Imagine waking up joyful, excited about the day ahead.
Suddenly – ouch!
You experience a stab of regret as you recall a painful mistake. You fix it right away, but then you want to do something special to show how sorry you are, and that takes more time than you have. Then a friend or family member wants a favor, but you’re so darned busy. You rack your brain – can you squeeze it all in?
Can you please and appease everybody?
Suddenly, your day turns gray. Guilt has you by the nape of the neck and is marching you down a slippery slope.
Does guilt color your daily choices? Do you easily say No to others’ excessive demands? Or do you give away your time to avoid their accusing stares?
And how big a bite do regret and remorse take out of your day, your month, and your year?
Well, here’s encouraging news: no matter what mistakes you’ve made, or who feels disappointed, guilt does not belong in your life!
So, don’t let guilt steal your time. Instead, try this helpful assertiveness exercise to explore and move beyond 3 common, guilt-inducing myths. Feel free to modify this exercise to fit your situation, and be sure to use it often to enjoy the full benefits.
“Guilt proves I have a conscience and am a good person.”
Guilt keeps you stuck in shame and anger. So embrace your power to learn and grow! Accept your fallibility, and treat yourself with genuine compassion.
“I refuse to give in to guilt. I befriend my mistakes to learn valuable lessons!
“I just can’t let people down, when they have such high expectations of me!”
It doesn’t matter what others think; you aren’t obligated to meet their expectations. Acting on this can feel terrifying at first, but with practice, you’ll find it liberating. In fact, you may discover that important relationships grow more resilient as you develop your assertiveness and authenticity.
“Others have a right to their feelings, and I have a right to use my time in ways that align with my deepest values.”
“I won’t truly redeem myself until I’ve spent lots of time making myself miserable.”
Self-punishment simply muddies relationships. You can survive someone’s appropriate anger. Once you’ve apologized and taken responsibility for your end, let things unfold. Focus on learning helpful lessons, staying positive, and moving forward.
“I have the right to feel good about myself at all times. I refuse to punish myself for mistakes. I choose to spend my time responsively and productively.”
As you ease up on yourself, you may discover that you let go of anger at others more easily, too. Accepting our shared humanity can feel like a great relief!
So take good care of yourself, and use this exercise anytime you’d like some extra support. It can help you relax harsh standards you apply to yourself and to others, as well.
By calling on your clarity, compassion and courage, you kick that guilt to the curb and revitalize your outlook on life!
TIP: To Uproot Guilt, First Engage It in a Dialogue.
When guilt is deeply entrenched, exploring its “root system” will help you eradicate it.
Ask your critical Voice of Guilt these 5 questions. The insights will help you respond assertively.
Encourage the Voice of Guilt to speak up. Take care not to buy into its messages… merely note them objectively.
- What, specifically, do you feel guilty about?
- What does your Voice of Guilt say you “should” have done?
- What does it threaten you with?
- How do you feel when your Voice of Guilt tries to control you?
- How do you feel when you stick up for yourself?
Answering these questions gives you a blueprint to address key issues squarely. For example, let’s say you want to cut back on volunteer work.
You tell yourself that you’re letting everyone down. The Voice of Guilt says your needs should come last. Furthermore, this harsh inner voice threatens that no one will understand or accept you.
You shrink in response to this familiar lecture, one you may have often endured as a child. But, remind yourself that now is different, that your needs do matter, and that you’ll do what makes sense in this moment.
Uprooting guilt takes time; often it is hidden under layers of denial. But denial gradually gives way as you commit to facing things head-on.
Taking things a step at a time, asking the right questions, and realigning your priorities will reduce guilt to a faint shadow that fades in the light.
Remember: you can always overcome guilt!© Copyright 2011 Paula Eder, Ph.D.