I know you’re all probably very familiar with guilt and how it feels. Certainly, for me it used to be something that weighed down on me and made me feel so uncomfortable that I’d do anything to avoid it. These days however, I see the gift that it brings and how much it teaches me about myself. Hopefully after reading this article, you’ll see a shift in your perspective as well.
Let’s begin with what your relationship with guilt is. Is it something that you run away from? Will you do anything to avoid the effect that it has on you? Like I mentioned above, I completely understand if you answer yes to either of these two questions.
When I was younger, all I knew was that guilt felt bad and that it made me feel like I had done something wrong; that I was somehow a bad person. As I got older, this idea stayed with me until I decided to face it and try to understand what was really happening.
Firstly, when feelings of guilt came up, I looked at it and acknowledged it. I would feel every part of myself that wanted to run away, that didn’t want to feel bad and just stayed present with those feelings and what was happening in that moment. I didn’t try to resolve the situation; my only goal was to be present and to be kind to myself as I would have liked someone to have been to me.
What did I discover? Well, I didn’t become overwhelmed or suffocated by my feelings like I had imagined that I would. In fact, it felt good not to run away and to actually feel what was happening within me. I could finally relax, let go and surrender. It also felt great to give myself that loving space to be seen and heard, and to acknowledge all that was unfolding.
Then I started getting curious about what was behind these feelings. Why did these feelings of guilt pop up? What were they really about? I discovered that for myself, they represented a gap between expectations and the meeting of these expectations usually in relation to a role that I had been given (or taken on) or an activity that I was meant to carry out.
For example, when I was younger, I was taught that a good daughter would look after her parents and essentially do all that she could to support and ensure an easier life for them. This role also included making them proud of me and giving to them what they couldn’t give to themselves and more. I built up an image of what a ‘good’ daughter looked like and anytime I felt that I fell short of this image, I would feel guilty.
When I spoke out and caused upset with one of my parents, I felt guilty. When I didn’t carry out all the requests that they asked of me I felt guilty. When I didn’t behave in a way that they approved of, I felt guilty. Basically, I felt guilty a lot of the time! Then this guilt just continued into adulthood without being questioned or looked at.
After taking the time to look closely at these roles and expectations I realised that they were old and outdated. They were harsh and oftentimes ludicrous for the times that we live in. I’m pretty sure no one would have been able to fulfil this ideal image that I placed on myself and if they did, they would either have fallen down by the weight of the pressure or have gone crazy attempting to maintain this so-called perfection.
Acknowledging and really looking at my guilt allowed me to see how hard I had been on myself and to see this as an opportunity to review my expectations and the roles that I had taken on. Note that this is not only due to conditioning by caregivers but also by society. Look at how many expectations are placed on us due to gender (female/male, mother/father) and race to mention a few.
I also realised that as a result of not needing to avoid these feelings, I could choose to do what I really wanted to do. That when we face up to our feelings and what is running them, they lose their control over us. Rather than trying to avoid them, we can see them for what they are; that we had had a certain idea/expectation that wasn’t met. However, it’s not because we’re bad people but that perhaps these expectations/roles that we have in our minds need to be revised.
Another powerful thing to remember is that when you allow yourself to be free of these old roles and expectations, you give others permission to let go of them as well. Imagine what the world would be like if we all just love and accepted ourselves just as we are without putting pressure on others to meet certain ideals.
So if you’re tired of feeling guilty and bad about yourself, then know that you really do have what you need to move through it.
I hope this post helps you to feel more confident in facing up to feelings of guilt (or any other emotion for that matter). Be kind and gentle to yourself and remember that you’re not alone and that we’re all on this journey together.
Please reach out to me if I can support you in anyway: email@example.com or +44 7770 754 800 / +61 423 032 972
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