What is the function of guilt? Do you notice that you are frequently worried or angry with yourself for something you have little control over? A family member may have made you feel like you didn’t meet their expectations or your child cocks her head when you leave and you develop this unsettling feeling of guilt. It’s important to realize though, others are not causing you to feel guilty, you are. No one can make you feel guilty without your approval. Your negative self-talk and low self-esteem keeps guilt alive in your mind.
How Does Guilt Work?
Guilt is a function of your thoughts and is often perpetuated by negative thinking or lack of acceptance. Your mind may be replaying past events or future-tripping into a sea of worries or even over-thinking the current situation, leading to guilty feelings. However, it is within your power to control your thoughts. These experiences can cause deep rooted unhappiness in your life.
Self-esteem and building healthy relationships with others can be sabotaged if you don’t work out your guilt thoughts and actions. I know how overwhelming this can be and, often, it feels like it is impossible to talk back to these thoughts. However, with the right skills, things will change bringing your guilt trips to a much needed end.
Truths About Guilt:
- It keeps you trapped in the past
- It allows you to avoid the present
- Keeps you from growing
- Effects your mental and physical health
Often people who suffer from anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, negative self-talk or all of these, harbor some guilt about the past or worry about the future. Your guilt may be over past behavior, people in your life who made you believe you were in the wrong or a bad person.
Get Rid of Guilt
If you did something “wrong” own up to it. If you made a mistake practice acceptance; everyone makes mistakes. Ask yourself, is there anything I can do about this right now? If so act on it, if not try to distract and move forward.
Keep those who impose guilty feelings on you at bay. If you find that a particular person tends to bring up feelings of guilt or you feel worse after you have been in their company, take a hiatus or limit the time you spend with them.
Affirm. Remind yourself that you deserve to live in peace and in order to develop more positive self-talk and self-esteem speaking nicely to yourself is a must. Try “If forgive myself and deserve to be guilt free.” Or “I am a good and loving person who is doing the best I can.”
Is guilt taking over your life? Keeping you from moving forward or feeling happy? Try a few of the following steps to begin bridging the gap between guilt and gaining self-acceptance.
Get perspective. Make two categories, in one, list the things you have control over and in the other, list things you have no control over in the moment. For instance, is past guilt plaguing you about a relationship with a family member? If so list the things you can do about them now and what is out of your control. Sitting and ruminating over things that cannot be done will not help you, it will keep you feeling unhappy. Writing it out can help you see the truth.
Do you need to apologize? Perhaps you have done something in the past that keeps haunting you or plaguing you. If it was years ago or even hours, it’s never too late to apologize. A letter, email or phone call can resolve that heavy burden. Keep in mind this is not to benefit them. The intention is to make peace inside of you. If this is too hard, try doing some mediation or energy work to release some of the feelings and send them thoughts of gratitude and love. It will change your thoughts from negative to positive.
Learn. What did this situation teach you? What was the assignment here? Perhaps you ended a relationship and the other person was deeply hurt, leading you to feel guilty and bad about yourself. Is there something you learned from this, signs early on or things that you are certain to avoid in the next relationship? Use each experience that your mind considers “guilty” as a tool to improve your life. Make amends with others if necessary.
Get grateful. Set an alarm on your phone or make it a point to spend a few minutes a day listing the things you are currently grateful for. It helps put your mind in the now and avoids guilt trips.
Why can’t you forgive yourself? If you don’t start now, when will you?
Emily is the author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girls Guide to Speaking Up and Being Who You Are.You can visit Emily’s Guidance Girl website. You can also find her on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.