Letting go of guilt

Doesn’t it seem like there is
always something to feel guilty about? The friends you haven’t contacted for
ages, being a ‘good enough’ parent, not being on the PTA, that extra slice of
carrot cake, chocolate, a drink, or a cigarette when you promised you’d given
up. Yes, ‘should’, ‘ought’, ‘shouldn’t’ and ‘oughtn’t’ are familiar words in
our vocabulary and always cast us in a negative light. 

Guilt is that nagging feeling of
negativity that can pervade our spirit like a dark cloud hanging over our heads
as we go about our daily lives.

Ironically, the busier we become
and the greater number of roles or ‘hats’ we wear – parent, teacher, partner,
spouse, co-worker, friend – the more there is to feel guilty about. Society
places huge expectations on us as people. Rather than recognise this and our
limitations, we allow ourselves to feel guilty, and surprise surprise, we then
become down, depressed or anxious, which in turn leads to more guilt.


So what is the point of feeling bad?

Think of a situation where you feel
guilty and ask yourself how does feeling guilty and emotionally beating
yourself up actually help? Although you may feel you deserve self-punishment
and this in some way atones for, or gives you something to do, does guilt go
toward resolving the situation or building your self esteem? The answer is
probably ‘no’, and therefore like ‘worry’, guilt gives us something to do but
doesn’t actually get us anywhere. In fact, excessive guilt can be harmful to
our self-esteem and relationships.


Break out of the guilt cycle

Guilt can become a
self-perpetuating behaviour pattern. We do something, feel guilty about it,
punish ourselves, and because we feel bad, we often repeat that behaviour at
the next opportunity. For example, if you’re trying to lose weight and eat some
chocolate, that feeling of guilt may make you want to eat more, then another
sweet treat or something you’ve labelled as ‘bad’, and consequently more guilt

However, we can break the cycle of
guilt by first acknowledging the guilt: ‘I feel bad because I…’ and then taking
personal responsibility.


Be responsible

Personal responsibility is about
being honest with yourself. Own the mistake/slip-up and take the blame (your
share, not more!), make amends or problem solve as best you can. If the
person/situation does not go along as planned, then so be it, but realise that
you have faced up to the guilt, the past cannot be changed, and you’ve done
your best to rectify the situation and taken responsibility.


Forgive yourself

The process of forgiveness enables
you to resolve unresolved feelings in order to move on. Rather than choosing
guilt, a mantle we place upon ourselves, through forgiveness we find value in
what happened, and learn from it. In life, behaviour can often be changed by
learning from our mistakes and adapting in order to prevent repeating the
negative situation, and consequential guilt. Recognise that you, too, are
human; humans are fallible and make mistakes!


If you are feeling guilty, ask
yourself these questions:

Am I trying to live up to someone else’s values?

You might be feeling guilty for
something you think you should do, rather than something you truly believe in.
Conscience-driven guilt is when you have broken your own moral code and
pressure-driven guilt is when you are trying to live up to other people’s
standards. Learn to recognise the difference.


Can I fix things?

Rather than worry about it, work
out what you can do to resolve the situation, and realise this is your best


I’m only human, aren’t I?

We are all fallible; recognise that
fact rather than continue to beat yourself up for something that has already
happened. Show yourself some compassion.


To schedule a confidential
appointment regarding this or any other issue, please contact The Employee
Assistance Programme at 949-9559, or via our website www.eap.ky

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