Guilt is an emotion that we feel when our actions are not aligned with how we think we should act, or how we think others expect of us. In this article, you will learn about the consequences of guilt, its origins, and 3 strategies that have helped me to transmute it into inner peace.
Consequences of Guilt
Guilt makes us feel like we don't deserve what we have or what we can have, making it difficult for us to get what we want; It generates insecurity, anxiety and gives us the feeling that we will receive punishment if we do not do something, often making us too complacent with other people and making us disregard our own needs. It can also force us to overthink future situations to prevent having to deal with more guilt or regret for not having done something the way we wanted, or past situations, overthinking what we think we should have done better. It can also create a sense of false humility, whereby we have to minimize our achievements so as not to feel guilty. In the end, the more we believe that we have done something wrong, the more anxiety and stress it can cause us. Therefore, it is important to address this emotion that in the long run can do us so much damage, to the point of not letting us live happily.
The origin of guilt comes from our upbringing, in the way in which we are taught that if we do something "bad" we will be scolded or punished, and if we do something "good", rewarded. Guilt then is something that we learn as the voice in our heads of our parents, teachers, or even classmates or friends, trying to guide us down a path that they considered correct at that time. Guilt is an emotion that comes from the fear of reprimand that we would suffer if we do something "bad". Fear is an excellent motivator to get away from doing certain things, but its energy level is low, generating, as well as other emotions that come from fear, hormones such as cortisol that in the long term tend to wreak havoc on our body including a weak immune system, insomnia, tachycardia, infections, etc.
Strategies to free yourself from guilt
Here are 3 strategies that can help you free yourself from guilt:
1) Observe your internal state and inquire
It is important to observe yourself internally, and if you have the time, inquire a bit into the thoughts that may be generating that feeling. So in moments when you feel that guilt, you can ask yourself what do you feel and where in your body do you feel it? What story are you telling yourself in your head that makes you feel this way? Where did you learn it? How true is that today? How is thinking like this affecting you? How would you act without this story?
I want to emphasize that, while knowing the origin of something can help you let it go faster, it is not always necessary. Just acknowledging the worthlessness of these thoughts today may be enough to lower the intensity of your guilt. The process of inquiry above is best done when we have a little time alone. Then it becomes almost an automatic process of microseconds that makes us face our beliefs at the moment when thought and emotion of guilt are just emerging, but to get there, it is important to make inquiry and awareness a continuous and conscious process.
I want to give you an example of my own to illustrate the above. Many times when people ask about my life and I talk about the fact that I have lived in Nicaragua, France, Taiwan, and Germany, or about the languages that I have learned, some people tend to praise the experience I have made in life. What I automatically would feel is guilt and the desire to show that this is "nothing" and that it was simply luck. With that guilt, I usually throw my achievements away into a black hole. In such a situation, today, I could feel that guilt rise in my body. As I have already inquired about that, I can understand that what I am feeling at that moment is simply the result of thinking that by talking about my achievements I will make other people feel bad. I may have learned this in some experience in school where they said that I was a nerd to get good grades and then tried to minimize my achievements to be accepted. In the end, where it comes from is not as important as what I can do with it today. Is it true that others will feel bad if I talk about my achievements when asked? I don't know, but if it is, it's the other person's business. What I do know is that it is not helping me as I feel uncomfortable. By acknowledging the futility of that story today, I can simply observe what I am feeling, and instead of reacting, I can respond to the emotion by taking conscious action, for example, objectively answering the question without hiding details. The result is freedom, and I tell you, it feels good.
If you don't have the time at such a moment to inquire, you can simply breathe wherever you feel guilt in your body, observe what you are feeling, let go of the thoughts, and return to the present moment. However, unless you already have a lot of practice being present, or you already know yourself very well, it is usually not until we dig into those thoughts and disprove those stories that we take away all their power over us. Of course, in this step, it may be important to obtain the help of a coach or other specialist to support you in this investigation.
2) Listen to your inner guidance
We all have an inner guide. Some call it intuition, others call it soul, others heart. It is that voice that, when you listen to it, you know that what you are doing is what most aligns with you. Many times we cover this internal guide with what we think we are, including dogmas, prejudices, and limitations that we put on ourselves. In my opinion, something that we all have in common is that we come from the same source, and that source is love, peace, and acceptance, both from others and ourselves. In our earthly experience, we can learn many things that tend to deviate from that which is so simple, which is to follow our inner guidance.
However, each moment is an opportunity to return to that essence. Can you notice, what beliefs do you have that you hold onto most strongly? What are you giving your inner peace to? If from one moment to another you stop believing that you need things to be the way you think they are to be at peace, if you have a very strong emotional reaction to something, these are signs that are things that are preventing you from accessing your true Being. In my experience, the more you manage to hear what you really want, without letting thoughts of what you should or how you should interfere, the less guilt you will have because the more you will access your source, which is inner peace. That inner voice does not need rules or to direct your life through guilt since it will guide you through what it intuitively knows is the best for the common good in those moments, which is based on love.
The recommendation that I would like to leave to concretize this strategy is to make a list of 5-10 values with which you have been raised. You can check to see if those values are working for you right now, or if they are restricting you and causing anxiety or guilt. If so, you can either revise its definition or simply replace that value with another that works better for you, that is, that better align with your true Self. This will give you more awareness of who you truly are and how to express it in your life. At the end of the day, you can write down what actions you did to honor each value. And if at any point you feel some discomfort or guilt, you may ask, what value are you not honoring at this point in your life?
Understanding what is happening often releases a lot of worry and guilt. For example, if one of your values is honesty, and you are forced to sell a poor quality product at work, it is most likely that the conflict with your value of honesty is generating that guilt and stress. And even more, if you listen to your inner voice, you will know what to do to live in peace without even reminding yourself of what value you are dealing with.
3) Understand that we are always doing the best we can
Most of us tend to be critical of ourselves, believing that we should have done something different. Instead of directing our energy to the past, punishing ourselves for our supposed mistakes, or fearing the guilt that we will feel in the future if we do not do something right, it would help you a lot to understand that we are always doing the best we can under the circumstances. It is much more empowered if you ask yourself at that moment: what is the lesson that I learned? than believing and repeating yourself incessantly that you did it wrong. Here I recommend you write 1 or 2 of the events that cause the most guilt in your life. You can write:
a) What happened and why does it cause you so much guilt? What lesson has that experience taught you?
b) Explain, just as if you were talking to a child, how could it not have been different?
If you truly reflect on and feel those questions, you will be surprised how powerful it is to see your past under that magnifying glass, and how we can leave it behind.
I hope you enjoyed it, and remember that if you have a problem at this time to leave the feeling of guilt behind, you can write to me at email@example.com to explore how I can support you on your way. You can also review my coaching packages through which I can help you transmute your anxiety into inner peace and energy to live the life you deserve.
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