A quick browse of Wikipedia and it’s all there – Catholic guilt. Jewish guilt. White guilt. Survivor guilt. Then there’s food guilt, exercise guilt, working-mother guilt and how can we forget chore guilt (“Oh no! I haven’t changed the sheets this month”) or sex guilt (“But I just want to go to sleep”).
Of course some guilt is healthy.
It can prevent us from damaging relationships with others; it can help us right a wrong; it can help us learn from our failures to plan for the “next time”.
However feeling guilty all the time and obsessing about doing or not doing every little thing is downright debilitating.
This kind of all-consuming guilt can lead to anxiety, obsessive compulsive behaviours and feeling overwhelmed.
Try these quick tips next time you start to feel a pang of the guilts.
Rate your guilt
Step back and ask yourself are you feeling guilty for a truly good reason? Or are you more focussed on that someone who will be cross with you; that you are letting someone down? Or are you simply worrying about what people will think?
Give the “guilt” a rating – with 10 being something you really should action and can change; and 1 being something that cannot be changed, or isn’t worth worrying about.
If it’s a 10, write down a list of things you can do to change it, and give yourself a time frame to do it. If it’s a 1 let it go.
Remember no amount of guilt can change the past and no amount of worrying will change the future.
Focus on doing the situation – not feeling it.
In times of stress, our gut reaction is often to feel our way out of the situation, rather than focus on what we should be doing.
If for instance a close relative is suddenly admitted to hospital - instead of feeling like the uncaring family member who doesn’t visit often enough, focus instead on what you can do here and now to make the situation better:
- Ring her every day and visit when you can
- Make/buy a thoughtful gift to take with you
- Send an audio message or get the kids to make a get well video
- Find some practical ways to help (cooking meals when she gets home; cleaning the house for her)
- Offer support during her recovery
Trust in your own self-worth
Whether it’s a relationship breakup, illness, loss of a job or bereavement – these are all situations that lead us to think “If I only did this or if I only didn’t do that, such and such wouldn’t have happened”.
To bounce back more easily from these situations, we need to open our heart up to acceptance, self-worth and trusting in our own judgement.
Is going back to a relationship that wasn’t working really going to change anything in the long run?
Could it really have been “all your fault” - after all, it takes two to tango?
Open your heart up to the acceptance of the situation and recognise that sometimes we need to face adversity to find our true courage and move on.