“The Future Depends on What You Do Today”

Getting consumed by guilt

During the past week it just so happened that I saw multiple clients that were consumed by guilt: guilt for being a working mother, guilt for not spending enough time at home with his family, guilt for not climbing the corporate ladder as quickly as others, and many more.

Why does guilt have such an impact on you? And how can you reduce your levels of guilt?

The origins of guilt

Guilt is ordinarily a feeling of remorse for some offense, crime, wrong-doing, etc., whether real or imagined. You often build expectations in your mind and when you do not meet those expectations, you experience feelings of guilt.

Guilt is part of a vicious cycle – you become aware of a should, as in I should call my mother. The should stems from a desire to gain and maintain approval, either from others or yourself. Out of the should comes either action or a lack thereof. When you take action, it involves following the script and doing what you think the other person, group or perhaps even a part of yourself wants you to do. And no matter what route you follow, since you cannot please all the parties (including yourself), the guilt kicks in.

Research has proved that we have experienced guilt for the first time before our seventh year and that all subsequent experiences build an emotional gestalt; i.e. it creates a chain of guilt that over time grows bigger and bigger in our subconscious mind. As the gestalt grows bigger, we find it harder to escape the feelings of guilt. It starts to define who we are and how we see the world – we get imprisoned by the feelings of regret and guilt!

How do you break the cycle?

  1. Become aware of your feelings

You get trapped in the cycle of guilt without even noticing and the very first step to get out of the cycle is to become aware of what you think that cause the cycle of guilt.

Do not underestimate the impact of social media – you see all the perfect leaders, mothers, fathers and cannot help to feel inadequate. Or worse, see and read about the troubles of others and feel guilty about your great life. Become aware!

  1. Change the self-talk

Tell yourself that you did the best you could—that whatever lapse of sound judgment impelled you to do something you now regret was the best judgement available to you at the time.

  1. Live your life, not the life of others

Decide on your goals and focus; not the goals and focus of others. Your only assessment should be against your personal goals. And do not get attached to your goals – it is only that: a goal, not a rule!

Visit my blog on goals at https://www.zulekacoaching.co.za/achieving-your-goals/

  1. Ditch the hashtags

Although putting your goals on social media can give you the kickstart you need, you should be wary of the potential negative impact it might have. In a world where photo-shopping and fake news are at the order of the day, it is hard to know what is real. Remind yourself that Instagram, Facebook, etc is not #reality. Choose carefully who and what you follow.

  1. Accept a failure and move on

We all make mistakes and guilt is not going to change it. Yes, it might well hurt others, have long-lasting implications, etc. However, guilt will not change any of it. Accept the mistake, learn from it and move on.

Recognise that no one is perfect, not even our friends or family members who appear to lead perfect, guilt-free lives. Striving for perfection in any part of our lives is a recipe for failure – it can never be attained or maintained.

  1. Get help

Sometimes you might be trapped so deeply in the feelings of guilt that you find it almost impossible to step out of it. Then find help. Coaches and therapists are equipped to support and guide you through the journey of acceptance and self-love. There is no bigger gift to yourself than self-love and acceptance of the past. Only then you can truly move forward.

No work or love will flourish out of guilt, fear, or hollowness of heart, just as no valid plans for the future can be made by those who only have capacity for living in the past.