I don't think guilt is actually a single emotion; I think it's a mix of things that're going on at the same time and leaving you stuck and feeling bad about yourself. I picture it like a logjam in a river: these different pieces pile up and are hard to get unstuck. But if you can separate them, you can deal with them.
So what are the pieces / emotions / "logs"? It varies, but here are some common ones:
* Compassion: you feel sorry for someone. That's kind and caring, not a problem on its own.
* Shame. You're seeing yourself as bad. That's a problem.
* Anger. This one's not obvious, but I've found that when we feel "guilty," sometimes part of it is that we actually resent something or feel angry about something...but don't feel permission to feel the anger...so we shut it down and make it part of the "guilt" pile-up. Instead, recognize and "own" the anger.
How To Deal With Guilt
* Identify the pieces (see the list above, plus add your own for your situation).
* Deal with each individually.
* Compassion, if it's present: maybe there's something caring you can do for the person. If not, don't worry; just feel the compassion.
* Shame. Remind yourself that your core worth isn't changed by this event, even if you made a mistake. If you need to make amends--take action--for something you did wrong, do it, but don't wallow in shame.
* Other emotions or attitudes: also deal with them one-by-one. I'm not saying all this is easy, but it's easier and healthier than living with a big ball of "guilt" weighing you down.
Licensed psychologist, Austin