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