How to deal with the guilt of breaking up?

In this article we will discuss how your guilt with regards to your break-up is related to depression. 

We will take a closer look at what depression is and how guilt could be part of why you are depressed. We will also consider some things you can do to heal.

How to deal with the guilt of breaking up?

Dealing with the guilt that appears after you leave a relationship is, at times, a normal consequence of having made that decision. 

Here are a few things you can do to cope with the guilt of breaking up:

  • Take responsibility 
  • Learn 
  • Take deliberate steps to move forward
  • Experiencing the pan, the remorse, the guilt.
  • Get creative
  • Evaluate your thoughts and be mindful of how critical you are of yourself. 
  • Focus on the present
  • Seek out new experiences 
  • Make changes in the way you relate with other people
  • Seek out professional help

The guilt of having broken up with someone might lead you to worry about your ex-partner’s pain and having caused the hurt of someone you once loved.

You might also worry about the people that were part of your partner’s life, especially when they were supportive of you and them. Or having experienced living apart from your partner, taking the time to reflect on the relationship, there must be things that you have done that you feel sorry for. 

In order to deal with this guilt, let us understand where this guilt comes from and how it can impact your mental health. 


Guilt is a feeling of embarrassment and regret that you are responsible for a negative action or event. Sometimes this psychological guilt is appropriate and logical as it can help realign out values and beliefs. 

However, guilt can also cause problems when we engage in perceiving guilt as a personal fault and failure. 

This sort of guilt is an irrational response to events or scenarios that only exist in your mind, a self-judgement based on the belief you’ve done something wrong without factual evidence. 

This sort of illogical guilt often comes with deep feelings of shame which can lead us to negatively evaluate ourselves and when that happens, without mindful awareness, it can impact your mental well-being.

Connecting guilt and depression

A 2012 study at the University of Manchester scanned the brains of participants, looking for reactions brought on by thinking of an imaginary event that instilled guilt. This research showed that those who suffer from depression have brains that are more prone to guilt than those who have never suffered from depression.

People who had depression, struggled more to have perspective on difficult events and see things in context, leaving them more likely to feel guilty and responsible even if things were not their fault.

How does guilt cause depression?

When we consider guilt and depression in the perspective of evidence-based cognitive behavioural therapy, we can understand guilt from the  thoughts, emotions, behaviour cycle. 

According to this cycle, thoughts create emotions, and those emotions then cause the actions we choose. This cycle of thoughts, emotions, and actions, if beginning with negative thinking, affects mood- specifically leading to low moods. 

If you feel let negative thoughts like guilty thoughts take control, they will very likely trigger such a dysfunctional cycle.

These guilty thoughts become bigger, and often lead to us personalizing and internalising these beliefs which then lead to us evaluating ourselves based on it. 

If you begin to assume the pain you must have caused your partner by breaking up with them without much proof of their suffering, such negative thoughts would create feelings of shame and fear. 

This would lead to you feeling unworthy of the choice you have made based on what you needed to do. 

Even if you do know that your partner is struggling, you taking on that pain instead of understanding that your ex-partner is also an individual capable of sorting themselves out, can internalise and personalise that pain as your fault and struggle with guilt. 

This guilt will then impact the way you see yourself- evaluating yourself in a negative light and when that happens, and there is no intervention, it can lead to extremely low moods, hopelessness, worthlessness, low self esteem, and finally depression. 

How to deal with break-up related guilt

Here are some of the things you can do to deal with the guilt.


Take responsibility

The more you shun responsibility for your own actions, even if it was done as a way to preserve yourself, the more guilt eats away at you. 

Even if you have broken up with your ex-partner for your own good, you might have hurt them in some way or the other because you didn’t just let them go but you have also let go of the dreams and hope you both have shared at one point. 

Instead of stepping up owning up to this hurt caused, you might continually focus on how guilty you feel and not do anything about it. 

There may be nothing you can do to make amends and there might not even be a reason for you to make amends.  

However, you can own your words and actions. You can take responsibility for whatever it is you are feeling so guilty about if this is truly appropriate to do.

You can choose to tell them that you apologize for the hurt and if you had broken up with them in inappropriate ways, you can take the step to apologise without the expectation of forgiveness.

This is about you acknowledging that you made the choices you made and you are taking responsibility for it and not about you being forgiven or making them feel better- you have no control over someone else’s feelings. 


Be sure that you are really learning from this experience. Take time to reflect on what went wrong and what you could have done better. Take moments to notice the patterns of your behaviour to get the relationship to a point where you need to leave. 

This experience is not to blame- neight you or your partner it is for you to learn the patterns of your behaviour that are not healthy or helpful to you and to take the first step of unlearning is to acknowledge and recognise, 

Take deliberate steps to move forward

You cannot possibly move past the guilt and past your ended relationship until you choose to move forward.

The ways you can do that includes:

  • Experiencing it- the pan, the remorse, the guilt, the anger, and every other emotion that you might be feeling. Experience it without judgement and let yourself feel the pain and shame with compassion. 
  • Get creative, write if you must- journaling is a great way to help yourself express your feelings and to develop self-awareness of your feelings and thoughts.
  • Evaluate your thoughts and be mindful of how critical you are of yourself. Make sure that you challenge irrational and negative thoughts by using evidence in your life that counters those thoughts.
  • Stop fixating on what could have been done or the what ifs and focus on the present- take time to notice your day to day and express gratefulness for what you have at the present. 
  • Seek out new experiences that allow you to have fun and allow you to learn about yourself- taking up new hobbies and being able to engage in reflection can be a way to help yourself grow.
  • Make changes in the way you relate with other people- not ust romantic relationships, but friendships and family and replace maladaptive patterns with more healthy ones.
  • Seek out professional help if you find that the guilt is getting worse and it is affecting your ability to work and maintain your other relationships. When you notice that this is affecting you emotionally and mentlaly to the point where you are unable to meet the demands of your daily life, unable to engage with your reality, it is advisable that you seek out a therapist. 


In this article, we have discussed what guilt is and how it can impact the mental health of a person when the guilt is not addressed. We have also discussed what you can do about the guilt you feel after break ups and what you can do to cope. 


Frequently asked questions related to “Break-up guilt is causing depression (Help!)

How do I get over the guilt of a break up?

Tips for Dealing With Breakup Guilt

  • Accept what has happened and the part you have played in the break up and the relationship.
  • Take responsibility for your decision and the hurt you might have caused them- apologise without the expectation of forgiveness .
  • Focus on yourself, make changes that help you better understand yourself
  • Seek professional help if you need to

How long does regret last after a breakup?

There is no set timeline of how long a person takes to regret after a break up. Someone might not take much time to overcome the guilt and regret of breaking up while other people, upon realising and coming to awareness about the relationships, might regret it for a long time and may not be able to move on for years. 

Is regret after a breakup normal?

It’s normal to have regrets after breaking up even if you know the breakup is the best thing for you. Recognize that what you’re feeling is normal and doesn’t necessarily mean you made the wrong decision. 

Do relationships last after a breakup?

Some people, when they get back together, find that their relationship is better and more successful while others don’t. 

The key difference between the two types of couples is that the first couple learn from their mistakes, learn how to communicate, and commit to making changes that can help the relationship grow in healthy ways.