What purpose does guilt serve? It certainly isn’t an emotion that makes us feel good about ourselves…Guilt comes from society and expectations upon us that we feel unable to meet.
Guilt can easily be dealt with however, although it does take some practise and moving away from guilt can be done with the help of cognitive behavioural techniques.
All guilt stems from our thinking. We have a thought which leads to an emotion and this leads to behaviour.
For example – perhaps you have the following thought: “If I was a good mother I would stay at home and not go to work”.
This thought leads to a negative emotion of guilt and shame which in turn leads to the relevant behaviour – for example:
A mother may overcompensate by spending more money on her children to ease her guilt.
The problem with guilt it that is leads to us feeling bad about ourselves and when we don’t like ourselves we begin to nurture a toxic element within us.
Guilt comes from many different sources and is often felt when someone feels they have caused harm in some way. Perhaps you feel that you have never been able to live up to your parents’ expectations and have let them down in some way. Survivor’s guilt is another way in which people feel that they have let someone down. Much of this thinking is irrational and the first steps to dealing with guilt involves examining our thinking and checking whether our thoughts are indeed accurate.
More often than not, our thinking is not an exact replica of reality. It is our individual reality and we experience reality through our ‘filters’ which are made up of our past experiences, our personalities and our upbringings.
Here are ways to counteract guilt:
1) Try not to obsess over the past. It is wasted energy focusing on “if only” type thinking.
2) Accept the way things are. Acknowledge the circumstances instead of resisting them. Acceptance is a healthy first step in dealing with the current position in a positive, resolution focused way
3) Be mindful. Focus on the moment. Try not to obsess about things you cannot change or worry about things that may never happen in the future
4) Watch your thinking. Thoughts create guilt. Ask yourself why you continue to make yourself feel guilty and figure out why you are doing it. Does it improve the situation or does it just leave you feeling miserable?
5) Think of positive ways to move forward. Worry is only worth it if you are using it to think up solutions.
It’s impossible to live a completely guilt free life but it is possible to make guilt more manageable and to realize that you don’t need to let guilt drag you down.