Guilt isn’t always a rational thing; it’s a weight that will crush you whether you deserve it or not.
Guilt is the price we pay when our behavior violates one of our learned ideals or beliefs. The symptoms range from minor emotional discomfort to substantial feelings of self-doubt and despair, and thus it’s one of the most common reasons people seek coaching or therapy, since they can’t let go of the guilt they feel.
Excess guilt is one of the heaviest and unhealthiest weights a person can hold. It’s like strapping an extra 100+ pounds to your forehead and trying to go about your day. Fortunately, just as a change in how you approach your body can help shed excess body weight (i.e. eating healthy and exercising), a change in how you approach your thoughts can help you shed excess guilt.
If you feel like you’re carrying around excess guilt right now, here are some simple reminders to help you let go and ease your mind:
- A guilty, suffering spirit is far more open to love and grace than an uncaring or smug soul. So, in a backwards way, it’s good news if you’re feeling like you’ve done wrong – it means you actually care to be better than you have been. And starting now, you can be.
- Guilt is not a response to other people’s sadness or anger; it’s a response to your own actions or lack thereof, and it can be positive. If guilt leads to change then it can be useful, since it’s then no longer just guilt but the beginning of knowledge and growth. That’s the key – channeling your initial feelings of guilt into positive action. Let the way you feel change the way you live.
- There’s no reason to feel perpetually guilty for making a sincere mistake. To make a mistake is to be human. Mistakes are part of life – everyone makes them, and everyone feels a little guilty sometimes. But – and this is a BIG BUT – some people learn from their mistakes and some end up making the same ones again and again. It’s up to you to decide if you’ll learn from your mistakes and use them to your advantage. (Read The Gifts of Imperfection.)
- If you feel guilty about something you did or didn’t do, don’t be ashamed to apologize. An apology may seem like a sign of weakness, but having the courage to go up to someone and say “I’m sorry” is a great strength!
- We’re all a little selfish sometimes. It’s human nature. A selfish person can still love someone else, can’t they? Even when they’ve hurt them and let them down? The answer is yes, as long a lesson is learned and not deliberately repeated.
- Every one of us is guilty in some way – for all the good we didn’t do – the kind words never spoken, and the good deeds left undone. We can’t change that now – the past is behind us – but we can still make the best use of today and every day going forward. Yes, perhaps there’s a lot more we all could have done, but we just have to let the guilt remind us to do better next time.
- Some people like passing guilt and blame on to others. Beware of this. It’s strange the way someone who wants to play the blame game and find you guilty can pass judgments, tell stories, and actually make you believe in your own guilt, even when you know you’re innocent (or deserve forgiveness). Beware of this phenomenon and don’t condemn yourself just to satisfy other people’s drama. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Relationships” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- If you decide to make positive changes, let it be out of generosity and respect for yourself and others, not because you fear guilt or retribution in any way.
- When you think EVERYONE is looking at you, it’s usually just you looking at yourself. Understand this. Understand that the fear of judgment is the mark of excessive guilt and the burden of insecurity.
- If someone says they hate you, whatever the reason, everything they say about you after that is more or less meaningless. Hate is irrational – when hatred judges, the verdict is always guilty. The same is true when we hate ourselves for something – we can’t possibly vindicate ourselves and grow from the experience. The bottom line is that we may feel guilt, give reasons, and even have excuses, but in the end it’s an act of cowardice to not give yourself another chance. It’s time to show yourself some love and respect.
- If you can’t reconcile things with yourself, and you don’t feel ready to talk it out with someone else, write it down. Write your heart out! So often when we’re feeling guilty we’re in a state of denial. We’ve denied, trivialized or distorted our own experiences and feelings. Writing is an important path for healing because it gives you the opportunity to sort out your thoughts and define your own reality. You can say: “This did happen to me. It was that bad. It was a terrible mistake. I’ve grown from it. I was – and am – worthy of my own love and forgiveness.”
- You may have lots of moments that aren’t too bad, and yet there’s always something you’re struggling with, or feeling guilty about. You may just assume you need to try harder, but you find it difficult to sustain that level of effort. If that sounds at all familiar, it’s time to let go of control, at least a little bit. It’s time to stop feeling guilty about not being able to control the uncontrollable.
Let me wrap this up with a simple question:
Is it possible that all the “bad” or “foolish” things you’ve done have been forgiven and forgotten by everyone who matters in your life, except you?
Think about that for a moment…
And then let me know what you think about this post by leaving a comment below.
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Photo by: Taro Taylor