Are you often plagued by feelings of guilt?
To some extent, guilt is a natural, normal emotion.
It lets us realize when we have done something wrong, and helps us learn from our mistakes.
Feeling guilty sets us back on track, helping us get back in touch with our moral compass.
On the other hand, it isn’t healthy to feel guilty all the time, especially if it’s over relatively trivial things, like telling your neighbor that you can’t babysit for her on Friday night.
For the sake of your mental health, it’s important to learn how to cope with guilt.
Try these tips:
1. Get an outsider’s perspective:
Share your feelings with someone else.
This gives you the chance to step back, calm down, and see the situation from a new angle.
Choose a friend or relative who won’t judge you and isn’t directly involved with the person or situation that is making you feel guilty.
If you can’t think of anyone in your family or social circle you can talk to, try a therapist, religious leader, or a counseling hotline.
Internet forums and message boards can also be a good source of support.
2. Find out what other people really need:
If your guilt revolves around what you think you should be doing for other people, do a bit of research.
Talk to the parties involved.
Most of the time, we feel guilty because we aren’t living up to our own standards.
We lose sight of what everyone else really needs from us.
For instance, if you feel guilty because you don’t have a homecooked meal on the table for your family every evening, slow down and consider the situation from your family’s perspective.
Do they really want or need you to cook every night?
Would they be happy to occasionally eat convenience foods, get takeout, or fend for themselves?
Sit down together and brainstorm solutions if necessary.
3. Decide whether there are any other emotions mixed in with your guilt:
Feelings usually travel in packs, and you need to deal with them all before you can be at peace.
Take a moment or two to site in silence with your guilt.
Is there any other emotion mixed in there?
For example, guilt is often accompanied by anger.
Perhaps you feel guilty because you don’t call your partner every night when they’re on a business trip, but you may also feel angry because they don’t return the favor when you’re away from home.
Only when you identify what you’re really feeling can you tackle the underlying problem.
4. Learn how to let go of the past:
We all make mistakes.
If you can’t or won’t let go of the past, you are doomed to a lifetime of feeling guilty because you’ll never be perfect.
Find a way of expressing your feelings that gives you closure.
For example, journaling is often a good way of coming to terms with past events.
You can also write letters to people you have wronged – and then burn them.
Forgive yourself for making mistakes, and remind yourself that everyone is a fallible human being.
If your guilt is making you anxious or depressed, consider talking to a therapist.
5. Set firm boundaries:
Have you ever felt guilty after saying “No” to someone, even when they make unreasonable demands on your time?
For instance, if your friend phones you up when you’re feeling tired and unwell and asks you to drive them to the airport, do you automatically feel guilty?
This kind of guilt arises when you neglect your own needs in the name of serving others.
It’s noble to put other people before yourself from time to time, but your wellbeing needs to be a priority.
This applies whether the other person is your friend, relative, partner, or even child.
If someone asks you to do something that would cost you too much in terms of time, energy, or money, use your boundary-setting skills.
“No” is a complete sentence, so don’t be afraid to use it.
If the other person doesn’t respect your wishes, that’s their problem.
Don’t let manipulative people take advantage of you.
Guilt is a common issue, especially among women, but you don’t have to live in a state of self-flagellation.
Most of the time, our guilt isn’t even proportionate to the situation!
You don’t have to feel guilty for being human, having needs, or making mistakes.
There’s absolutely no point in beating yourself up.
From this point on, vow to look to the future instead of dwelling on the past.