Enjoying your Guilt Trip?
by Jacquie Wise
As we draw towards the end of a year, this is the time to review how we went; what we accomplished, what we’d like to change in future, what we regret. Regret? What’s the point of that? They say that guilt is a useless emotion. Let go of the past and get on with the present, they say. But what if the past won’t let go of you?
Every emotion has a valuable purpose. If we acknowledge our emotions, they’ll alert us to our deep-seated needs and motivate us to find ways to meet those needs. If we dismiss them, we risk ending up with repression, which leads to that pressure-cooker feeling. Trying to ignore emotions is like trying to ignore children. They’ll only yell louder until you pay attention.
We’re often afraid to acknowledge guilt, because it invites us to focus on all those things we wish we hadn’t done. Or all those things we coulda-woulda-shoulda done, but didn’t.
Honest self-appraisal is one of the most challenging things we can do. It takes guts. We overlook that guilt is an indication of growth and wisdom. If you feel guilty, it means you’re ready to appraise your life and who you are. It means you’ve developed strong values and certainly have acquired the wisdom that comes with emotional maturity.
If you have guilt, you have integrity.
People incapable of guilt are arrogant, unprincipled, and have distorted values. Without integrity, they delight in taking advantage of others and are not capable of any remorse for the trail of destruction they leave behind them. Or they’re too busy blaming everyone else for what went wrong. Victims.
Seen in that light, you may learn to value your guilt—it means you’re one of the good guys. Bring it on!
Guilt shows us what needs to change.
What starts with ‘I wish I hadn’t done that’ ends with ‘What can I do differently from now on?’ That’s wisdom.
If there is something you don’t like in your behaviour, find a way to understand it, which doesn’t mean condone it. You’re not doing this in order to help you endure something unacceptable, you’re doing it to ensure it leaves your life cleanly, quickly and with good grace.
If you’re trying to change yourself, you may have a challenge to face, but it’s not one that you need to face in a spirit of anger or frustration. You’ll conquer it much more easily and permanently if you remain as kind and compassionate as possible towards yourself.
Here’s how: What you would say to reassure a friend? You would tell them that they did the best they could at the time. Forgive yourself for not being able to do more—for not having known better at the time.
You can only do what you can do, and all you can do is enough.
If ever you’re stuck in guilt or regret, try these techniques:
Observe the triggers that launch you into the cycle of remorse and self-deprecation. Just observe, without judgement, how you’re feeling. Observe, too, what you’re telling yourself. You may find your guilt is mixed up with feelings of inadequacy, or perfectionism. Don’t try to get rid of the feelings and thoughts at this point. Just acknowledge them. Give them a voice by writing them down, so that you can be fully aware of what you’re telling yourself.
2 What’s the payoff?
There’s always a motive behind any thought or any action. What are you getting from all this guilt? Some people enjoy dramas to make their life more interesting. Some need to feel ‘right’—to gain validation, maybe sympathy, from others. Get to know yourself, with honesty and authenticity. No emotion or need is ‘bad’. It’s there for a reason. Once you can understand the need you’re expressing with your guilt trips, you’re better able to heal yourself.
3 Check your perceptions
Guilt can get mixed up with unrealistic expectations, perfectionism, disproportionate feelings of inadequacy, or simply a distortion of reality. Check the facts. Instead of focusing on what you didn’t do, focus on what you did do, or what your priorities were, at the time. The facts may reveal a much more positive reality.
Indeed, the facts may reveal that, in the interaction about which you feel guilty, you are the one who gave the most, compared to others involved.
Remorse on its own is futile, unless you can truthfully say:
‘I am no longer the kind of person who would behave in that way.’
Welcome to growth, insight, wisdom and maturity!
Would you like to learn more techniques for getting past your guilt? If so, contact me directly to arrange a convenient appointment time.
I’d love to know what you think of what I’ve said here. You can give me your feedback, ask a question by email or post a comment below.
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Reproducing and Sharing
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