The Letting Go Series

Letting Go of Guilt

This is part of the “Letting Go” series. These posts will look more closely at the items on the “10 Things You Must Let Go of Today” list that was posted on this site and how you can begin working to remove these negative, self-limiting behaviors from your life.

This post will look at Letting Go of Guilt and the simple steps you can take that will make it easier to erase guilt from your life.

Guilta feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc.
Whether real or imagined
. (Dictionary.com)

Have you ever found yourself lost in a sea of guilt because your actions have somehow harmed or hurt another person, whether intentional or accidental? I am willing to bet everyone has experienced guilt on some level. Guilt is the natural result of negative actions and is part of human nature. Guilt is to be expected when we have caused harm in the past through our words or actions. Unfortunately, we often feel guilty when we really shouldn’t or dwell on guilt for far too long.

Many people harbor feelings of guilt for things that they had no control over, things that happened long ago or small mistakes made in their past.  Although guiltguilt can be a productive emotion – because it forces us to assess our actions and make positive changes – it can easily get out of hand if not properly regulated and addressed.

For some, thoughts of the things they have done to hurt others in the past can almost immobilize them. Some people are so controlled by guilt that they feel overwhelmed and it holds them back in life. This is especially common after deciding to make big changes to your way of life or after making big mistakes.

The truth is, guilt has sort of become a excuse. People spend so much time wishing they had done things differently that they can’t enjoy the journey or the rewards of their actions or they fail to take action all together.

Every choice you make is worth the effort – good or bad – because it teaches you lessons and helps you grow.

Guilt can be productive. It is part of our emotional barometer and can be a tell-tale sign that the choices we are making are not the ‘right’ ones for us. Unfortunately, guilt cab also be a self-created barrier to success and happiness.

Although guilt is a necessary part of growing, living and becoming a better person, it should not define who we are or hold us back from our dreams.

There is a fine line between necessary and pointless guilt.
Knowing the difference and learning to let go can be a big part of living a happier and more fulfilling life.

Healthy vs Pointless Feelings of Guilt

Healthy feelings of guilt stem from actions on your part that caused harm, pain or hurt to another person. This form of guilt is a part of life for most people and is something that needs to be addressed according to severity. If you feel guilty for bullying someone when you were younger, calling your sister names or stealing from a close friend then you have options available to deal with these feelings and move forward with your life. You may choose to apologize to the people you have harmed and perhaps right the wrongs in some way. This is healthy guilt and is a part of growing up and growing personally. It is only when guilt becomes pointless and irrational that it becomes a barrier to your true and full life.

Pointless guilt is often superficial. In fact, most of this kind of guilt is felt simply because we let go of guiltthink we should feel guilty and not because we actually do. Guilt is based on the values and morals that we create for ourselves and pick up throughout our lives. For example: You may have been taught that lying is wrong and now each time you lie, you feel guilty. The same goes for sex, perhaps kinky sex, extra-marital sex, or sex in general were somehow built into your personal moral code and each time you cross the line on these ‘created morals’ you feel as if you have done something wrong. If you were to truly consider every act in your life and assess the guilt factor for each of these actions you would be a miserable and depressed person who was constantly drowning in an overflowing pool of guilt.

So what should you feel guilty for and what should you not? Where do you draw the line?

The line for guilt is different for each person and often relates to a number of factors, such as, personal need, personal pleasure, choice, circumstance, situation, self-esteem and emotion. However, there are a few things to consider…

The 3 Factors of Guilt:

  • The Harm Factor.

    First, it is important that you assess the harm factor involved in the act that is causing you guilt. For example: If your best friend/wife/mother asked you if her outfit made her look fat and you lied and said, “No, it’s great.” There is no reason to feel guilty…. Why? Because what is more important to you, lying or hurting someones feelings? Weigh the pro’s and con’s.
    On-the-other-hand, if your action caused a substantial amount of emotional or physical harm to another person, then your feelings of guilt may be correctly placed. However, that does not mean that they are not still pointless. There are numerous factors to consider….

  • Your Options.

    You need to consider what other options you had available at the time of the action that is now causing you the guilt. Perhaps you feel bad for the way you dumped your ex. Maybe you feel you were too cold/harsh/honest. Consider the other options you had available… Would your ex-partner have taken it any other way? Would it have made your life better or worse? Would it have hurt them any less or more? Did you have many other choices?
    If the action was appropriate to the situation, let it go! You can apologize but you can not take back what you did and you can’t change the circumstances that surrounded you at the time of the action.
    Take time to consider what was happening in your life at the time of the action that is causing you guilt. Do you truly believe you acted recklessly? Was your harm intentional? If you answered no, then it is time to let go and move on.

  • Reality.

    You are never going to be able to change the things you did in the past. You can not right every wrong you caused and you can not take back the things you did. Dwelling on them does not change a thing.
    Sometimes the only way to free yourself of pointless guilt is to simply let go.
    Sometimes you simply have to accept that you made a mistake/misjudgment and you have to live with it.
    If there is no foreseeable way to correct the situation your actions caused (or the only correction consists of creating a sophisticated, technologically advanced, time travel machine, then let it go and move on with your life.) This is especially true of things that happened in the distant past. Feeling guilty for something you did when you were eight is completely pointless. Again, consider the situation at the time and the options that were available to you.

Keep in mind that often times the guilt we feel has more to do with ourselves than those which we feel we have harmed. Guilt is often a self-created reminder of all the things we wish we had done differently for ourselves. By simply accepting life as it is and living in the moment we can easily abolish much of the guilt we dwell on and live a happier more fulfilled life.

It is so important that you remember every single action has brought you to the place you are today, every single choice has shaped you into the person you are right now. Some of the worst choices in life bring with them the greatest lessons.

Still feel guilty?

Simple Exercises To Help You Free Yourself From Pointless Guilt:

If you are having trouble saying good-bye to guilt try some of the ideas and exercises listed below. 

  1. Write it down – Using a journal to sort your thoughts can be very useful when you are trying to rid yourself of pointless guilt. Write down all the things you feel guilty about and using the considerations in the post above weigh the pros and cons of the guilt and what you can do to fix it.
  2. Act out – Negative actions can be erased by positive ones. If you are feeling guilty about negative things you have done in the past make the future more positive. Volunteering, or charitable work is a great way to make yourself feel good while giving something to others in need. The gift of your time takes little effort but holds great rewards.
  3. Make amends – If you can not shake the remorse of you actions simply make amends. Contact the person who was most affected by your bad choices and apologize, or find a way to make up for the things you did wrong. You will never be able to change the past, but you can always show that you are sorry and try to change the “now”.

Until Next Time, 

Forgive yourself. 

 

Questions, comments and submissions can be forwarded to katherined@amotivatedmind.com 

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