Blog Post > Guilt: The Good and the Toxic

Guilt: The Good and the Toxic

Information Shared by: Bernadette Zoppetti, MA, PCC

According to Susan Carrell, author of Escaping Toxic Guilt,  guilt serves a purpose when it helps us consider the needs of others and helps us to choose the right path.  Toxic guilt is good guilt “gone wrong.”  A sure sign of toxic guilt is living a life out of balance and not being able to live life on your own terms while taking into account the needs of others.

Carrell delineates five clear and concise steps to help you plan to live a more authentic life, free from toxic guilt.


Step 1:  Speak the truth – for example:  “I can’t take how my friend is consistently asking me to babysit on a whim.  I can’t seem to say no, even when I have so much going on in my own life.”


Step 2:  Claim territory – You have the right to your own “property” and to create emotional fences called “boundaries”.  This might be something as simple as saying, “I’m sorry.  This time is not good for me. I have a doctor’s appointment that day.”


Step 3:  Brace for the storm – This step implies that when you change how you are interacting with others, by way of claiming your territory, you will likely not get a good response due to the change in your behaviors.  People have always known you to be a certain way and change is difficult, especially when you are not at someone’s beck and call.


Step 4:  Ride the wind – Nevertheless, pursue what you know is helping you to maintain balance and some equanimity in your life.  This step is about letting go of the worry of how others will respond and doing what you know you have to do to maintain emotional health.


Step 5:  Patrol Borders – This step requires that you check your progress regularly and avoid repeating old behaviors.

In the long run, escaping toxic guilt is an honest way to show yourself that, just as you respect others’ needs and boundaries, you respect your own emotional needs and healthy boundaries.