Guilt for not being enough, doing enough, doing it well enough. Guilt for juggling, for struggling, or for thriving when others are surviving. Guilt for wanting space, for finding it hard when others have it harder. Guilt for not being present, for resenting, for wanting more. Guilt, guilt, guilt.
Guilt has become the soundtrack to many of our lives.
When I feel guilty, my internal dialogue gets a little (ahem, a lot) more critical. I’m less likely to engage in the things that help me, and more likely to engage in the things that harm me.
Self-sabotage, self-destructive behaviours increase because I feel guilty, I feel bad. I feel less deserving of good things. Good things like rest, support, insight, compassion, empathy. And goodness me, wouldn’t we all benefit from more of those things?
So if you also have a habit of carrying guilt around like a heavy, sooty rock deep in the core of your belly read on, because…
It doesn’t need to be this way.
I want to share with you three small albeit mighty powerful steps to letting go of guilt.
This is an excerpt from The Week on Worth Course I go into much more detail on guilt and self-esteem within the course, which will be a great next step if you want to explore this further.
But first of all, you need to know that guilt isn’t there to shame you. It’s there to prompt you.
Guilt isn’t there to point the finger, to brandish the whip, to turn up the knob on the gas burner of self-criticism. It’s there as a sensation, as a little flag that pops up to say ‘hey, something needs addressing’.
The guilt we feel often sits in one of two camps: Justified and unjustified. And determining which kind of guilt it is that you are feeling can be really helpful.
This is the kind of guilt that comes when we have done something wrong. We have hurt someone intentionally or unintentionally; perhaps we have acted in a manner that we aren’t proud of; or made a decision that has come with negative repercussions. This guilt is felt because our actions conflict with our ethics.
This is the type of guilt that comes when you haven’t done wrong.
It might be that someone has done something wrong to us, and we feel a sense of responsibility that isn’t ours to carry. A good way to test whether your guilt is unjustified is to consider how you’d respond if someone told you they were blaming themselves for the same thing.
For example, I felt guilt and shame for my period of post-natal depression and the fact that I wasn’t able to be the mum for that
I’d wanted to be for my kids during that time. Was this my fault? Had I done anything wrong? Or was it the circumstances I found myself in? If someone had told me that they felt shame for the same thing, I’d desire for them to feel the compassion for themselves that I felt towards them.
Regardless of what you feel guilty about, whether it’s justified or unjustified, guilt is there to prompt you to action, not to shame you. Here is my ACT tip for the next time you feel a wave of guilt or want to address the weight of guilt in your stomach:
Imagine that guilt as a rock sitting on the palm of your hand. Look at it and ask yourself what it is about. Why is it there? What do you believe you’ve done wrong? Is it justified or unjustified? What would you say to a friend if they told you they felt guilt about this?
We ALL deserve compassion. If you did something wrong intentionally, find a way to inject some compassion into it. You may need to be a little creative, but it’s an important step as when we feel only shame, we stay stuck in a cycle of shame and criticism. It hinders us from developing healthy self-esteem. Introducing compassion doesn’t absolve you of responsibility, it just enables you to address it more constructively.
Perhaps I hurt a friend because I feared they’d reject me at some point, so I did it to gain a sense of control. The hurt is the action I feel guilty about, yet the fear deserves compassion.
So now you know what the guilt is, and you’ve injected some compassion. The final step is to make a tweak or action based on that insight. If you feel guilty because you’ve hurt a friend, talk with them about the fear you’ve identified. Apologise, and then let it go.
Maybe I equip myself with a technique, or I do some research to gain further insight into my own responses. Perhaps I feel guilty about
being on my phone too much, so I consider placing boundaries around my usage. I can then set the guilt rock down. I’ve addressed it. It is no longer of use to me. I don’t need to carry that weight.
If your guilt is unjustified, this process is very important. We sometimes direct hurt and anger towards ourselves as a way of making sense of difficult circumstances, or someone else’s treatment of us. If you feel you’d benefit from talking in more depth with a trusted friend or therapist, please take the step to do so. That is a statement of worth! You’re worthy of support in that process.
I hope this helps as you navigate the many feelings and demands that come with the pandemic. You need more of what you need to keep going, and unaddressed guilt is likely to stand in the way of you believing you’re deserving of that.
Just because you feel guilty, it doesn’t mean you are guilty.
The Week on Worth Course – Download now for £25
On Feeling Less Guilty – 10 Minute episode of The Therapy Edit