?
  • Examine the standards you’re judging yourself by. Who is a perfect husband? What is a terrible husband? No one is perfect.
  • Ask yourself how you would advise a friend who was feeling this guilt?
  • Make atonement. If you feel you could have been a better parent, volunteer for a children’s advocacy group.
  • If spirituality can bring you peace, get involved in a church.
  • Accept yourself. People are fallible. It’s part of the human experience.
  • Work with a cognitive behavioral therapist to learn how what you think leads to what you feel which leads to how you behave. You can learn to change the cycle.

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Simon A. Rego, PsyD, ACT, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Associate Director of Psychology Training at Montefiore Medical Center.
David D. Burns, M.D. (2000) The New Mood Therapy. Quill/Harper Collins

Page updated July 1, 2009