Does an undercurrent of guilt taint your experience of life?
Many of us live with feelings of guilt – guilt from spending too much or not enough time doing things, guilt of ‘bad’ habits, guilt from not being honest about feelings or living out of line with values. In this blog, I share some tips for how to work with guilt which I hope will be transformative.
Guilt in itself is not bad, it’s part of our human experience like any other feeling and it can act as an internal ethical barometer, telling us when we have done something to ourselves and/or others that perhaps wasn’t okay, that wasn’t in line with our values.
Our relationship with guilt changes when we adopt a learning mind – when we take ownership and responsibility of our actions so that we can apologise, make amends, learn and move on vs getting caught up in a downward spiral of guilt and feeling bad about ourselves – a failure mind.
Many coaching clients come to me saying they feel unhappy, low and dissatisfied with their life. When we dig deeper and explore the roots of these feelings, we discover that one of the things that taints their life experience is an undercurrent of guilt.
For a long time, this had been my own experience. Guilt was taking away my life energy, my confidence, my joy and my freedom.
Take responsibility for your actions vs going down the negative spiral of guilt. Sometimes we say things or promise things we can’t follow through on. Be honest, explain, make amends, acknowledge your loved ones’ disappointment (it’s theirs not yours), apologise, be understanding and kind to yourself, move on (learning mind).
So what is guilt?
Guilt relates to actions – things we have or haven’t done. Guilt arises when we believe that we have let ourselves or someone else down. When we believe that we should have done something but for some reason we haven’t. Guilt shows up when we haven’t met our own or someone’s expectation and when we hold a firm belief that we should have met that expectation.
For example: recently I told friends who were visiting London from LA for a week, that I wasn’t going to see them a second time because I felt too exhausted. This was not an easy thing to do, however I have learnt to become much more aware when feelings of guilt arise in my body. I feel the feelings, I allow them to be there as they are in order to understand them, and respond honestly.
When I told my American friends what was going on for me and that I wasn’t going to meet up with them again in the week because I felt exhausted and in need of some space for myself, they were disappointed, of course, and that felt a little uncomfortable, but in our friendship terms, it wasn’t the end of the world. They understood and I acknowledged that this was the best thing to do for me without giving myself a hard time for having let them down.
How guilt differs from shame?
Where the same action may give rise to feelings of both shame and guilt, shame reflects how we feel about ourselves (‘I’m stupid, I’m a failure, I’m no good at anything etc.) and guilt involves an awareness that our actions have adversely affected someone else. In the words of Brené Brown, “Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behaviour. Shame is, ‘I am bad.’ Guilt is, ‘I did something bad.”
Some tips for how we can work with guilt?
Accept guilt as an emotion that we all experience.
Know your mind – what are some of your engrained thoughts/beliefs that trigger feelings of guilt? The word ‘should’ is a typical indicator: I should be better at this, I should do this, I should have done this or that for her or him…
Make a list of all your ‘shoulds’ – for one week, collect your shoulds, write them down and look at each one. Ask yourself: Is it true that I should do x, y and z? Listen to the answer. Often we find that it is not true, that it is just how we think. Feel the sense of relief.
Replace your ‘shoulds’ with want, like, would like, could. For example, I would like to go to the gym every week. I want to eat healthy food. I could help my friend. Notice the difference.
Cultivate an attitude of kindness, friendliness, curiosity and understanding towards yourself. In other words, allow yourself to be human – with all the flaws and imperfections being human entails. Be honest with yourself and others.
Take responsibility for your actions vs going down the negative spiral of guilt. Sometimes we say things or promise things we can’t follow through. Be honest, explain, make amends, acknowledge your loved ones’ disappointment (it’s theirs not yours), apologise, be understanding and kind to yourself, move on (learning mind).
As always, I am curious how you are getting on. And if you need a little help, why not take up a free initial coaching discovery session in Victoria Park, via phone or video call.
Book your free taster session to find out:
– What coaching is
– What a direct coaching experience feels like
– How coaching can help you find new ways forward
– How I work as a coach and whether my approach suits you
– Which coaching programme is best for what you want to achieve
With warm wishes,