Feeling Guilty? – 7 Ways to Get Rid of Guilt
Guilt is a very destructive emotion. Maybe it is helpful for a client of mine to feel enough guilt about hurting her married lover’s wife to stop dating a married man and get out of the relationship, but the majority of guilt comes from feeling stupid or not perfect enough. My female clients tell me they feel guilty for just about everything:
– guilty for being female
– guilty for being smart
– guilty for being overweight
– guilty for not being organized
– guilty for not being a morning person
– guilty for taking time for themselves
– guilty for ending a relationship with someone who loved them
– guilty for not talking to their parents constantly
– guilty for not being a perfect parent
– guilty for not sacrificing enough with time, money, etc.
– guilty for sleeping in late
– guilty for eating chocolate or dessert before dinner
– guilty for buying things for themselves
– guilty for enjoying life
– guilty for not saving enough money
– guilty for being who she is
Criticisms Cause Guilt
Too many of us fall into this trap. It’s difficult to get rid of guilt when we’ve been criticized all our lives (and we all have), and when those criticisms still spin around in our heads like a tape that won’t stop playing. Often when we start to feel good about ourselves, someone will say or do something that pushes one of our buttons and reminds us that we’re not perfect. These “buttons” are made up of all those criticisms on the tape that was created when we were children. People push our insecurity buttons by saying something like, “I can’t believe you did that!” Then we think, “My mother used to say that about me, it must be true.”
Because we’re so afraid we’re “bad,” we work extra hard trying to please this person,letting him or her manipulate us because of our insecurities. Our pervasive guilt about who we are allows this to happen because of our feeling that we “should” be better than we are. Until we can accept our humanness, especially our shortcomings, we can never allow others to get close to us. People love to tell other people what they should and shouldn’t do.
The term “selfish” is used by others to manipulate and control us and make us feel guilty. Anytime we’re not choosing to do what is best for someone else, that person will accuse us of being selfish to try and convince us to do what he or she wants.
The best counter to this manipulative accusation is to feel good about being selfish and say, “At times I AM selfish and I’m glad that I go after what I want instead of trying to do what everybody else wants me to do.” It throws them off if you’re proud of your selfishness.
Appropriate guilt can be good but is only good for about 15 minutes: while you think through an issue and think about what lesson you need to learn and how you will handle it differently in the future. Most guilt is not appropriate guilt, but instead self-blame. Self-blame for not being perfect and not always doing the perfectly right thing.
For the most part, guilt is just a destructive emotion that is all about suffering and feeling bad. We all make mistakes. There isn’t a person alive that hasn’t hurt someone, whether intentionally or not. We all make mistakes and our mistakes affect others. Feeling guilty forever for those mistakes does not help them or us. If you need to right a wrong to let go of the guilt, do it.
How to Stop Feeling Guilty:
1) If you actually did something wrong (according to your own belief system, right the wrong and then let it go. When you feel guilty, you can clean up your mistake by saying: “I feel terrible about what I’ve done to you. I really didn’t mean to hurt you. I am sorry I hurt you. The reason I did what I did is __________. What can I do to make it up to you and earn your trust again?” If the other person won’t cooperate, ask them what you need to do, and if they won’t accept anything, let it go.
2) Realize that no one is perfect and ask others about their issues and listen to their answers and imperfections.
3) If you made a mistake, learn your lesson and move on. If there really is no lesson to be learned, realize that and talk yourself out of the guilt by reminding yourself to forget the “shoulds” because you would probably do it the same way if you had it to do over again.
4) Ask yourself where the guilt is coming from. Then ask yourself if that is a person you want to be like (because you are following their values). Then ask yourself if that person is perfect? Of course the answer is no, so make a list of all of their imperfections. Then decide he or she does not have a right to judge you and let it go. If this person insists on making you feel guilty, use some of the points on the list to remind that person that he is a hypocrite.
5) Don’t “should” on yourself. If the guilt is coming from you, then you have unrealistic expectations of yourself. But most unrealistic expectations come from our parents and other authorities who remind us that we are imperfect. Don’t take on their bad view of you or their belief system about the world. Evaluate yourself by your own standards, and stop using the word “should.”
6) Don’t get sucked in when someone tries to guilt-trip you. “I know I’m not that important to you.” “Should you have another drink?” “Isn’t that too expensive for you?” “Don’t you think you should go home now?” Don’t answer the question or you are becoming sucked in.
Instead, state a firm boundary like, “Mother, like I said, I can’t talk now, but I’ll call you when I get home from work.” Or, “I’ll decide: when to go home, whether to have another drink, what is and isn’t too expensive.” Then don’t keep talking or they know they got you.
7) Don’t make guilt-ridden negative statements to yourself, i.e. “How could I be so stupid?!” “If only I would have been smart enough to(whatever).” “I sure screwed that one up!” “I can’t believe I did that!” Instead, say positive statements to yourself. “That may have been a mistake, but I learned my lesson.” “It’s surprising that I misinterpreted that because I’m usually right on target.”
If needed, quietly remind yourself of all of your other good traits and how great you are in other areas.
We have to demand that others accept us as we are. We can’t let anyone lay his or her value judgments on us. We can’t let others play God with us. And in return, we can’t play God with them. Stop asking yourself, “What will people think?” Those “shoulds” keep you from enjoying your life. Those “shoulds” cause resentment, create guilt, and put responsibility where it doesn’t belong. What have the “shoulds” done to you?
When we were small children, we trusted our thoughts and feelings. We knew when we felt angry or sad, and we expressed these feelings naturally without thinking about whether we should or shouldn’t. Then we were told by our parents and others in society, “You shouldn’t feel that way,” “What do you mean you don’t love your mother?,” “Don’t you talk to your brother like that!”
We learned to trust our parents’ moral dictates: you should respect authority, you should obey your husband, you should always be polite to others. We often trust theirs more than our own.
Stop living your life the way others’ want you to. Stop feeling guilty because you’re not perfect, when neither are they. Live your life according to your own values and beliefs and no one else’s.