Guilt – get rid of it!

Guilt – you can reduce feelings of guilt with a little practice!

The Oxford dictionary’s definition of guilt is as “a feeling of having committed wrong or failed in an obligation”.  Most people suffer from this to varying degrees. Some may say it can be a good thing as it means we are behaving in a sensitive way, in a way which considers other people’s feelings.  They may have a point when the guilt doesn’t impact their thoughts and behaviour negatively. However, too many clients I work with suffer from guilt which prevents them from doing so many things that would ultimately benefit them and make them happier, less guilt-ridden people.

The Urban Dictionary defines guilt as “an unfortunate side affect that results from being overly exposed to morality”. Those who have come from families who do dictate a highly moralistic way of living will identify with this! Being brought up with “you must” “you should” “think of others” “put others first” etc will mean that when you dare to do something for yourself, you hear those voices tell you how selfish and inconsiderate you are. Those little voices are your guilt, reproaching you for not behaving as you should. (This often is created by overly controlling people around you – but that is a subject for another article.)

So what if you question those voices, and say, actually, I am not hurting anyone, I am simply choosing to do something that isn’t to your liking. What happens then? It’s possible the voices will become a little quieter. Do this on a regular basis and you can set up a good conversation with those voices. The power will slowly shift to you.

Not so easy when those voices come from real mouths of real people.  Not doing what someone else wants can bring up all sorts of guilt. From spending time with your parents to choosing to go out with friends when you partner wants you in – the feelings of guilt often paralyse us. This paralysis can be so bad that we fear the consequences i.e their displeasure, reproaches, moans, even anger. It’s easier to do what they want than to face all this. But is it? Where are you in all this? Does your happiness count? Wouldn’t you be a better husband/wife/mother/father/daughter/ son / colleague if you could find your own happiness, which means taking time out for yourself sometimes, making decisions for you and doing things your own way?

At work, are you someone who always says yes, you want to help others, support them, sometimes to the detriment of your own workload? Would it hurt to sometimes say “I am not able to do that as I have a very heavy workload today/ this week”?

“Sounds terribly selfish” say the voices.

I agree there has to be a balance.  Behaving like a megalomaniac is not something I would advise. Giving others time and ensuring there is time left for you is OK.  Saying NO occasionally when you don’t feel happy (or want) to do something, is OK. Opting out of events is definitely OK.  I could go on.

When guilt kicks in because of something you shouldn’t do – I’m talking about all those things we’re told not to do and find ourselves doing them, like eating too much chocolate, drinking, smoking etc.  Ask yourself how is your guilt helping you? Would there be something more useful you could do? Could you use the brain space used for feelings of guilt in a more constructive way? Could you focus on cutting back or giving up, or even taking control and enjoying it, because it’s something you want to do?

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