Help, I’m Stuck In Guilt And Regret

Morning friends,

Whew – we’ve been having a great time on FaceBook live for the past two weeks. If you haven’t joined us LIVE yet, come this Thursday, June 23 at 7:30 PM ET for another 30 minutes of teaching and Q & A. We will be learning how to deal with a toxic and destructive person, the very thing we tackle here in this blog. To stop by, simply go to Leslie Vernick Fan Page. Click here.

There's been a wonderful  response to our CONQUER conference. Registration is now open and I’d love to meet you all in person. For more information about when, where and what it is exactly, click here.

I love this group. Reading through all your compassionate comments and care for one another blesses me deeply. I am so grateful that God has given me this platform and that you are so ready to help one another with the hard earned lessons you’ve learned in the trenches of suffering. Here is another stuck sister. Let’s help her get unstuck.

Question: I have been divorced for over ten years. My husband is re-married. I am having trouble with the guilt I feel for not handling the marriage well and not learning the things you recommended. How do I live day by day, knowing that in many ways I failed?

Answer: My heart goes out to you. I hear the pain you feel in your short question. It’s tempting to look backward in life, rehearsing past mistakes and regretting past failures. We all have them.

But I want you to understand this important truth. No one, except Jesus, gets through life without failures and regrets. The Old Testament patriarch Abraham had them, Moses had them, King David had them, the disciple Peter had them, and the apostle Paul had them. Therefore, you are in good company. The real question I need to help you with is how to get beyond regret and guilt so that you can live life more fully today and tomorrow instead of living with the past in front and center in your mind.

First, let me commend you for already starting the change. You asked how do I live now in light of my failures and mistakes? That’s a crucial question because how you answer it can propel you out of self-hatred and/or self-pity and into an entirely different mindset.

There are three things you will need to learn to move forward. The first is self- acceptance, the second is self-compassion and the third is courage. Let me break each of these down for you.

Self-Acceptance: You might think you need to forgive yourself for your past failures but that is not the real issue here. Friend, it is not your lack of self-forgiveness that has kept you stuck.

Rather it is your unrealistic expectations of yourself and your lack of acceptance when you mess up. In a backward's way, your pride has been wounded. You are disappointed that you weren’t better or didn’t do better. You deeply regret that you failed and messed up in your marriage. But the truth is, you didn’t know how to do it better or didn’t learn what you needed to learn back then.

The grip of self-hatred for being flawed and imperfect has infected your life and your future life. Once you accept that you are an ordinary imperfect, beautiful but broken human being, disappointment over your mistakes and failures no longer has the same power over you.

Now, that same emotional energy can be used to humbly ask for forgiveness from God and others where necessary. Instead of hating yourself for your sins, failures, and weaknesses, now you can learn from them so you grow and don’t continually repeat your mistakes.

It’s time to experience what you so desperately crave, God’s love and forgiveness for your sinful, imperfect self. That can only come when you accept that you need it.

Self-Compassion: If you had a good friend who messed up her marriage like you did, what would you say to her? I suspect you might be a whole lot more compassionate towards her than you’ve been towards yourself.

I think we fear being compassionate towards our self because we think if we’re compassionate, it must mean what we did wasn’t that bad. Or if we don’t ruthlessly beat ourselves up, we won’t take responsibility for what we did wrong and learn what we need to learn from our mistakes.

But that’s not true. Having compassion towards yourself is not poor-me, self-pitying, I’m a victim thinking. Rather, it accepts with grace the truth that we are a limited, finite, beautiful but broken human being who doesn’t know everything, doesn’t do everything right and sometimes blows it big time.

Self-compassion still compels us to take responsibility for our own mistakes, sins, and failures. And, and where possible, correct them, make amends to others and change. It models Jesus’ words to the woman caught in adultery when he says to her compassionately yet truthfully, “Go and sin no more”. Whose words do you think had more impact on her? Whose words compelled her to change her ways? Christ’s words or the words of the judgmental, shaming, condemning crowd who wanted to stone her?

About a year ago I invited counselor Kim Fredrickson to write a blog for me from her new book, Give Yourself a Break: Turning your Inner Critic into Your Compassionate Friend. For more help on what it is to be compassionate towards yourself, I encourage you to read her words.

Courage: It’s time for you to stop looking backward's and start looking forward. You are not done with life. You still have a purpose. Satan may have gained ground in your earlier years but don’t let him score now.

There is a world of difference between making a mistake and being a mistake, from failing at something to failing at life. (Tweet that)

Mistakes and failures are not statements about who you are. Rather they give us information about what we did or didn’t do and motivation on what we need to do differently so we don't repeat those same past mistakes and failures. They are hard lessons learned but if we learn them, then they were valuable and we can be grateful. Sometimes, as Rick Warren says in his book The Purpose Driven Life, the things we are most ashamed about when we lived in our own strength become transformed into ministry with God’s strength.

You can live in the now, day by day, with courage. Courage to believe that God loves you and forgives you. Courage to believe that God still has a plan for your life. Courage to take small steps forward in building your new life as a single woman. Courage to pursue who and what God has called you to be in this season. Courage to ask for help if you still feel stuck.

Surround yourself with people who are a little further along on the journey. Studies show that when people are looking to make a significant change, it helps to have others that will cheer us on and bandage our bruises.

From now on, don’t let your guilt or regret stop you. Instead, learn from it to discover the necessary stepping-stones that will lead you to make the changes that lead to abundant life (John 10:10).

Friends, what helped you learn to let go of guilt and regret?


  1. Mavis on June 22, 2016 at 8:46 am

    When you’re at the bottom, the only way to go is up. I believe that Satan uses guilt to try to keep us stuck at the bottom, to keep us down, rather than turn to God and allow Him to heal our spirit and our souls. When we are down, we sometimes do not even have the strength or thought process to pray. That’s where the Holy Spirit takes over, we just need to trust in our Lord’s love for us and know that He is aware of what we are going through. He will bring us to a place of inner peace.

  2. Penny on June 22, 2016 at 9:34 am

    Yes!!! For every look at our sin, we look ten times to the cross. The cross says ‘FINISHED’. Every time! Instead of defeat, these very areas can become opportunities to fight for and remind us of the real truth. God’s love and mercy trumps the junk every time. The enemy wants to keep us in a cage, he tried to do the same thing to our Savior. We are all in the trenches of life, fighting for the truth.

  3. Aleea on June 22, 2016 at 12:52 pm

    >“. . . .I have been divorced for over ten years. My husband is re-married. I am having trouble with the guilt I feel for not handling the marriage well and not learning the things you recommended. How do I live day by day, knowing that in many ways I failed?”

    >“Friends, what helped you learn to let go of guilt and regret?”

    . . . . Could it be that you are getting something by having that posture (re: knowing that in many ways I failed). Maybe. . . . find out what that “pay-off” is and understand it. —See Leslie’s book: How to Find Selfless Joy in a Me-First World. . . . i.e. We think we should be better than that (re: —“in many ways I failed”) but maybe that is nothing but a different type of pride?

    . . . . For me, the burdens I often carry on my back are in direct correlation to the weight of my ego. The chains that keep me bound to the past are my own anger, stubbornness, internal lack of compassion (—just truth, NO Grace), jealousy and blaming others for my choices. It is not other people that keep me trapped; it is the entitled role of victim that I, at times, enjoy wearing. There is a familiarness to pain that I enjoy because I get a payoff from it. . . . I have not completely figured out what all the payoffs are because I can demonstrate so much of Christianity generally fails to mention (withholds) critical scholarship, archaeological evidence and engages in non-discloure of really important data/ information, . . . . but, as I do figure more of it out, maybe I will be finally, fully on the road to freedom. Our blessings lay beyond our fears. —Prayer is always an excellent place to start. “God, I seriously lack wisdom, please help me. I’ve got nothing if You don’t help me.” . . . . Evil seeks to discourage others to think for themselves (—it fosters dependency). It is clear also that thought is not free if all the arguments on one side of a controversy are perpetually presented as attractively as possible, while the arguments on the other side can only be discovered by diligent searching.

    >“About a year ago I invited counselor Kim Fredrickson to write a blog for me from her new book, Give Yourself a Break: Turning your Inner Critic into Your Compassionate Friend. For more help on what it is to be compassionate towards yourself, I encourage you to read her words.”

    . . . . I love Kim’s book BUT especially her CD: Compassionate Self-Statements and Self-Soothing Exercises by Kim Fredrickson. Without hearing this information over and over and over and over and over and over and over again, it never gets embedded. We need it embedded! That way you immediately think of “. . . . on the one hand (Truth) . . . . BUT on the other (Grace)” —BOTH Truth and Grace). Also, on U-tube: Self-Compassion Interview-Part 1 -Kim Fredrickson; Self-Compassion Interview-Part 2 -Kim Fredrickson; Awaken Your Truth and Grace, Conversations with Kim Fredrickson; Self-Compassion in the Counseling Office -Kim Fredrickson. . . . And don’t forget to pray for Kim who knows way more deeply than so many of us why this is so, so important. . . . and I’m praying for you too!

    —Oh, and from Christian origins: . . . . . “Contemplate your own death.” . . . You always see the church fathers using that to get people unstuck. There can be no real resurrection without death of those underlying issues (—pride,! That requires getting to causes and not just dealing with symptoms. Christ-honoring healthy living and the ability to engage in a full expression of the Christian life. . . . . But also realize that your remorse shows the difference between a cruel person and one that is not. . . . You know what? . . . God cannot remove the burdens of your heart, but He will prompt you where to go, what to say and what to do, in order to free yourself from your chains. That seems to be how He works.

  4. Laura Di on June 22, 2016 at 1:58 pm

    I suggest considering exploring a look at a christian 12 step program named “Celebrate Recovery’, here’s the link to make it easy!

    You will find a wonderful connection to a name you’ve already been introduced to in Leslie’s response. It just so happens Rick Warren author of The Purpose Driven Life is in the mix. Rick actually was the encourager of the founder of “Celebrate Recovery”. FYI recovery programs are not exclusively for people with substance abuse issues. I do not battle those demons but do battle others and recognizing that is the first step to becoming free. I have 6 years since my divorce and at times still need help in overcoming guilt. I am working toward conquering that am by remembering the biblical suggestions about fellowship.

    Matthew 18:20 New International Version
    “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

    Go to a place where people embrace God.Place your trust in God to lift you from the past

    Romans 8:31-39 New International Version (NIV)

    More Than Conquerors
    31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

    “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    Jeremiah 29:11 New International Version
    For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

    God Bless!

  5. Robin on June 23, 2016 at 12:04 am

    I have been divorced for one year. Most recently I have been asking myself those same questions. Did I miss something?? Did I not do enough?? What about the mistakes I made that added to his abuse??
    I have decided to be kind to myself .
    I was in a very difficult marriage, and I am convinced I did all I knew to do. I read a quote recently that said, choose to forgive yourself for the things you hadn’t learned yet.
    Mistakes are a part of life. Just because your husband is happy in his 2nd marriage (if he is) doesn’t mean there was something wrong with you. Perhaps he regretted some of his mistakes, and the divorce made him determined to work harder on this marriage. I think we all have guilt and regret; what matters is what we do next. Love yourself and be kind to self and say it’s okay. Yes I made errors I wish I hadn’t. But this is a new day and I’m going to wash the slate clean and walk into my future. If you havnt seemed out counseling, I would recommend it. I’ve been in weekly counseling for over three years- and it is what holds me up on many a sad day. It’s nice to have a friend I trust and feel safe with, and can talk my fears and mis beliefs with!!!!

    • Aleea on June 25, 2016 at 6:56 am

      . . . .yep, that is the great thing about counseling! . . . . A new, good, close, NON-toxic relationship. You see that modeled in the counseling when the fit is good. For me, it is re-parenting. . . .The clinical psychologist, psychoanalyst, psychotherapy aspects have less to do with our healing (I think that. I don’t know that. re:Toward Mutual Recognition: Relational Psychoanalysis and the Christian Narrative (Routledge Publishing, 2010) . . .Unconscious motivating forces play a central role in shaping our behavior, so the relationship is critical. These issues do not come by logic (but emotions), so, they do not leave by logic. . . .I’ll tell you, if mental abuse was a punishable crime, many a parent would be in jail serving a long term sentence. Anyone who is a parent: . . . pray unselfishly for your children, change the way you talk to your kids. Learn to speak life to them daily.

    • Debby on July 6, 2016 at 1:01 pm

      You didn’t do anything that “added to his abuse.” He is 100% responsible for his own responses, regardless of what you did. You are 100% responsible for YOUR responses, but they are not connected. I love the quote you shared, “Choose to forgive yourself of the things you hadn’t learned yet.” In your heart of hearts do you truly believe that if you had somehow been “better” he would not have been abusive? My guess would be that you would have been “better” and he would have still been abusive. Abuse comes from WITHIN a person, not from without. Those are just excuses for them to respond in inappropriate ways. You can only repent and make a change for how YOU responded, keeping in mind that when an animal is cornered, they will eventually come out fighting, even if they are a bunny. That’s called self-preservation and it is a NATURAL and healthy response to being abused. Taking it with no cry of injustice is an Unhealthy response. Sometimes it is good to REMEMBER really what it was like, not so we can wallow in it, but to remember the wisdom that came from the experience.

  6. Julie on June 24, 2016 at 4:01 pm

    ‘I feel regret and remorse, and I can’t get rid of it. And, I’m Catholic, to boot! Pray for me.

  7. roxanne on June 25, 2016 at 8:41 pm

    I have always liked the exercise to write a letter, if you could, to your younger self. What would you have liked to tell your younger self about the future?

    Another exercise is to write a letter to yourself as if you could speak to yourself ten or twenty years from now. What would you tell that woman?

    Give it a try, it puts guilt and regrets into perspective.

    None of us knew what the future held and we probably did the best we could with what information we had at the time.

    • Robin on June 25, 2016 at 9:32 pm

      Roxanne, this is an excellent exercise you mentioned. Right before I filed for divorce and didn’t know what I was to do–Leslie gave us an assignment. To look ahead 5 years and write to yourself what you would like to say where you are today. That assignment and letter changed my whole viewpoint. It gave me the courage to do what was needed.

  8. Maria on June 29, 2016 at 3:37 pm

    I think the biggest thing that helps (I’ve been divorced for three years now) is to do what Robin above stated. Just remind yourself that during that time, you did all that you could and you must move on. I think we all must remember that good relationships are built by each partner giving 100% to the marriage, not 1 person giving 100% and the other person not engaging. It is typical for us ‘givers’ to always wonder how we could have given more, but I think we need to remember that we can never assume 100% responsibility in a relationship. We must give our best, but the ultimate outcome of a relationship is the cumulative effect of 2 individuals, not 1. I think part of moving on is what Leslie mentions, not only forgiving the other person forgiving ourselves. If anything my divorce has made me painfully aware of the impact of sin on the lives of everyone it touches. I have welcomed single life because it gives us a chance to realize who we are, who God made us to be, what gifts He’s given us, what are the dreams He’s planted in our hearts. I think sometimes it’s easy to get sucked up in a dysfunctional relationship and forget who we are completely. You must take this opportunity to love yourself, forgive yourself and never look back.

    • Leslie Vernick on July 4, 2016 at 8:44 pm

      Thanks Maria, well said.

  9. Karla on July 4, 2016 at 3:29 pm

    I was divorced recently after being married and In the same home together for 5 months only…. I’m devastated, racked with guilt, shame, embarrassment, hurt( loved ones warned me, I didn’t listen)…. I feel like the Lord set up several roadblocks and u blew through them. Now I am extremely hurt and carry this pain and guilt continually with me. I’m thankful for this blog.

  10. Phyllis on July 5, 2016 at 8:35 am

    I am recently divorced after 43 years of marriage. I ride an emotional roller coaster that bottoms out unexpectedly at times. I feel I am becoming stable and then I bottom out and again are an emotional wreck for a few days. I read and have been told this is an opportunity to be who I want to be and do what I want to do. I think that is easier said than done after being married so long. I’m finding I don’t know how to be single and by myself. How do I find myself? I feel that if I can get ahold of who I am as a single 63 year old, the hurt, anger and jealousy and fear will not side swipe me and cause me to bottom out. But what steps are there to find out who I am as a single daughter of God?

    • Anita from the Netherlands on July 11, 2016 at 3:37 pm

      Dear Phyllis,
      Wow, 43 years is a long time! A year ago I am divorced after 25 years of marriage. The ‘steps’ I take:
      1. go to Jesus every minute of the day. tell Him everything that bothers you
      2. praise and worship him everywhere you go
      3. read the Bible as much as possible (I hardly watch t.v. anymore)
      4. ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you
      5. seek other christians,
      6. read christian books (e.g. of Stormie Omartian)

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