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The Difference Between Feeling Guilty and Being Accountable

I love breaking down and taking a closer look at the emotions that take up a lot of space in our lives. Guilt is one of the most powerful (and effective) in doing so.

We have discussed guilt and how it impacts self-worth, but guilt can also slide into our lives dressed up as ‘accountability’.

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When setting goals, conquering fears and getting closer to your authentic self, you may have tools and resources that help you stick to what you said you were going to do. These tools and resources serve as opportunities to hold yourself accountable.

So, how does guilt disguise itself as accountability?

Guilt can look like accountability because:

  • Guilt can sometimes serve as a starting place to change a behavior.
  • Guilt, when combined with shame, can motivate someone to do something differently.
  • Guilt is rooted in consequences — so phrases like, “If I don’t do this, something bad will happen . . .” may also engage you to stick with a goal.

That’s tricky right? That guilt is sneaky I tell ya . . .

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What’s important to recognize is that while guilt is crafty in its approach to motivate you to change your behavior, but it can also have side effects that ultimately do not support you on your quest to live as your favorite version of yourself. This is because guilt is also:

  • A heavy, burdensome feeling that can take up a lot of negative space in your mind and in your body.
  • Guilt can tap into our fears of being punished, which can leave us feeling disappointed, shamed and afraid.
  • When guilt is the foundation of our desire to change, we may become discouraged, defeated and hopeless. This, in itself, can increase your risk of getting stuck, giving up and self-sabotaging what’s important to you.

Because guilt is a master of disguise, it’s helpful to shine light on why it is so very different from being accountable.

When we hold ourselves accountable, we are making an intentional choice to accept responsibility for our own decisions and actions. Accountability can help us focus on what our next steps are and help us stick to our goals (sans the shame and fear of punishment that guilt offers.)

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Being accountable opens the door for us to re-focus, restart and re-engage into what’s important to us. Feelings associated with holding yourself accountable include helpfulness, readiness, self-awareness, positive motivation and hopefulness.

When you are motivated to make changes rooted in accountability, you are less likely to shame yourself and feel defeated. Instead, being accountable invites us to dust ourselves off and try again. *cues Aaliyah*

To build your mindfulness around being accountable and feeling guilty, ask yourself if you are:

What do you think the difference is between feeling guilty and being accountable?

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