“ I feel guilty” – who hasn’t had this thought or said these words – ever. Not me that’s for sure.
And once we’re there, that feeling is hard to shake. It doesn’t want to let go and sticks to us like an unrelenting limpet.
Even worse we feel as though we’re a bad human being.
And what about those 3.30 am moments when you’re wide awake and wracked with guilt, replaying in your mind all those things you didn’t do right?
As we all know there’s nothing like a warm glass of regret to solve insomnia and eliminate brooding over our supposed wrongdoing.
Oh wait…it’s a warm glass of milk that’s far more likely to help us get back to sleep and dissolve those feelings of self-criticism and recrimination.
If you’re carrying that “I feel guilty” burden then it’s time to free yourself – you have no obligation to hold on to things that hurt rather than help.
Here’s some powerful reminders to help you let go of that ‘I feel guilty” feeling and ease your troubled spirit.
The habit of guilt
Who knew that guilt was a habit? And guess what, the words you repeat to yourself like “I feel guilty” make you more likely to do things that you’re going to feel guilty about in the future.
Why? Because the feeling that we’re guilty of something, anything, is so powerful it leads us to assume that we’re not good people. I don’t suppose that idea is going to lead us to behave better do you?
Our minds are creatures of habit and it’s up to us to make sure that our dominant thoughts and feelings are ones that will positively influence our mind and actions, and guilty feelings are definitely not in that category.
As you awaken to this truth, then the way to stop feeling as though you are always in the wrong becomes crystal clear.
Train your mind to stop ‘awfulizing’
You can weed out constantly feeling conscious-stricken by keeping your conscious mind busy with expectations and assumptions of happiness, health and prosperity.
So make sure the thoughts you habitually think are guided by what you want to see happen in your life.
Creation occurs in the domain of the subconscious. Your thoughts and feelings create the pattern from which your world is built, and a change in your thoughts and feelings soon becomes a change of pattern.
This is the path to releasing yourself from the habit of constantly feeling responsibility or blame, and ‘awfulizing’ things you did or didn’t do in the past.
I found myself feeling guilty and ‘awfulizing’ something the other day. I had an email from a reader, who asked for coaching from me to help him find more purpose in life.
But…I gave up personal coaching years ago, it just wasn’t the right fit for me. Though many of my clients wholeheartedly and loudly disagreed with me!
And so my response was that, even though I was no longer coaching, I’d be happy to help in other ways and could email him some coaching principles and exercises that might work.
And then that inner goldfish of guilt began circling in my head.
“Maybe you could do more. Why couldn’t you just say okay this once. What if….what if….what if.”
This dear ones is unhealthy guilt and if you’re experiencing this for any reason, stop it right now.
Healthy guilt is rational and in proportion to the offence. If you’ve done something deliberately to hurt someone, guilt is the feeling telling you to make amends or change behavior.
Unhealthy guilt is irrational and misplaced.
I needed to switch my mindset. I hadn’t done anything wrong except care for myself and as a recovering people pleaser that was something to be okay with.
One of the most common and unhelpful addictions to our overall wellbeing is the draw of comfort. And that’s what being a people pleaser was to me. It was more comfortable to say yes than no, even at the expense of my own health and wellbeing.
Saying no to personal coaching was right for me and feeling guilty about it wasn’t acceptable. And nor is it for you when you’re simply taking care of yourself. That’s one of your jobs!
Seek self-compassion and dump that ‘I feel guilty’ feeling
Maybe now you’re moving a little more towards understanding you’re not a bad person, maybe you did a few things you wish you didn’t, but that doesn’t make YOU bad.
And many of the self-help gurus would advocate that you acquire a little more self-esteem. They’d be wrong. In this instance you need a little more self-compassion.
Not that self-compassion and self-esteem aren’t cousins of sorts, but forgiving yourself will automatically bring you greater self-esteem, whilst the opposite isn’t necessarily true.
More and more, psychologists are turning away from an emphasis on self-esteem and moving toward self-compassion.
Dr Kristin Neff in her book Self-Compassion offers exercises and action plans for dealing with every emotional struggle we might encounter in our life.
So why not start with accepting that you’re a human being. You get things wrong. We all make mistakes. We’ve all felt guilty. All these are good places to start, and not contingent on anything outside of yourself or as easily shaken as self-esteem.
I vote for self-compassion any day as a power tool to release you from the “I feel guilty” trap..
As Dr. Neff says, “Who is the only person in your life who is available 24/7 to provide you with care and kindness? You.
So forgive yourself and try remembering that we all mess up. This helps you connect to your compassion muscle not only for you, but for others. We’re no better or worse than everyone else.
Keep an eye on your life force
Each day we receive and absorb the force of life. Not because of anything we do, we get it because we are living, breathing human beings.
It’s part of the universal gift of life, a mysterious force that gives us insight, awareness and consciousness. Without it, we wouldn’t be here on the planet.
And when this life force is able to flow freely and be absorbed we become more alive, more intuitive, more in the flow.
And even though you can’t change what’s gone before, not the good you could have done but didn’t, nor the unkind words you spoke and wish you hadn’t, you can cut off the unhealthy cycle of daily guilt which weakens your life force.
Think about when you say to yourself “I feel guilty” is your energy upbeat and energized?
Not so much, right?
This is your life force being decreased. Your very essence is affected by what you think and feel.
So from now on practice noticing what is adding to this mysterious life force and eliminate what decreases it. Life is happening for you and through you. And becoming more aware of this ebb and flow of life will add to your inner peace and contentment.
Ask yourself, why would you even want to be in an energy that decreases your health, happiness and wellbeing? And the ‘I feel guilty’ syndrome does that in spades.
Capping it off
If you’re consistently living with the “I feel guilty” syndrome, ask yourself if this has now become part of your habit of Being. And try to remember you are much more than your thoughts.
Stop ‘awfulizing’ unhealthy guilt and if you’re experiencing more appropriate and healthy guilt do something about it. Acknowledge it and take responsibility for your actions.
Be compassionate with yourself. If you slip up, practice a little self-forgiveness and know that once we have forgiven ourselves we become free to learn from our mistakes so we can stop making them.
Practice being aware of the ebb and flow of your life force and infuse as much joy, sparkle and color into it as possible.
And that’s all from me my lovelies.
But if you can tell us if this “I feel guilty” thing is something you’ve noticed in yourself – ever – and are willing to share please let me know in the comments below…you never know you might make all the difference in someone’s world.
And if you think this article will make a difference in the world of someone you care for, please share these steps for letting go of guilt.
Check out this article on Creating Your Inner Reality by Dr. Joe Dispenza – it’s worth a few minutes of your time I promise.
Other Related Articles
The Neuroscience of Guilt Uncovers the Origin of Cooperation
3 Unusual Self-care Habits That Will change Your Life
How Do I Discover My Limiting Beliefs?
Encourage one another.
These are great ideas to get out of the “feeling guilty” funk. I think feeling guilty goes along with the feelings of “not being enough” that are so prevalent. When we compare ourselves to others, we inevitably feel bad and often feel guilty for not doing anything about it. We’re all “enough” just as we are. Great insights, Elle!
Hi Paige – I wholeheartedly agree, we are all ‘enough’ and that ‘I feel guilty’ feeling doesn’t do anyone any good. 🙂
I loved your “awfulizing” !
A customer of mine practices that all the time, I just didn’t have a name for it !
I can get him to see and agree he is doing it yet he steadfastly remains in that mucky mire.
Have forwarded your great article to him knowing he will be better off for reading it.
Hi Jack, thanks for passing the article on to your customer. It sounds like it could of of help to him, which is always great to hear, since we are all in this together. 🙂
Nice, practical and insightful article. Thank you very much.
Hi Henry – thanks for your kind words. Hope to see you here again. 🙂
Guilt is so toxic and such a useless emotion. Like you say, it’s just a habit that keeps your brain busy going around in circles. Self-compassion is the answer. It worked wonders for me. Thanks for the Joe Dispenza video. He is so good. Love him and his work.
So true Debbie – I wonder how many of us get caught up in the guilt trap more often that we’d like. I’m a big admirer of Jo Dispenza too – he is one of the few who manages to turn spiritual principles into, for some, more palatable, scientific concepts.
Love your suggestions here Elle! And being in the victim mindset only brings us down further. No good in that zone. This is why your suggestions are perfect to handle this.
Too true Zeenat, being in the victim zone helps no one. 🙂
Being unaware that I had bipolar disorder, I engaged in activities that led to the destruction of my marriage and family. When my kids were little I blew tens of thousands of dollars on gambling and drugs. I was a heavy user of cannabis, which I now know was a way of self-medicating. I spent many of our financial resources supporting this habit (which I started as a 15 year-old). After my children were born, my parents were giving my family a great deal of financial support. Unfortunately, instead of using this money on my family, my first trip to Las Vegas at 38 years old led to a gambling addiction. Long story short, after being misdiagnosed with depression at age 50, I was prescribed medication that made me go into a full-blown mania…something I wasn’t even aware of until after the fact. I betrayed my wife of 15 years and blew up my family with my outrageous behavior. I am now divorced less than a year after the episode. The guilt is unbearable and it consumes me every day. I no longer use cannabis, so I’m finally experiencing my emotions as they should be. I am properly medicated. In a lot of ways I am relieved to be on top of this disease. However, I don’t know if I can ever shake the guilt. My kids should have been on many vacations. In my opinion, I’ve ruined their childhoods.
I’ll reply first:). Articles like this are great to read. They are pretty much my only hope… Even my ex-wife has forgiven me after everything has come to light. Needless to say, I still feel extremely guilty. The guilt has been healthy in that I no longer engage in those activities. But not “awfulizing” this situation, frankly, seems completely unrealistic.
Hi Greg, it’s wonderful that your ex-wife has forgiven you. The hardest part is often to forgive ourselves. I am no professional and offer no expert advice. However, from my perspective it’s clear to see you took a huge and powerful step in acknowledging all that has happened in your life and taking steps to discover and deal with the diagnosis of the bipolar disorder. Which must have been no small feat. Whilst we none of us can reclaim our past, dwelling in it does little good for us or those we’ve hurt. I would ask you what good you can do for and in your future? How do you see your future unfold? Are you filling your life with positives? I wish you many blessings in your future.
Hi Greg, I’m so sorry for the challenges life has thrown your way. It’s heartbreaking to read your story. I’ve responded to your second comment more fully. Meanwhile I wish you peace and comfort for your future.
I feel guilty over something I almost did more than a year ago.
The most painful part is that I actually didn’t carry out the act but was on the verge of doing it before I knocked myself out of the selfishness that controlled me. Had I gone through with it, it could have been an abominable action. I was depressed and frustrated and needed something to make me happy at that moment which led to my harebrained thoughts.
Why I still feel this much guilt even though I didn’t carry out the act is what makes me feel more terrible about myself.
I know I’m not a bad person. I was at the worst stage of my life that period and had my clear judgement blurred. I assume full responsibility but over what exactly? My wrong thoughts I guess.
But I’d really love to stop feeling this guilt. It’s crippling my life. I go to bed and wake feeling guilty daily for the past 1 year.
Hi Richard, I’m sorry to hear this. Guilt can definitely cripple us emotionally and physically. As I always say I am no health expert and never offer anything other than my opinion. So I would say to you that it’s good to remember the difference between guilt and shame “Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior. Shame is, “I am bad.” Guilt is, “I did something bad. Such very different emotions…and perhaps focusing on this difference could help alleviate some of the pressure you find yourself under. I would definitely seek expert guidance, because living in such pain helps no-one, but definitely hurts you dear heart.