How to Get Over a Feeling of Guilt From Keeping a Secret

Opening up to a family member can help to ease the guilt from lying.
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Whether you haven't been faithful to your long-time love or you're hiding something major from your BFF, the guilt that you feel from keeping a secret is likely to get to you. From simple everyday stresses to more intense feelings of regret, getting over the guilt is a must if you want to move on with your relationship and get your life back on track.

1 'Fess Up

Getting over your guilt requires confessing what you've done and the secret that you're keeping. For example, your friend comes to you crying because someone has started a nasty rumor about her and in reality, it was you who started the rumor. As she cries on your shoulder, you hold in your secret. Sooner, rather than later, you'll have to release your guilt and confess what you've done. Confessing can mean owning up to something you did, but can also focus on something that you didn't do. If you told your mom that you studied for your algebra test when you didn't, getting rid of your guilt through a confession will make you feel better and help explain your poor grade.

2 Effective Apology

After you spill your secret, you need to apologize. However, just saying, "Hey, I'm sorry" isn't enough to show that you're sincere. A true apology includes acknowledging that you've done something wrong, accepting responsibility for it and reassuring the other person that you won't repeat your mistake, says psychologist John M. Grohol in his article, "How to Make an Adept, Sincere Apology" on the PsychCentral website. Whether the other person accepts it or not, knowing that you've apologized for keeping the secret can help alleviate some of your guilty feelings. You can also show your sincerity by making amends for your secretive actions. For example, if you borrowed your brother's favorite shirt without telling him and then spilled ketchup on it, you can offer to buy him a new one.

3 Give It Time

Depending on the size of your secret, the other person may not forgive you right away. For example, secretly dating your friend's boyfriend is a serious offense that may take her weeks or months to forgive. This doesn't mean that you need to hold in the guilt of keeping the secret until the other person forgives you. Provided that you've made an honest effort to sincerely apologize and have completely come clean, take a step back and let others heal on their own time.

4 Forgive Yourself

There are two kinds of forgiveness that you need to experience in order to get over your guilt -- forgiveness from the other person and forgiveness from yourself. Not forgiving yourself or punishing yourself over your guilt isn't psychologically healthy, according to psychologist Carl Pickhardt in his "Psychology Today" article, "Adolescence and Forgiveness." Apologize to yourself for your own behaviors and accept that what's done is done. As long as you've made every effort possible to clear the mess your secret has made, let it go and focus on not making the same mistake in the future.

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.