“When thinking about life, remember this: no amount of guilt can change the future”-Unknown
It consumes us. Washes over us. Guilt has a way of affecting us – well for most of us anyway.
You feel like you did something wrong. Perhaps you feel terrible about it. You may even feel like you are a bad person.
Guilt amplifies our faults and missteps. It can turn a good day into a bad one within minutes or even seconds. You can feel on top of the world, then feel crummy.
It is not just internal guilt. Sometimes, others in our lives shame us into feeling guilty for our actions. You can feel fine about your decision to enjoy popcorn with your movie, until someone comments on the calorie count. You can feel amazing after completing your 12-minute mile – until someone informs you most people can do an 8-minute one.
Whether it is taking another cookie, sleeping in on the weekend, or cancelling plans, there are many opportunities for guilt to creep in and cause havoc not only to our mental health and social health, but physical health as well. Since guilt often leads to chronic stress, physical ailments associated with stress often arise when we feel guilty (headaches, sleep problems, fatigue, digestive issues). Additionally, there may be resentment towards others who may directly or indirectly be causing guilt to bubble up to the surface. Often times, these issues can cause isolation and/or even more stress.
Although guilty thoughts will always creep up on you, here are four things you can do to lessen the dreaded guilt:
Use it as a learning experience. Ask yourself what you can learn from the situation. Did you feel guilty for going to happy hour with your coworkers instead of going home to your family? Maybe you learned family life is more important than work at this stage of life. Or it could be the opposite and you learned you need a night out with colleagues in order to feel well balanced. Whatever the lesson is (and there is always a lesson) learn from it and apply it next time.
At the time you made the decision to skip your morning run or call in sick to work, you had a desire to do so. It seemed a valid reason to take that action. It served a purpose, whether it was positive or negative. So, forgive yourself. And then pat yourself on the back for forgiving yourself. Giving yourself the space to make mistakes allows you to grow. Thoughts of guilt will come up from time to time, that’s natural. Don’t dwell on the fact you skipped a run AND you felt guilty about it. Forgive yourself and move on. Tomorrow you can do better.
Don’t Punish Yourself:
You drank a caramel macchiato (extra caramel, extra whip, thank you very much). Yes you did it. That does not mean you now need to run all the way home to burn off the calories (and skip dinner just in case). There is no need to sabotage your progress by punishing yourself. Learn from the experience and see what needs to be tweaked next time. Punishing yourself does not help the situation, so why do it?
Examine What is Behind the Guilt:
Are you comparing yourself to others instead of staying in your own lane? Are you pushing yourself too hard? Are your values contradicting your everyday, realistic life? Look internally to see where the guilt is coming from. See what exactly is making you feel guilty and explore ways you can change your mindset, so you don’t have to put yourself through the guilt trip again. Perhaps you have to learn to be gentler with yourself when things do not go as planned, or set better expectations on what the end goal will look like. If you can figure out what is causing the emotion to come up in the first place, you can find ways to help overcome it – little by little.