The following post is a guest submission from Nanci of Revive and Thrive Nutrition. To learn more about how to handle the stress of guilt, check out my article How Saying ‘No’ Can Improve Your Health.
Have you found yourself wanting to do something for yourself but all of a sudden guilty feelings creep into your head and prevent you from taking the steps you know in your heart you want and need to take?
Do you find yourself longing for things to be different or for the guilt to just to go away?
Agh! Feeling guilty is not fun, but guilt is also not likely to disappear by wishing it away. And, if you wait around until you don’t feel guilty to make something happen, then you’ll likely be waiting forever. Guilt is a completely healthy and normal emotion, and it can be very useful in some ways.
Here’s the thing: You are going to feel guilt throughout your life and for lots of different reasons. Guilt as an emotion is not going anywhere! Trying to reject the feeling of guilt doesn’t make sense but developing awareness around it does.
Feeling guilty for eating five chocolate bars?
Feeling guilty your kids got too much sugar this week?
Feeling guilty for not helping your spouse in the kitchen?
Feeling guilty for skipping a workout?
Feeling guilty for not spending more time with your kids?
It can be your ally when you truly feel congruent with the belief you are upholding. You know you wanted something different but for some reason chose something else. This type of guilt lets you know you are not measuring up to your own expectations. It would be a serious problem if you had no guilt at all. The trick is recognizing when it’s working for you and when it’s not.
So when is guilt not working for you?
Even though it can be helpful sometimes, most people would agree guilt is not a good feeling and can make you feel down right bad. It makes sense many people avoid it and avoid the situations that cause you to feel it. But what if some of these guilt producing actions you are avoiding happen to be critical steps on your journey to personal growth, fulfillment, and happiness? Exploring the guilty feelings that stop you can be a perfect opportunity for growth and perspective.
What if the notion that something or someone might suffer from your actions were not true. In fact, what if the opposite were true? What if it was the best thing that could happen to all people involved was for you to say yes to yourself? Avoiding taking action based on the presupposition that something bad may happen can stop you from moving forward. A whole different experience of life can be trapped and inaccessible to you if you allow the emotion of guilt to stop you. If moving towards your heart centered goals means feeling bad and guilty, then it’s going to be a challenging and long road to get to where you want to go with your health and life.
So let’s review. Guilt can be useful and prevent us from making mistakes that might hurt other people or ourselves and guilt can also prevent us from taking action for fear of hurting others or ourselves. Yikes. See the dilemma?
Let’s get curious about what it means to feel guilty. When you feel guilty, you feel responsible for a bad outcome or the possibility of causing the suffering of someone else. You assume or presuppose something bad will happen or did happen.
Guilt = Personal Responsibility + Something Bad Happening
These are the two things to explore when you feel the fear of guilt showing up into the equation of your life. In the case of the five candy bars, you can easily see that unless someone threatened your life and forced you to eat them (could happen), it’s your responsibility. There’s no denying that it’s not in alignment with your health goals. This makes sense. But let’s consider feeling guilty over spending money on yourself. Personal responsibility makes sense here, but does presupposing something bad will happen make sense in this situation? Is something truly bad happening?
It’s All About Asking the Right Questions
What kind of trouble could someone get into if they spent money on themselves and had a belief that it was a bad thing? They could be criticized, feel excluded from their family or feel like they may be taking money from a more worthy cause. Are those bad things in someone’s world? Absolutely. But are they also revealing reasons that can be worked through to loosen the threads of guilt and still move forward? Absolutely!
Take a step back and consider what you feel the MOST guilty about. There’s a great opportunity here to learn what you believe about yourself, others and the world that’s causing you to feel this way. You have to know this so you can determine if it is actually true for you or an outdated perception that’s keeping you from moving forward with ease. If you feel guilty for taking time for yourself instead of taking care of others, then there may be a belief around what it means to be able to take the time you need. Might it mean something bad about you? This is extremely helpful in understanding some of the reasons you may feel guilty or think you or someone else will suffer if you move forward.
To help decide if your guilt is helping or hurting you, here are five questions to ask yourself for perspective on your unique situation. The objective isn’t to squash guilt. The objective is to be methodical and to be able to take empowered action you feel good about. Remember, you can feel guilty and still make decisions to move forward.
- Are you taking on someone else’s responsibility or is it truly your own? Are there other participants that also share the responsibility?
- What or who in your life lets you know something bad might happen?
- How do you know that’s true?
- How might following through with what you want be the best thing that could happen for the people in your life?
- Who else might be empowered, the opportunity to help or have a role in what you want? In other words, who will get to contribute?
You will find it much easier to distinguish guilt that can actually steer you, and guilt that can derail you. Feel the guilt, course correct and keep going!
Have these guidelines helped you perceive how you will handle guilt in the future? I would love to hear about it, especially if you have a specific situation. Please leave me a comment below!
Thanks so much, Nanci, for sharing these great thoughts with us! I hope this is helpful to others and allows you to learn to let go of guilt when you need to!
Nanci Tunley is an NTC and has her FDN. To read more of Nanci’s experiences, be sure to check her out at Revive and Thrive Nutrition.
*Disclaimer: This blog post may contain Amazon and other affiliate links and should you purchase through them will not affect your price and all proceeds go towards the cost of maintaining this website. Thank you!…
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