We take time for ourselves and we feel guilty. We eat something we promised ourselves we wouldn't and we feel guilty. We didn't do something for our neighbor so we feel guilty. We didn't accomplish what we wanted to this year. We feel guilty. Guilt is such a ubiquitous coping technique that it must be worth something, right?!?
When we do or don't do something that we don't feel great about, we allow ourselves to feel guilty because guilt gives us the illusion of being productive. We may not have made the right choice so at least we are punishing ourselves. But very rarely does that negative feedback loop lead to growth. Rather, it grinds down our gears, slices into our self-esteem, and makes it even harder to make positive choices down the road.
Guilt is to action what worry is to anxiety.
When you are anxious about something that could occur in the future, you worry as an unconscious means of trying to control what could happen. If you stay up all night waiting for your teen to get home with the car, does that keep him or her safe? Of course not. But we equate worry with control. Productive? Just grinding the gears...
So what to do instead?
A. Put the hammer away. Show yourself a little compassion and say to yourself that you made the best decision you could at the time with the resources you had at that moment.
B. Ask yourself what contributed to the choice you made. What were you needing at that moment? What did that choice give you to fill that need? How can you honor that need in the future without guilt?
C. Ask yourself how you can learn from the situation so that you can make a choice you feel better about next time.
D. Choices that we feel bad about can signal that our boundaries need clarifying and strengthening. Be curious about where you might be giving too much or needing some support.
Goodbye guilt and worry. Hello learning.