I hear it all the time.
‘I can’t get over the guilt.’
‘I can’t break free of the self-criticism.’
‘I feel trapped in my own shame.’
People tell me they wish they could Iive free of those feelings.
So they could get on with their lives without being pulled back into the difficulty of living with guilt which is always being triggered by…
- Saying no to your friend / boss / partner / child
- Not spending long enough with them
- Not doing enough to help them…
- Not giving enough of your time / money / attention…
- Not seeing / speaking with them enough
The guilt weighs on you.
It creeps up on you reminding you, you shouldn’t be enjoying yourself.
You should be helping out more.
You should show more kindness.
You should be achieving more.
You shouldn’t have lost your temper that time…
I’m sure your personal list could go on and on.
Mine certainly has.
Any time you start hearing ‘I should’ in your inner dialogue, you know that the guilt train will soon be pulling into the station.
And then there’s vicarious guilt on top of that.
Someone does something unrelated to you and you feel guilt any way.
Because your guilt trigger is so finely calibrated it picks up on any and every opportunity to feel it.
What would life look like without the guilt?
Would you breathe more easily?
Feel like you can get on with the life you really want?
That’s the thing about this guilt.
It’s life sapping,
A psychological ball and chain, holding you back from being the ‘real’ you.
Often people say to me, I don’t get it. I’ve nothing to feel guilty about these days.
So what’s this guilt all about?
Last week, I shared about unwritten and unspoken family rules.
Well guilt is the invisible enforcer.
It tells you, you’re transgressing the rules and you need to fall back in line.
That’s all good if you’re talking at the level of ethics and morality.
Leaving the shop without paying for something…maybe guilt is the healthy response.
Bumping into someone’s car or breaking something precious… guilt reminds us to make amends.
But if you grew up in a family that laid a lot of store on compliance to these unwritten rules, that your guilt muscle will be very sensitive.
Now the thing is, maybe keeping in line as a child kept you safe.
You got something from that.
Maybe at best it was some distorted kind of love.
At worst it kept you away from physical or emotional abuse.
So here’s the key question for you.
Do those rules still make sense and are they valid, now you’re an adult?
Are those rules valid or just a big pile of craziness?
When you start to make them visible to yourself, you begin the process of unhooking from them.
Here’s how you can immunise yourself even further.
Firstly start to really notice what guilt feels like. So you can develop an early warning system.
Is it in the pit of your stomach?
Or your thoughts going a bit wild?
Or your breathing gets shallow?
Or just a feeling of collapse or knotting?
As you start to observe that feeling, check in with yourself.
Is this real or not real? Old rules or current ones?
Give yourself the space then to make a free choice about whether to act or not.
This isn’t about making that feeling go away.
It’s about noticing it and choosing your own outcome.
Here’s another take on it. Kind of the same, but going a bit deeper.
If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll also know that I’ve been talking about the deeper nature of our experience.
All of it is created through thought.
And we live in the feeling of our thought.
So guilt is just telling us about our thinking in the moment, which is drifting in to a place of discomfort and insecurity.
When we start to see that, we don’t have to take the guilt so seriously.
It’s a passing cloud in our inner weather system.
There’s no need to change it. Just as there’s no need to fear it or act on it.
That’s my take on guilt.
So what about you? I hope you can see now how this can help you.
Will you try a guilt detox?
I’d love to hear how you get on.
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If you're struggling with low self-esteem, people pleasing, second guessing yourself, anxiety, depression, feeling an outsider...
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