14 Guilt Synonyms and When to Use Them | BetterHelp (2023)

At times in life, you might experience feelings of guilt. Alternatively, someone might try to make you feel guilty over something that you did or over something you didn’t do, but should have done. Sometimes, you may feel that “guilt” is not quite the right word for what you are feeling, but don’t know how else to describe it .

Understanding exactly what guilt is can help you identify the guilt synonym that fits your feelings and situation. Knowing synonyms for guilt and having a full understanding of what it means to feel guilty can help you articulate your feelings to your loved ones or a therapist.

What Guilt Is

Guilt and shame can lead to certain mental health conditions.

Speak to a counselor today.

Guilt is aninvoluntary emotion rooted in self-examination. In most cases, it is a feeling that occurs when someone perceives that they have broken their own code of conduct or have violated a standard universal moral code.

However, guilt can be felt even when no code has been broken, or when no direct responsibility is actually present. Thus, you could argue that guilt is about perceived responsibility. It’s common for some people to feel guilt frequently, even when they have no logical reason to do so by another person’s standards.

Why Guilt Is Important

Guilt is an important emotion. Healthy feelings of guilt help us to make moral and universally acceptable decisions about our behavior. People who frequently feel guilt are more likely to be empathetic to others in various situations, especially those situations for which they feel guilty. Guilt has a great impact not only on the self, but also on interpersonal relationships.

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However, too much guilt can lead to shame, a problematic emotional experience. While guilt is the feeling that something you’ve done is bad, shame is the feeling that you might face judgment or ridicule for what you have done. Shame often leads to feelings of inadequacy, depression, and poor self-image. It can also lead to strained relationships with other people.

Guilt is difficult to measure psychologically because it is a strictly internal process and emotion. However,researchers have recently found methods to measure guilt. This measurement is important because it allows a psychologist to determine if an experience of guilt is typical or part of a larger mental health concern.

Guilt Synonyms

Sometimes merely saying that you feel “guilty” does not communicate your feelings effectively or accurately. The following list of guilt synonyms will help you better articulate what you are feeling.


Culpability, in short, is blame. When you feel culpable, it means that you are blaming yourself for something that you feel you are responsible for: something that you did or something that you left undone. Either way, culpability is often perceived. Culpability can also be conferred on you by someone else.


Feeling in disgrace means that you are experiencing a state of shame. You may be told that you are a disgrace by others if you have done something that they blame you for. Much more frequently, people feel that they are disgraced because they feel extremely guilty for something that they have done that they perceive as wrong.


Liability is the equivalent of answerability and responsibility. When you are responsible for something bad that has happened, you may feel liable. You may not feel actual blame for what you have done, but you may experience liability when you know something was your fault. You may even feel guilty for not feeling shame over something you were liable for.


Feeling regret means that you remain upset over a past action, failure to act, or feeling. Often, feelings of guilt come with feelings of regret, and vice versa. However, it is possible to feel regret without feeling intense guilt. Sometimes, if you regret something but do not feel the shame of guilt, you may in turn feel guilty for not having feelings of shame.

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Remorse is similar to regret. When you feel remorse, you have bad feelings about something that has happened or something that you did. Remorse often goes hand in hand with feelings of intense guilt. You feel badly about what you did, so you wish that you had not done it. Feelings of remorse are often followed by apologies to the party that you feel you have wronged.


When you feel responsible for something, it means that you feel that you are to blame for what happened. For someone who experiences feelings of guilt easily, feeling responsibility for a situation may not necessarily be logical.


Contrition is another word for regret. When you feel contrition, you are feeling sorry for what you did. A common use of the word “contrition” is the ritual of committing an act of contrition within the Catholic Church—an act that demonstrates remorse for sinful thoughts or actions.


Dishonor is another word for strong guilt. When you feel dishonor, you feel that an action was morally wrong; therefore, you feel deeply guilty about it. Dishonor is usually felt by people who hold themselves to a very strict code of conduct or ethics and feel that they have broken that code.


Infamy is less about internal feelings of self-image and more about the perception of others. You may feel that you are living “in infamy” if you have done something that you think has given you a bad reputation. However, sometimes this feeling is wholly internal and not backed up by actual social rejection.


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Onus is another word for burden, and guilt is definitely a burden. When a situation arises that you feel badly about, your emotions may feel like a burden that you must carry. Such burdens can become overwhelming if you ruminate on them. Thus, it can be helpful to discuss feelings of onus with a therapist before they grow.


Penitence is another word for severe guilt, meaning that you are shamed by what you have done and feel extreme sorrow about it. When you feel penitent, it means that you wish to do something to make up for the offending actions or words. The sorrow that accompanies penitence can lead to depression and feelings of low self-worth if left unaddressed.


Self-condemnation is one of the most extreme and unhealthy guilt synonyms. When you are feeling self-condemnation, you are passing severe judgment on yourself because of what you did (or failed to do). Self-condemnation means that you not only feel guilty, but also berate yourself to the point that you cannot move past your feelings of guilt and shame.


Self-reproach is another guilt synonym similar to self-condemnation. With self-reproach comes feelings of guilt, shame, low self-worth, blame, and sorrow. When you experience feelings of self-reproach, you are likely stuck focusing on the offending actions or words. You may be quite overwhelmed with these feelings and struggle to move on from them.


Peccability is a less commonly used guilt synonym. It is the opposite of “impeccability” (meaning immaculateness or blamelessness). From a religious perspective, peccability can also be used to describe sin. When you feel peccable, you feel extreme shame over your words or actions. You may even feel that you have committed a sin against your religion or a universal moral code.

Getting Help With Guilt

Guilt and shame can lead to certain mental health conditions.

Speak to a counselor today.

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Mild feelings of guilt, especially when you know you have done something wrong, are typical and often temporary. But if you are feeling such strong guilt or shame that you are fixating on it, unable to move on, or experiencing sorrow that interferes with your daily life, you may want to seek out help from a mental health professional.

Studies have shown that people who experience shame are at greater risk of developing anxiety and depression. A trained therapist can discuss your feelings with you and help you resolve feelings of intense guilt.

People who experience extreme guilt and shame often withdraw from others. In some cases, they may not want to leave their house. Online therapy fromBetterHelp is one resource for addressing any feelings of guilt without the need to attend an in-person appointment.

Some people have concerns about the legitimacy or effectiveness of internet-based therapies. While valid, these concerns are largely unfounded. Online therapy with a licensed professional has been shown to help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

The reviews below show how BetterHelp has been able to support others dealing with difficult emotions.

Rhonda has been so helpful for me in overcoming painful guilt and shame so I could move forward with my life. I continue to seek her guidance when life throws new challenges at me. But, I no longer feel Overwhelmed and stuck. I know I have someone in my corner who’s only agenda is to help me.

Jennifer is caring and very accessible. I feel like I have made so much more progress with her than I have any other counselor. She doesn’t make me feel bad about my less desirable or unkind thoughts. She has this great maternal energy.

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If you are struggling with feelings of guilt or shame, know that help is available. With the support of a mental health professional, you can learn to manage these feelings. Take the first step today.


What is the synonym of guilt? ›

2 (noun) in the sense of remorse. Synonyms. remorse. contrition. guilty conscience.

Are guilt and shame synonyms? ›

While guilt is the feeling that something you've done is bad, shame is the feeling that you might face judgment or ridicule for what you have done. Shame often leads to feelings of inadequacy, depression, and poor self-image.

What does in guilt mean? ›

Guilt is an emotional discomfort you feel when you believe that you were responsible for something that offended or hurt someone else. Guilt can be legitimate – you may have made a mistake and you regret your words or actions, causing you to feel guilty.

How do you use guilt in a sentence? ›

Example Sentences

His guilt in the matter was indisputable. It was clear that the guilt lay with him.

Is guilt a negative word? ›

By definition, guilt is a negative emotion, a sense that you've done something wrong.

How do you describe someone feeling guilty? ›

Two phrases that are used to describe someone who feels very guilty, (often over a long period) are guilt-ridden and conscience-stricken: He would spend his later years guilt-ridden over his neglect of his children. Conscience-stricken, she confessed to taking the money.

What type of emotion is guilt? ›

Guilt is described as a self-conscious emotion that involves negative evaluations of the self, feelings of distress, and feelings of failure. 2 Some of the signs that you might be coping with a guilt complex include: Anxiety.

How do u describe guilt? ›

Guilt describes a sense of regret or responsibility that relates to actions taken. People may feel guilt over things they actually did wrong, things they believe were their fault, or things they had no responsibility for.

What word means free from guilt? ›

Absolve, acquit, exonerate all mean to free from blame. Absolve is a general word for this idea. To acquit is to release from a specific and usually formal accusation: The court must acquit the accused if there is not enough evidence of guilt.

What is a word for free of guilt? ›

synonyms for guilt-free

above suspicion. clean. clean-handed. clear. crimeless.

What is guilty conscience synonym? ›

Alternate Synonyms for "guilty conscience":

guilt; guilt feelings; guilt trip; compunction; remorse; self-reproach.

What are the three types of guilt? ›

There are three basic kinds of guilt: (1) natural guilt, or remorse over something you did or failed to do; (2) free-floating, or toxic, guilt—the underlying sense of not being a good person; and (3) existential guilt, the negative feeling that arises out of the injustice you perceive in the world, and out of your own ...

What are the four types of guilt? ›

In his reflections, Jaspers establishes four types of guilt, viz. criminal, political, moral, and metaphysical.

What is a cause of guilt? ›

Some common causes of guilt include: surviving trauma or disaster. conflict between personal values and choices you've made. mental or physical health concerns. thoughts or desires you believe you shouldn't have.

What are some examples of guilt? ›

Signs of Guilt
  • Being sensitive to the effects of every action.
  • Overwhelmed by possibly making the “wrong” decision.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Putting others before yourself until it's detrimental.
  • Avoiding your full range of emotions.
23 Nov 2020

How do you use guilt free in a sentence? ›

The travel company offers guilt-free trips that won't damage the environment.

When was the word guilt first used? ›

The first citations of guilt in the OED go back to the end of the 10th century, that is, to the Old English period. At that time, the word was spelled gylt and pronounced like German Gült. The OED states that no “equivalent forms” are known in any other Germanic language.

Why is guilt positive? ›

But guilt can also be a very useful emotion. At its most constructive, according to research, it reminds you that you can do better in the future. Experiencing it also shows that you have moral and ethical standards, and empathy. Sometimes, though, we feel guilt unreasonably, for things that just aren't our fault.

How many types of guilt are there? ›

It is believed that there are three different types of guilt that humans experience: reactive, anticipatory, and existential.

What is false guilt? ›

False or inappropriate guilt comes when you feel responsible for a particular event, when in reality you had no power or control over the outcome. Some examples of events people often have false guilt about: childhood abuse. parents' divorce. physical/emotional/sexual abuse.

What are the two types of guilt? ›

Canadian psychoanalyst Don Carveth identifies two types of guilt, persecutory guilt and reparative guilt. Carveth suggests this distinction is essential to mental health.

Which ego is guilt? ›

The superego consists of two systems: The conscience and the ideal self. The conscience is our 'inner voice' that tells us when we have done something wrong. The conscience can punish the ego through causing feelings of guilt.

Is guilt a form of ego? ›

The unconscious sense of guilt is an ego state resulting from conflict between the aims of the superego and those of the ego.

What is a person who is found guilty called? ›

1 also includes anything a defendant might use to give the impression of a dangerous weapon. Defendant. An individual who has been accused of a crime in a court proceeding. If a defendant is convicted of a crime, he or she may be referred to as an “offender”.

What feeling is opposite of guilt? ›

Guilt is also the state of having committed the offense — it's the opposite of "innocence."

Which word means a feeling of guilt or regret? ›

Britannica Dictionary definition of COMPUNCTION. : a feeling of guilt or regret : remorse.

What is the meaning of guilty? ›

the fact or state of having done something wrong or committed a crime: In the US, people accused of a crime are presumed to be innocent until their guilt is proven.

What is an example of inappropriate guilt? ›

Doing or thinking something you believe is wrong or that violates your personal values. Not doing something that you said you would do. Committing a transgression against another person or something you value.

Is guilt a basic emotion? ›

While basic emotions such as anger, surprise or fear tend to happen automatically, without much cognitive processing, the self-conscious emotions, including shame, guilt and pride, are more complex. They require self-reflection and self-evaluation.

Is guilt a toxic emotion? ›

Psychologists of a more recent vintage go further: guilt, they say, is a useless emotion, a destructive emotion, a sign of an unhealthy psyche.

What are the elements of guilt? ›

The framework is historically the first and consists of two elements determining guilt, hence the name, meaning actus reus (the external element of the crime) and mens rea (the internal element, guilty mind). Both parts must take place at the same time in order for crime to be committed.

What helps with guilt? ›

Try to acknowledge your feelings, make amends if necessary, and then forgive yourself. If you need help letting go of persistent guilty feelings, consider reaching out to a mental health professional.

Which word means without guilt? ›

A person who is remorseless doesn't feel any guilt. If you're remorseless, you don't feel bad at all — even if you've done something terrible. When someone is remorseless, that person has no feeling of pity for people who have been hurt.

What's the the opposite of guilty? ›

The word, 'guilty' is an adjective which means 'deserving blame/ responsible for a specified wrongdoing'. The word, 'innocent' is an adjective which means 'not guilty of a crime or offense'. As the two words have opposite meanings, they are antonyms and option C, 'innocent' is the correct answer.

What are 3 synonyms for the word remorse? ›

synonyms for remorse
  • anguish.
  • compassion.
  • contrition.
  • grief.
  • guilt.
  • penance.
  • pity.
  • regret.

What is extreme guilt called? ›

A guilt complex refers to a persistent belief that you have done something wrong or that you will do something wrong. In addition to constant feelings of guilt and worry, a guilt complex can also lead to feelings of shame and anxiety.

Is self guilt a word? ›

Guilt for one's own actions. Noun, ex: I'm always so self-guilt because of my ex!

How do you say guilt free? ›

synonyms for guilt-free
  1. above suspicion.
  2. clean.
  3. clean-handed.
  4. clear.
  5. crimeless.
  6. exemplary.
  7. faultless.
  8. good.

What is the best synonym for guilty? ›

synonyms for guilty
  • convicted.
  • culpable.
  • liable.
  • remorseful.
  • responsible.
  • sorry.
  • wrong.
  • accusable.

What does guilt feel like? ›

as “a self-conscious emotion characterized by a painful appraisal of having done (or thought) something that is wrong, often [characterized] by a readiness to take action designed to undo or mitigate this wrong.” So yeah, guilt is that pit-in-your-stomach feeling you get when you have done something that you know is ...

What is a formal synonym? ›

Some common synonyms of formal are ceremonial, ceremonious, and conventional.

What is the synonym of Sorry Sorry? ›

adj.remorseful, regretful. adj.sad, heartbroken. pathetic.

Is regret a synonym for sorry? ›

Regret and be sorry are both used to say that someone feels sadness or disappointment about something that has happened, or about something they have done. Regret is more formal than be sorry. You can say that you regret something or are sorry about it.

Is remorse and guilt the same? ›

To put it simply, remorse says, “Forgive me for hurting you," while guilt or regret says, “Stop making me feel guilty for hurting you.” "Regret often seems flat, emotionless, and is more focused on moving on and getting the “punishment” over with," Fjelstad says.


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