Did you notice the question mark in the title of this post?
I have no idea how to say goodbye to guilt. Like a lot of other people, I live with guilt in the back of my mind all the time. It has increased little by little over the years and recently it has begun to take over my life. I am constantly apologizing or feeling that I’m not good enough. It is interfering with my ability to relax. This past week I decided to face it head on. I spent some time reading articles online and think I have come up with a plan to start living my life without guilt or, at least, with less guilt.
Before I share my plan to banish guilt, I think it bears considering a little bit further. Where is this guilt coming from and why are we letting it control our lives?
I know it is a super cliché writing technique, but I really want to share a definition of guilt with you.
GUILT is a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person believes or realizes – ACCURATELY OR NOT – that he or she has compromised his or her OWN STANDARDS of conduct or has violated a universe moral standard and bears significant responsibility for that violation.
Are you reading this the way I’m reading this? (I put in some cleverly placed caps/bolds, so I certainly hope so.) We create guilt. We compare ourselves to standards and morals that we have learned and set for ourselves and then feel “guilt” when we think we have compromised them. For me, guilt leads to shame and regret and, all too often, negative behaviors in hopes of “feeling good” again. When I feel guilty I tend to eat junky foods, drink alcohol in excess, overexercise or get in a terribly bad mood that affects those around me.
I bet you know what happens next ….
Yep, I feel GUILTY about engaging in those negative behaviors. I believe guilt is controlling my life because I am stuck in a guilt cycle!
It is time to break out!
Here are the steps I came up with for myself and have been practicing this past week.
STEP 1: Identify where the guilt is originating.
What do you feel guilty about? Take a second to write down some of the things you felt guilty about today or this past week. Keep going for as long as you can come up with things.
Here’s my list:
I feel guilty for not getting out of bed early enough to get a morning workout in.
I feel guilty for spending too much time in front of a screen.
I feel guilty letting Alice play alone in her room while I put on my makeup and get dressed.
I feel guilty about what I ate last week because it’s too fatty/too high in sugar/contains GMO ingredients/is processed.
I feel guilty because I haven’t tackled my mounting to-do list.
I feel guilty when I my husband does work around the house or the yard if I don’t help him.
I feel guilty for having a glass of wine or cup of coffee when I’m breastfeeding.
I feel guilty because I meant to put up this post a week ago.
STEP 2: Identify the “Why”.
Why do you feel guilty? What value or moral have you compromised? Who is being hurt by this situation? I find that using the word BECAUSE and finishing my sentences from step 1 is a straightforward way to identify the why. Try not to overthink it and write exactly what comes to mind.
I feel guilty for not getting out of bed early enough to get a morning workout in BECAUSE I told myself the night before that I was going to get up and workout and feel like I have failed.
I feel guilty for spending too much time in front of a screen BECAUSE the American Academy of Pediatrics has come out against children being exposed to screen time before the age of 2 because it might increase the possibility of children having ADHD and Alice is starting to look at my phone and the TV.
STEP 3: Bring it back to reality.
Is your “because” a valid point or are you holding yourself to impossible standards? Read your sentence outloud and respond to yourself as you would if it was a friend reading that sentence to you.
“Maybe working out in the mornings right now isn’t the best time for you. You aren’t getting sleep like you used to before Alice was born. Remember that sleep is just as important as a good diet and exercise for a healthy lifestyle. Find a time of day when you want to workout and an exercise format that you want to do and stop putting pressure on yourself to workout every single day.”
“Okay, there is a point to this fear. You don’t want Alice looking to screens for entertainment, but is she really looking at screens for entertainment? Is there something you can do to keep her from looking at screens?”
STEP 4: Reframe your guilt.
The purpose of this step is to really start eliminating the feelings of guilt/shame/regret. We are going to completely change our initial sentences. Go back and rewrite your initial sentence as an action plan. Using the words “I WILL” helps reframe our train of thought. Avoid the use of “I WILL NOT” because it is much harder to stop a behavior than start a new one =)
I will sign up for yoga classes in the evenings because I enjoy that activity and can get away from the house easily.
I will remember that I am not putting the screen in front of Alice unless she is Facetiming family. I am not leaving her alone with a TV to watch a movie. If she gets distracted by the screen it is no different than her getting distracted by her toys in her room. However, I will put down my phone while I am playing with her or spending quality time with her.
STEP 5: Put it into practice.
Now we need to practice this in real time! Start by listening to your body and identify the feeling that comes up when you are identifying as a “guilty” person.
For example, I feel a pit in my stomach.
Once you can clearly single out moments when you are experiencing guilt try stopping immediately and doing steps 1-4. Maybe you start by keeping a pad of paper with you are writing it down, but, over time, I think you will be able to do this quickly and in your head. Just like any other activity, we must train ourselves to do it automatically.
This post is not the quick fix to nixing guilt. I hope, however, to offer you an opportunity to reframe some life circumstances and start chipping away at that boulder of guilt that you, if you are like me, are carrying around on your back. This is an experiment we can all try together that will help us love life a little bit more.
Do you think we can do this? I think we can! Let’s try.
Let me know in the comments below if you think this will work for you or how you have found a way to deal with guilt!
Peace, Love and Guilt-free living,