Guilt is a painful emotion that can be seriously debilitating. It can come over us for a number of reasons, and once it takes hold, guilt can be difficult to shake off. TGH wants to share 4 ways to successfully overcome guilt, taking time to learn from it as you do so.
There can be a variety of reasons that you might feel guilty. Maybe you feel responsible for something bad that you have done, or something that you have done wrong.
Guilt is common when you know that you have caused harm to someone, either by your action, or conversely your failure to act. Sometimes you can even feel guilty for succeeding when others failed, or more dramatically, surviving when others didn’t.
Negative emotions like loneliness, envy, and guilt have an important role to play in a happy life; they’re big, flashing signs that something needs to change. ~ Gretchen Rubin
Strangely enough, guilt can be useful to us. If we are feeling remorseful it can give us pause to assess our moral direction. We might want to change our behaviour in future, or look at how we react to certain situations. We can learn to think about how our speech affects others for example. This can be a simple but life changing revelation.
This is an opportunity to learn from ‘mistakes’, reflect and grow. It can encourage us to develop empathy for others and live in a way that encorpates wisdom from our heart as well as our brain.
“My guiding principle is this: Guilt is never to be doubted.” ~ Franz Kafka
Studies have shown that individuals who feel guilt may have strong leadership potential. Becky Scaumberg, a doctoral candidate in organizational behavior who conducted the research alongside the Paul E. Holden Professor of Organizational Behavior said the following: “Guilt-prone people tend to carry a strong sense of responsibility to others, and that responsibility makes other people see them as leaders.”
Guilt can be very unproductive, this is especially true if the reason behind your guilt is largely out of your control, or if it is not really affecting anyone. Irrational guilt is simply a waste of energy and time, and robs you of your ability to enjoy the present.
Consider the usefulness of feeling guilty for leaving a child in day care while you work. You work because you are providing for your family, and children do not generally suffer negative consequences from being in childcare when compared with those who stay at home with a parent.
How about feeling guilty for not saying goodbye to someone that has died? If the feeling lingers for long after the event, affecting your ability to enjoy life, when you cannot do anything to change the fact – then it is a problem.
Guilt is cancer. Guilt will confine you, torture you, destroy you as an artist. It’s a black wall. It’s a thief. ~ Dave Grohl
So in some circumstances, guilt is not helpful at all. It serves only as fuel for our inner critic to make our lives miserable. This is when you need a strategy to move past it.
The first step is to look behind the guilt. What is actually making you feel bad? What is truly causing the guilt?
You may find that you are actually sad that you were not able to clear the air with a loved one who passed, or angry with yourself for reacting in a harsh way to a friend, or disappointed that you let a colleague down because you were unwell.
You might feel guilty because you don’t want to do something with a particular person, as you want some time for yourself.
That is all this step requires. You just need to get really clear about what it is you are feeling.
The second stage sounds deceptively simple. You must accept the reality.
If you have done wrong, stop denying it to yourself and accept it. Take it on the chin.
It can be liberating to accept this truth and say these out loud to yourself. It does not make you any less loveable!
In some cases, it is not about accepting your own fault, but rather accepting that it is actually nobody’s fault. You just have to accept that life can be unfair. Things happen. You cannot foresee every eventuality – as much as we would like to!
And in the case of feeling guilty for saying NO once in a while, just remember. If you don’t say no to things you don’t want to do, you are saying no to yourself.
Now that is a legitimate reason to feel guilty! Don’t waste your energy feeling guilty about putting yourself as a top priority in your life.
Now that you have accepted the truth of the situation, decide if you need to take any action – and do it!
Should you apologise? Go ahead and write a letter, or arrange a coffee date. Make amends otherwise you will pay for it with energy sucking guilt.
Do you need to change your behaviour in future? Analyse any faults that may have caused your undesirable reaction or non-reaction and decide how you will behave in future.
Make a conscious decision to stop living out of obligation – make space to say yes to the things you want to do!
Maybe there is no action to take, you only need to reflect. That is fine too. As long as you consciously decide that you do not need to take any action, and close the loop of wondering.
“Stop focusing on your past mistakes. Don’t be ashamed of the things that you’ve done. We ALL have made mistakes. Don’t you see? All of those things helped shape you into the beautiful person that you are today! Hold your head up high because you didn’t allow your past mistakes to consume you. You learned! You conquered! You became a better YOU. Be proud of who you are TODAY!” ~ Stephanie Lahart
The final step is to forgive yourself.
You have said sorry to the person you hurt (if there was one). Now regardless of whether they accepted your apology or not, you did what you could to make it right.
The final step is to say sorry to yourself. No matter what has happened.
Go ahead and let it go! You have no more use for the emotion of guilt. You can thank it for teaching you a lesson and release it. Free yourself! It will feel so good.
“Take a walk through the garden of forgiveness and pick a flower of forgiveness for everything you have ever done. When you get to that time that is now, make a full and total forgiveness of your entire life and smile at the bouquet in your hands because it truly is beautiful.” ~ Stephen Richards, Forgiveness and Love Conquers All: Healing the Emotional Self
What are your thoughts? Are you someone who can’t but feel guilty? Do you have any strategies of your own?
We would love to hear from you!
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