Ferne Kotlyar

My Guilt Is Tearing Me Apart - Fridays with Ferne: Episode #40

Podcast Summary

Amber had a pleasant childhood; she grew up with her parents and siblings in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Now, 30 years later, she lives in British Columbia with her husband and children. She’s happy in BC, but now that her parents are sick, things are complicated.

Amber makes the trip back home often, but she feels guilty wherever she is. She feels guilty when she’s away from her children, when she’s away from her parents, and when she’s away from work. There’s no escaping the guilt, Amber feels torn wherever she is. Every trip she makes takes a toll on her not only mentally and socially, but physically too. She doesn’t know how much more of this she can handle.

How to stop feeling guilty  

There are a million reasons why we feel guilty. Depending on what life stage you’re currently in, you might be feeling guilty about your relationship, your connection with your parents, the way you’re raising your children, the demands of your job, your financial situation, your commitment to your friendships… 

Clearly, it’s easy to feel guilty about a whole host of things. How to stop feeling guilty, however, is an entirely separate matter. Don’t worry, though. Just as feeling guilty is a natural part of being human, learning to let go of guilt is also a natural part of the self-healing process. Instead of living with your guilt, let’s look at all the ways in which you can move through, past it and beyond it. 

How to stop feeling guilty 

No matter what kind of remorse you’re feeling, there are several tried-and-true strategies you can use to learn how to stop feeling guilty. Here are five simple and quick tools to stop living with guilt and start dispensing with it.  

1. Fast forward and look back at yourself 

Most people will tell you that you just need to “get over” your guilt. However, before we talk about letting go of your remorse, it’s important to first look at the underlying causes that are making you feel guilty — rather than the byproduct of those causes, which is guilt itself.  

To do this, imagine that whatever experience you’re going through — taking care of sick parents, or dealing with infidelity in your relationship — is already in the past. It may hurt to think about, but imagine your parents have passed on, or your relationship has either been mended or ended. Now ask yourself: according to the way you’re living right now, will you feel happy with how you handled those situations?

Ask yourself, “Did I do the right thing?” “Am I happy with my choices?” “Was I present as often as I wanted to be, and could I have done anything differently to feel better about my decisions?”

Doing this will help you find your true center by allowing you to course-correct your current behavior. This, in turn, will help you stop guilt in its tracks, because you’ll know you did what you thought was best at the time. 

2. Understand that guilt doesn’t do much 

The second most important thing to understand when it comes to guilt is that it doesn’t actually do anything. When we’ve done something regrettable, it’s true that self-flagellation might feel right, in a strange sort of sado-masochistic way. But are you actually helping anyone by feeling guilty?

Not at all. In fact, it’s hurting you, and worse, it’s not helping any of the people or situations that are making you feel guilty. Instead of spending all your time and energy on beating yourself up over something, it’s worth putting that energy into another pursuit instead — learning about what you value.

3. Learn your values 

From now on, don’t think of guilt as simply a bad feeling. Think of it as your internal moral compass trying to point you back in the right direction. Guilt is your body’s way of saying, “I’m doing something that conflicts with my values, and I need to find a way to be in accordance with my values once again.” 

To stop feeling guilty, you’ll need to find a way to make your actions meet your values. And in order to do that, you’ll need to first interrogate what you believe in, and what you value. For instance, if you value quality time spent with your family, is there any way you can give up a little bit of your responsibilities at work to spend more time with your children? Really ask yourself what you care about, and look for ways to bring more of that into your life.

4. Don’t be so hard on yourself 

Some people feel bad about so many things that they feel like it’s impossible to stop living with guilt. But when it comes to learning how to stop feeling guilty, you’ll need to learn how to let certain things go. For instance, if you feel guilty about not spending enough time with your kids, not being there for your aging parents, not moving ahead in your career and not making time for your relationship, it’s time to start considering what really matters, and what you can let go.

Will your parents really notice if you’re with them only three days a week, instead of four? Will your romantic partner be understanding if you tell them the next six months might be difficult because of a job promotion, meaning you need to spend a little extra time at work? Will your kids be alright if your spouse looks after them a few nights a week? 

These are the kinds of concessions that are perfectly okay to make, and yet most of us feel terrible about making them. The truth, however, is that it’s perfectly acceptable not to be everything for everyone — if you try, you won’t be anything to anyone.  

5. Find a way to make living with guilt bearable 

When you’re going through a tough time, it can feel impossible to think about anything but your current situation. But, just as with other difficult emotions, it’s possible to put your guilt aside while you’re working on healing.

It’s okay to distract yourself when you’ve got to make a hard choice. Learning to be present in your current moment and making the most of your situation will do leagues for your own mental health. If you really can’t get away from feeling guilty, try engaging in activities that can help you process your guilt, like journaling or yoga. 

These things seem small, but they add up, and when push comes to shove, you’ll be thankful that you didn’t spend all your time agonizing over your guilt. 

What do you think? Feeling a little less guilty yet? We certainly hope so. If you want a deep-dive on someone who’s going through the same emotions as you, take fifteen minutes to listen to our podcast on guilt, and what it does to us when we don’t nip it in the bud. 

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Kim Ades: Hello, hello. My name is Kim Ades, I'm the President and Founder of Frame of Mind Coaching and the Co-founder of The Journal That Talks Back, you have just joined The Frame of Mind Coaching Podcast. But today is Fridays with Ferne where I bring my daughter on to join me and discuss a variety of coaching cases. Ferne, welcome.

[00:00:24] Ferne Kotlyar: Hello! How are you today?

[00:00:27] Kim Ades: Oh, I have a bit of a backache, but I'm okay.

[00:00:30] Ferne Kotlyar: Hmm, that's a tough one, eh?

[00:00:31] Kim Ades: It's a tough one, so I'm trying to stay up and upright and not show it on my face. Am I doing so far?

[00:00:39] Ferne Kotlyar: [Chuckles] Fantastic! Wouldn't have guessed a thing.

[00:00:43] Kim Ades: Great. So how's it going? What do you have for me today?

[00:00:48] Ferne Kotlyar: All right. So today I have a case that you might even be familiar with. It's about a lady named Amber, and she was born and raised in Nova Scotia with her two other siblings. And as she grew older, she got married and ended up moving to BC, so British Columbia. Had some kids there, built a life, got a job, you know, has a full life there.

And then recently her parents got sick. And so she's been traveling back and forth to Nova Scotia, but it's been really tough on her because, you know, taking time off work and the constant travel, the time difference.

Feeling really guilty that she's not there all the time and feeling guilty that she's not with her parents, but then she's also not with her kids, and she feels this constant conflict, internal conflict of not doing the right thing. So she doesn't know what to do or how to kind of ease the guilt, with either direction.

[00:01:50] Kim Ades: Right. So yes, I do relate to this. I had this situation. I mean, it wasn't as extreme because I was in Toronto and my parents were in Montreal when they were both sick. My dad had a series of strokes and my mother had Alzheimer's, as you know.

And so it was very tough for me as well. I was traveling back and forth and I was exhausted and felt also a huge amount of guilt. And you know what? Is there anything she can do differently? At the end of the day, what she needs to do is fast forward her life, kind of project into the future and look at herself in the mirror and say, "did I do the right thing? Am I happy with my choices? Am I happy with the fact that I was present as much as I was? Could I have done anything differently to feel good about my decisions?"

And so part of her has to imagine that this time is past, even that her parents had passed and inviting her to look back and say, "am I confident? Am I comfortable with the decisions I'm making with respect to where I am and when I am in those places?"

And so the other piece of it is guilt. I'm familiar with guilt. Not only for myself, but I think a lot of my clients experience a great, great deal of guilt. So what does guilt do? Nothing much.

[00:03:17] Ferne Kotlyar: [Chuckles lightly]

[00:03:18] Kim Ades: Right? It doesn't really help us. But how do we get rid of it? How do we get rid of guilt when that's just what we feel? So where does guilt come from? Guilt comes from the idea that we should be doing something differently than we are doing. Or we should be doing something differently than we have done. Right? So guilt comes from a clash between our values and our actions.

And so what we want to do is really say, what are our values? What are our actions? And find a way for them to align. And so-- Sorry?

[00:04:02] Ferne Kotlyar: And if there is no way for them to align?

[00:04:04] Kim Ades: Well, but there is a way for them to align. So in the case of this woman, she has all kinds of values. Her values are "I want to be with my parents. I also want to be with my kids. I also have a job and I have responsibilities, and those are my values too.

So given this whole set of values, how am I handling this situation? Am I doing what's right for me? Am I doing the right thing? Am I playing this out correctly? Is there anything I could be doing differently or better? Is there a place where maybe I'm being hard on myself?

And I shouldn't be hard on myself. Is there a place where, at the end of the day, I can give myself a little more leeway? So in other words, would my kids understand if I spent four days or a week or two weeks in BC with my family? And they would be okay with it? Instead of me feeling like I need to rush home".

So pushing back on some of the ways that this woman thinks things should be. Right? Testing the waters. "Will it make a difference if I'm there a little longer? Who will it make a difference for? Will it make a difference for my parents? Will it make a difference for my kids? Will it make a difference for me?"

So for me, when I went back and forth to Montreal to see my parents, I mean, were they conscious that I was there all the time? Maybe not, but who did it make a difference for? It made a difference for me. Because I wanted to be there in the end of their lives. I want it to be there as much, as much as possible.

So it made a difference for me because when I look back and I think, I was there every two weeks, every three weeks, I think I absolutely did the best that I could given my circumstances. I don't think I was absent, I don't think I could have gone more often or gone less often. I think I did the best that I could. And so I rest peacefully, if that makes any sense.

[00:06:07] Ferne Kotlyar: Well, yeah, I was just about to ask you, if looking back, did you still feel guilty. Like, I know you felt guilty at the time, but looking back, do you still?

[00:06:16] Kim Ades: I think what I felt at the time was a feeling like... the word isn't desperation, but feeling like I didn't know what to do to help them. Because--

[00:06:32] Ferne Kotlyar: Helpless?

[00:06:33] Kim Ades: Helpless, right? So your parents come to the end of their lives, it's just part of the journey. And there was nothing in my hands that I could do tangibly to reverse that journey. And so for me, it was just difficult to absorb, difficult to watch. But that wasn't me feeling guilty because I wasn't there all the time necessarily, it was me feeling like this is just heartbreaking to watch, to witness, to be a part of.

Now I do want to address one more thing. How do you make it bearable? Right? How do you handle it? How do you handle the travel? How do you handle going back and forth? I remember for me, I would go to Montreal and then come back and it was a whole different life. And I couldn't combine the two, I would go to be with my parents and then come home and then I couldn't adequately share my experience or my feelings or what was going on for me.

[00:07:37] Ferne Kotlyar: Why do you say that?

[00:07:39] Kim Ades: Why do I say that? Because it was hard to describe. And also, one of my decisions that I made is to really, really be where I was. So when I was in Montreal, I was completely immersed in my time there, spending time with them, paying attention to them, being with them, being completely present. And the same for when I went back home.

And so for me, it was hard to mix the two, but I do encourage the concept of being present. Because then you're maximizing your expenses. Because at the end of the day, this is about her, it's about her experience. It's about what she feels during this process, right? It's about whether or not she feels she's doing the right thing and handling it appropriately.

[00:08:37] Ferne Kotlyar: And did you ever feel guilty for having moved away in the first place? Because like, your whole family's there and you're not.

[00:08:47] Kim Ades: Yeah. Did I feel guilty for moving away? I never felt guilty for moving away. I knew that for me, moving away was the healthiest choice. For me, for them, for everybody involved. Moving away for me, allowed me to be very, very close with my family.

I think being there would have not created the same outcome. So for me, moving away was a hundred percent the correct course of action for me. I did miss out on events, birthdays, celebrations, that kind of thing. I sometimes felt "I'm missing out a bit", but at the same time, I really created my own life filled with celebrations and events and things of my own.

So, you know, I didn't feel guilty. I felt sometimes a little bit, not part of things, but over overall, I absolutely am convinced that moving away was the absolute best decision for me. Because I knew it was a healthy decision and that's part of what we want to do is help people make healthy decisions.

[00:09:47] Ferne Kotlyar: Absolutely. Absolutely. So if you were to give Amber one kind of last piece of advice for her guilt, for her children, her parents, and work, I guess, what would you say to her?

[00:10:01] Kim Ades: I would say two things. I would say number one is, imagine that this period of time is over. Fast forward your life. And now look back. What are you going to be happy with? What decisions will you be happy you made and what decisions will you be unhappy you made? In other words, will you be happy that you chose to spend time with your family, or will you be happy that you chose to stay and work on that project for work?

Will you be happy that you stayed with your kids, because they had a big event, a big award ceremony they needed to attend, or will you be happy that you went to BC and stayed with your parents over these last days?

[00:10:52] Ferne Kotlyar: She's from Nova Scotia.

[00:10:55] Kim Ades: I got it all mixed up.

[00:10:57] Ferne Kotlyar: It's okay.

[00:10:58] Kim Ades: But you get my idea. What decisions will she be happy she made. And so that's the first thing. Fast forward and look back, pretend you're past this, look back. And when we look back from a future place, we often look back with a place of wisdom. And so we're tapping into her inner wisdom and asking her to look back.

And the second thing I would say is whatever decisions you make, get behind them. So in other words, if you're choosing to be with your parents, be with your parents. If you're choosing to be with your kids, be with your kids. Immerse yourself into that. If you're choosing to work, then work! Right? So get behind your decisions because the worst thing is when you make a decision and you say, "man, I made the wrong decision. I'm not sure if I made the right decision". That's when you feel a sense of torment inside. When your parents get old, where are you going to be?

[00:12:04] Ferne Kotlyar: I don't know. Hopefully not so far away.

[00:12:08] Kim Ades: You know what I know? I know that you have everything you need, all the tools and all the wisdom to make the right decisions when you're going to need to make them.

[00:12:18] Ferne Kotlyar: I hope so.

[00:12:19] Kim Ades: I think so. For those of you who are listening, if some of you are in this situation where you have to be in two or even three places at once, think about what you might feel later on in life and look back and say, "am I making the right decisions from this future vantage point?"

Hope you enjoyed our podcast today. We would love to get your comments, your thoughts, your feedback. We would love for you to follow and like, and share with your friends. And if there's a case that you want to hear about on the podcast, please reach out to us. Ferne, how do they reach you?

[00:13:00] Ferne Kotlyar: Please email me! So email me at Fernekotlyar@live.com.

[00:13:11] Kim Ades: And my email address is Kim@frameofmindcoaching.com. We will see you next week. Have a great week, everyone!

[00:13:19] Ferne Kotlyar: Bye!

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