The extent of one man’s guilt may be defined by how much of it is experienced by the party he injured.
— Ryszard Kapuscinski
Are You Feeling Guilty?
Are you feeling guilty about something? Maybe you’re feeling guilty because you failed to live up to your personal expectations. Maybe it’s because you failed to live up to other people’s expectations of you. Maybe you did something hurtful to someone else, or maybe you embarrassed someone or wronged others in some way. Or maybe it’s all about you. You are feeling guilty because you didn’t keep a promise you made to yourself.
Feeling guilty often stems from an underlying sense of responsibility you have to other people. It could also stem from a set of unresolved problems, emotions and/or personal feelings of unworthiness. Likewise, the feelings of guilt can arise from your refusal to accept your mistakes.
No matter what the reason is for your guilt, it’s important to remember that you’re feeling guilty for a reason, and this guilt is telling you that you are heading in the wrong direction. It’s time to reconsider your choices and decisions and take a different path moving forward. In fact, see guilt as an opportunity for you to re-examine or correct your behavior, or even a chance to repair a broken relationship. It’s an opportunity for you to “right the wrongs” and move forward with your life in a more positive way.
If you fail to make the necessary adjustments to your behavior, and maybe choose instead to ignore your guilt, then guilt could easily turn into regret or shame. It might even lead to higher levels of stress and anxiety as you continuously attempt to fight-off your guilt from within. Guilt could also lead to a state of emotional paralysis or confusion. It will decrease your self-confidence and will also wiggle itself into other areas of your life and make you feel absolutely miserable.
No matter how you look at it, guilt is never a pleasant emotion and often has some dire consequences. However, it is an emotion you can work through successfully and even progressively eradicate from your life over time.
A Process for Eliminating Guilt
If guilt is getting the better of you, then here’s a six step process you can use to help eliminate the feelings of guilt from your life:
Your first step is to explore your feelings of guilt and the corresponding events that took place.
It’s important to gain immediate clarification about your feelings of guilt and the meaning and significance this has in your life. This is critical because at times your guilt might not be as clear as you might think. You might in fact need to do a little digging in order to decipher the primary reasons for your guilt. Ask yourself:
What am I feeling guilty about?
Why am I feeling guilty?
What is the underlying reason for my guilt?
What do I gain by feeling guilty?
Does this make any sense?
How does this guilt hold me back?
How does this guilt effect those around me?
Is it reasonable to feel guilty about this?
Be open to the possibility that what you’re feeling guilty about might not really make any logical sense. Yes, of course it makes emotional sense. However, if you remove your emotions from the situation, maybe there is nothing there to feel guilty about. Maybe it’s just all in your head?
At other times, you are indulging in the feelings of guilt because it gives you something of value. This might sound strange on the surface. Why in the world would you feel guilty on purpose? You’re indulging in guilt because you are gaining something from this experience. What you’re gaining will depend entirely on your circumstances, however it’s often something that gives you a sense of comfort and security. For instance, it’s more painful to do the thing that you know you should be doing, than it is to do nothing at all. Feeling guilty is the easy way out of the situation. It might not feel great, but it’s less painful than the alternative. At least it’s somewhat comfortable, and you feel better because you’re taking responsibility for not taking action. So at least all is not lost. There is still hope for the future. But for now, you’re just happy to enjoy this moment of comfort.
Let’s now look at the events that triggered your guilt in a little detail. Ask yourself:
How did I respond to these events?
What do I believe about this situation?
Get clear about everything that transpired that led to your feelings of guilt. The more information you have about these events and circumstances, the more understanding you will have about what it is you need to do to move through your guilt successfully.
It’s important to remember during this step that the past cannot be changed. No matter how much you indulge in the feelings of guilt, it will not help you to time travel into the past and do things differently. Instead you must take responsibility for your mistakes.
This is how I’m feeling, and I accept that…
You must fully accept the fact that you’re feeling guilty. Don’t deny or resist the feeling. In order to get through this moment in your life you have to be honest and open with yourself about your true feelings. That is the only way you will be able to correct things and move forward with your life.
It’s now time to imagine new possibilities. It’s time to step away from your feelings of guilt and expand your horizons. Ask yourself:
What if I didn’t feel guilty about this?
How different would my life be?
What are the possibilities?
You’re not denying or ignoring your feelings of guilt or the events that took place. What you’re actually doing is putting yourself into a solution-focused frame-of-mind that will open your mind to the possibilities that may exist. To help with this process, you can also reframe your perspective of the situation. Ask yourself:
What’s positive about this?
How else could I view this situation?
It’s important at this stage that you eliminate and successfully reframe all the toxic thoughts you are having about these circumstances. Your toxic thoughts will only get in the way. Reframing presents you with an opportunity to get into a positive frame-of-mind moving into the next step of this process.
Of course what has happened has already happened, and you can’t go back into the past and change things. However, there might be certain things you can still do that can help you improve your circumstances and therefore potentially eliminate your feelings of guilt.
Your first step is to identify what specifically you can control. Ask yourself:
Looking at this situation, what’s within my control?
What is somewhat within my control?
What could I potentially influence in some way?
Some things will be under your direct control. Other things you will partially be able to control, while still other things you might only be able to influence in some way. Identify each of these areas and prepare yourself to draw up a plan of action moving forward that will help you improve the situation. Ask yourself:
What will I do to make things better?
What will I do to potentially improve the situation?
What’s the most important step of this process?
How, where and when will I begin?
The answers to these questions will provide you with a step-by-step plan of action you can work through to improve your situation and thusly potentially eliminate your feelings of guilt.
The most important thing here is to take at least one positive step forward to help make things better. Yes, you cannot change the past, however this doesn’t mean that you cannot make things better in the present moment. The choice is yours to make.
This step is all about learning from your experience and laying a better path moving forward so that you don’t make the same mistakes again.
Take time to learn from your behavior and from the mistakes you made. Ask yourself:
What can I learn from my current experience of guilt?
How must I do things differently the next time I’m confronted with this situation?
How will this help me to avoid feeling guilty?
Guilt doesn’t only result from your actions and mistakes, it also results from the habitual guilt-infested thoughts you tend to indulge in. At times the only reason you’re feeling guilty is because of how you are thinking about the situation, and this of course isn’t helpful because it influences the choices and decisions you make. You must therefore target and eliminate the thoughts and self-talk you are indulging in. Examples of some of these thoughts might be:
Why am I so stupid…?
I can’t believe I messed that up…
I don’t understand how unreliable I am…
I’m a really bad person and I deserve bad things to happen to me…
I always let myself down…
The thoughts and self-talk you generate will be unique to you and your circumstances. It doesn’t really matter what it is. If it’s feeding your guilt, then you must eliminate this type of thinking immediately from your life. However, there is no magical potion that will help you do this. It simply takes conscious awareness and then the discipline to control and shift your thoughts in ways that will help you move forward.
Coming to the final step, you fully understand your guilt and the situation that triggered this guilt. You have taken responsibility for your feelings and searched through solutions that might help you to somewhat rectify the situation. On top of this, you have laid down a plan of action that will ensure you do not fall into this guilt trap again. Now you are ready to finally let things go.
Take time to sit down in a quiet place. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. With every breath you exhale, envision yourself releasing your guilt out of your body and into outer-space. Alternatively, you might prefer writing about your guilt on paper, and then burning the page. What you do is up to you. The most important thing is that you let go of this guilt, and then take full responsibility for your life and move forward in a positive way.
When it comes to guilt, there are certain things that people often do that make them very susceptible to guilt. You must avoid these traps like a plague. If you don’t heed these warnings, then don’t be surprised if you end up living with more guilt than you can handle.
Here are a list of ways to avoid feeling guilty:
- Don’t over-commit or over-promise. You’ll end up feeling guilty because you won’t be able to deliver on your promises or keep your commitments.
- Don’t indulge in procrastination or perfectionism. You’ll end up feeling guilty because you won’t have enough time to get the most important things accomplished.
- Don’t indulge in self-blame. You’ll end up feeling guilty because everything you do, or others do, becomes your problem and your fault. This is no way to live.
- Don’t associate with people who blame, shame, judge, and unjustly criticize you. These people will always find more than one way to make you feel guilty about something.
- Don’t use guilt as a way to motivate or punish yourself. It’s never healthy to harbor your feelings of guilt. Instead work through the Guilt Elimination Process to remove guilt from your life.
- Don’t live with unrealistic expectations or standards. You’ll end up feeling guilty because you simply cannot live up to the standards and expectations you have of yourself. It’s just impossible.
- Don’t live in accordance with other people’s standards and expectations of you. You’ll end up feeling guilty because you’re never in control and you’ll probably end up disappointing people.
- Don’t make people feel guilty about doing or not doing something. You’ll end up feeling guilty because you’re trying to dictate and control other people’s lives.
- Don’t make life altering decisions while feeling guilty. This can lead to even more problems and significantly more guilt in the future when you look back on the decision you made from a neutral perspective.
These are the key ways that guilt can sneak into your life. However, they aren’t the only ways. You must keep an eye-out on how guilt has a tendency to manifest in your life, and then lay down a plan of action that will help you to avoid making the choices and decisions that will lead you down the path of guilt.
Overcoming Your Guilt
Guilt, just like any other emotion isn’t something you can escape from. At one point or another you will experience that guilty feeling inside the pit of your stomach. And it’s during these moments that you will need to find a quick way-out of your emotional situation.
There are in fact certain things you can do on a daily basis that will help you to overcome your sudden feelings of guilt. Let’s look at them in a little detail:
Forgive Yourself for Mistakes
It’s important to understand that people make mistakes. You’re a person, and you will therefore make mistakes. You won’t always make the right decisions, you won’t always say the right things, and you certainly won’t always do the right thing. Mistakes are a part of life, they are a part of growth, and an important component of our development process as human beings.
Don’t feel guilty about the mistakes you just made. Embrace these mistakes, learn from these mistakes, and most importantly forgive yourself for your mistakes. You will do better next time, as long as you take the time to learn from your experience.
Apologize to Others
If you’re feeling guilty because of something you did or failed do that has affected another person, then it’s important to take the time to apologize. Of course this person might not be very receptive, and may not fully accept your apology right this very moment. However, that shouldn’t prevent you from reaching-out to them. Your apology will lift a burden from upon your shoulders and will immediately ease your feelings of guilt. Yes, the other person may say a few words that might make you feel even worse. Expect that this might happen. However, at the very least you reached-out and made your point. That in itself should make you feel better.
When you make an apology, do so only once and with sincerity. Offer the other person your help or assistance, and then move on. The worst thing you can do is to keep apologizing over and over again. One good sincere apology is enough. You don’t need to keep apologizing for what happened. Apologize once, offer your help to fix things and then leave it at that. If the other person takes-up your offer, then great. If not, then at least you will have the peace of mind knowing that you reached out sincerely and tried to make things right.
Discuss Your Feelings
When suddenly struck with guilt, it’s often helpful to talk with other people about your feelings. Have a chat to close friends or family members about what happened and how that is making you feel. Who knows, they may even provide you with an alternate view of the situation that you never even considered. Maybe all you need is another opinion or perspective of the situation. Maybe you’re simply not seeing things in the right context.
Help People Overcome Guilt
One of the best ways to help you manage your own guilt is to help other people overcome their feelings of guilt.
Reach out to another person when you recognize that they are feeling guilty about something. Ask them to share their experience with you, and then see if you can provide them with a different point-of-view or perspective of the situation. Maybe you could even brainstorm some solutions that might help them to partially rectify things.
The act of helping another person overcome their guilt will provide you with the experience and knowledge you need to work through your own feelings of guilt.
Find Strength Within
You must often find the strength within yourself to overcome moments of guilt. It won’t always be easy, however an optimistic approach and a curious nature can get you through just about anything.
Optimism will help you to see the positives of every situation, and curiosity will allow you to work through your circumstances in a proactive and solution-focused manner. All this will help you to build the confidence you need to make better decisions moving forward.
Building an Ongoing Battleplan
If you tend to be prone to experiencing guilt, then it might be helpful to build an ongoing battleplan that will help you fight guilt on a daily basis. Here is a three step process that you might like to use:
Create a guilt list. This is a list of things you tend to feel guilty about. Ask yourself:
What things do I tend to feel guilty about?
What can I do about these things to minimize my feelings of guilt?
Being specific about what it is that is making you feel guilty will allow you to lay down the groundwork that will help you to overcome your feelings of guilt.
Finally, next to each of the items on your list, jot down what you can do today that might help you eliminate or alleviate your feelings of guilt.
Create another list of your core values. These are the things that are most important to you. Ask yourself:
What do I value most in life?
What is most important to me?
How can I begin living these values starting today?
Your values are your life’s priorities. They are the core foundations that you should build your decisions and actions upon.
Gaining clarity about your values is important because often when you are feeling guilty about something, it usually means that you have gone against one or more of your core values. Something is in conflict, and as a result you are experiencing guilt. Therefore to eliminate guilt from your life, begin by consciously choosing to live true to your highest values every single day.
Create a system or action plan that brings all these elements together to help minimize guilt. This action plan must help you live your core values on a consistent basis. It must also allow you to live-up to your personal expectations and the standards you set for yourself. This plan of action must be “priority-driven”, meaning that it must be aligned with your life’s highest priorities (which are built upon your core values). All this will help improve your decisions-making moving forward, and hopefully at the same time help you to successfully minimize your feelings of guilt.
Time to Assimilate these Concepts
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Gain More Knowledge…
- How the Need to be Right Can Lead to Guilt and Regret @ Tiny Buddha
- How to Let Go of Guilt @ Deliberate Receiving Blog
- Overcoming Guilt in Depression @ Psych Central
- The Short and Simple Guide to Minimizing Guilt @ The Positivity Blog
- Stop Using Guilt as a Motivation Tactic @ Scott H. Young