That guilty feeling…

April 24, 2021 By

Guilt is a sneaky emotion. Clearly, it has its uses: you wouldn’t want to go through life without the ability to feel it. Its function as a moral compass generally serves us well. But even then, the guilt itself does us no favours other than as a signal that we should take some, hopefully redemptive, action. Otherwise it just erodes us emotionally, without in any way making the situation better for those we may have hurt.

But I am not talking about significant moral trespasses here. I am talking about all those little things in life that we feel guilty about. Those niggling feelings that are at us throughout the day. About the things we’d like to do but that we feel are too indulgent. That we are not deserving of. That we can’t really afford. That we feel we’re not considerate enough of others if we do. And which lead us, whether we do the thing or not, to feeling bad.

Here’s the thing, though. Guilt can be a bit of an indulgent feeling. And I say that with as much kindness and empathy as possible. Because none of us would like to think that we invite guilt in, that we choose it.

But when we just accept those guilty thoughts and emotions without challenging them, they just become another of our get-out-of-jail cards: it means we don’t have to make any decisions because they are already made for us. I can’t take time out for myself because I just feel bad if I do. Case closed. I feel guilty if I don’t put others first, so guess what: I just always put them first. I couldn’t possibly work full time because I’d feel guilty if I do. Or: I do work full time and I can’t do anything about the guilt I feel for doing so.

These feelings disempower us and stop us from being active and mindful decision-makers in our own lives. And unless we stop, reflect on what’s going on and start making some deliberate choices about how we want to live our lives, they will take over. They will stop us from seeing the big picture and thinking long term, and they will stop us from truly enjoying whatever it is that we do. In fact, they will have stopped us from figuring out what that is in the first place.

So take the time to realise what it is you want your life to look like. That may involve working, or not, or cooking all your meal from scratch, or not, or treating yourself to something special – it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you look at the actual costs and benefits of what you decide to do, and then make your decision. And that sends the guilt scuttering into a corner, because it knows it has been exposed for what it really is. Fears, insecurities, habits, old expectations.

Let them all go. And live your life with more ease.