Is there anything that you feel guilty about?
I think we can all agree that guilt is a heavy burden. Metaphorically, it can make you feel like you are carrying a huge weight on your shoulders. If you allow it to, guilt can hold you hostage and consume your life.
This is the ultimate form of self-betrayal.
I’ve got great news for you… you don’t have to carry around this negative emotion for one day longer.
If you’ve ever stopped to take stock of all the emotions you feel, you’ve surely come across basic emotions like “happy” or “sad.” These are emotions that are easy to understand, and we usually know where they’re coming from. According to Psychology Today, these are hardwired, innate emotions, meaning that we’ve all got them and can recognize them in ourselves and others.
As we all know, life can get messy sometimes. This is when not-so-fun emotions tend to creep up and try to ruin our day, or worse, our life. One of these emotions is guilt.
So, how to stop feeling guilty? You’ll learn about it in this article.
There are different definitions of guilt, depending on which modality you view it from. I resonate most with a cognitive approach which states that guilt is an emotion that people experience because they’re convinced they’ve caused harm to someone.
This is a trap that a lot of people fall into, including me. Oftentimes, it’s the illusion of possible harm that you’ve inflicted upon someone that causes guilty feelings. It’s really easy to misinterpret the events or behaviors of others.
No matter how you deconstruct it, guilt sucks. The question is…. why do we feel guilty? Once you know where your guilty feelings come from, you can learn how to stop feeling guilty and free your mind to focus on more empowering things.
Why We Feel Guilty
Guilt is a personal experience, meaning that what may make you feel guilty may not bother someone else in the slightest. It all boils down to the moral code that you live by. If you think that something is wrong, and I don’t, you’ll feel guilty for doing it even if I don’t care.
At its core, guilt is a way of recognizing that we have not lived up to our own values and standards. In the words of Brené Brown,
“It’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.”
The most common cause of guilt comes from the things you do or don’t do. Letting yourself down is one thing, but letting someone else down is a perfect recipe for experiencing guilt, which can sometimes lead to shame.
What Does Guilt Do to You?
Guilt, like most negative emotions, isn’t a good feeling to have. Having to rethink your bad choices can drive you crazy and force you to overthink how you could have done things differently.
But, as we’ve already learned, there’s no going back when you’ve followed through with something.
When you feel guilty, you may automatically jump to your own defense. Some people will try to talk themselves into thinking that their actions weren’t as hurtful as they were.
Sometimes, we try to find ways to believe that the people we’ve harmed deserved it somehow. This is just the ego talking.
When we’re forced to re-evaluate these beliefs, we may become irritable or defensive, which is a self-defense mechanism. On the flip side, when we’ve accepted our guilt, we often try to compensate for it.
So, if you’ve made someone upset, you may do everything in your power to try to make him or her happy again. While making someone feel better can be a great thing, it can also take a toll on your emotional state.
It’s important to remember that trying to hold onto or fix a relationship through the emotion of guilt isn’t necessarily healthy. Choose your battles wisely, knowing that you cannot change the past, only re-write the future. If the people in your life aren’t on board with that concept, it’s time to rethink the friendships.
The Side Effects of Guilt
When you’re feeling guilty, oftentimes, that means that you’re also stressed. If you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done, it only makes sense that it will take a toll on your body. This is why it’s important to assess how your guilt is impacting you physically.
Guilt also takes a toll on an already fragile mental state. It contributes significantly to depression and anxiety, as it very often involves a negative view of self.
The more that you think about things, the more you start to dwell on them. If you ruminate about your actions on repeat, you’re taking up space in your mind that could go to more productive thought patterns.
Don’t let guilt get the best of you. Give yourself a break. Life is way too short to feel guilty all of the time, and it’s bad for your health.
How to Stop Feeling Guilty And Set Yourself Free
It is possible to retrain your brain to stop feeling guilty. Feeling guilty about things that you’ve done wrong is perfectly normal, but when you hold onto guilt for too long, it has the potential to take over your entire life.
This is why it’s important that you retrain your brain to stop feeling guilty. It starts with learning how to effectively cope with feelings of guilt in a proactive way
1. Own Your Decisions
Once you make a conscious decision and carefully weigh your options, it’s over. Agonizing about what you should have done differently will only drive you crazy. The moment that you take responsibility for your choice, you stop overthinking and move on.
Where people get stuck is that they make decisions without thinking about the consequences. As a result, they end up creating situations that lead to stress and guilt. Don’t let life happen to you. Rather, let it happen for you.
The best way to do this is by making decisions and owning them. By choosing any decision (even if it’s not the best one), you are claiming personal ownership. This is how you diminish feelings of guilt and shame and reclaim your power.
2. Practice Self-Compassion
You’re not perfect and nobody is expecting you to be. We all make mistakes. Don’t self-sabotage yourself more than you have to because life is hard enough as it is.
It’s important to realize that feeling compassion for yourself does not mean that you instantly give up responsibility for your actions. Rather, it means that you are finally able to let go of self-hatred and free your mind.
The next time you start to experience feelings of guilt, try practicing self-compassion instead. Make it a daily ritual. Tell yourself that you’re good enough and forgive your wrongs. You’re worthy of that.
3. Reflect Upon Your Actions
You can’t change anything until you intimately reflect upon what it is that you did to make you feel guilty. Self-awareness is the foundation of personal growth.
When we accept the invitation to reflect upon our actions, we force ourselves to go inwards and do the work to better understand who we are.
Guilt leads to unproductive behaviors like rumination, which compromises your self-awareness by not letting you remain in the present.
There is no point trying to run away from whatever it is that’s causing you to feel guilty. So, why do you feel guilty? Don’t place blame elsewhere. Instead, accept the role that you played in a situation. Once you’ve done this, you can start to think about why you made the mistake in the first place.
4. Learn from Your Mistakes
You’re human, remember? That means that you’re allowed to screw up. It’s a part of the process of becoming the best version of yourself.
Whenever you feel like you’ve made a mistake, it’s important to take the time to think about what you wish you had done differently.
The best way to prevent yourself from spiraling into guilt is to ask yourself, “What can I learn from this experience?” If you’re not failing forward and learning from your mistakes, then you are most likely punishing yourself.
When we learn to experience guilty feelings as a way of receiving information, we are already healing from our mistakes.
Don’t ask for permission from someone to set yourself free from guilt. Give that gift to yourself.
Don’t allow guilt to control your life. Living your life feeling bad about yourself is a waste of precious time. Life is short. Forgive yourself, move on and be happy.
Are you ready to stop feeling guilty and free your mind? Take a deep breath and let go. Life is waiting for you.
More About Freeing Yourself
Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com