We guilt trip ourselves more often than we guilt trip any other person, partner, friend, family member or colleague. And we’re losing. ALL. THE. TIME. If we’ve been told how manipulating and hurtful it is to do to someone else, why do we do it to ourselves?
Where does guilt come from?
There are endless ways we guilt ourselves: “Did I tip enough?” “I should’ve responded to that message sooner.” “I shouldn’t have eaten all of that.” “I have to stay home with the baby.” “I’m exhausted, I’ll do it tomorrow.” Sound familiar? Guilt has a way of building up, sneaking in and often unexpectedly settling in our bodies in ways that we tend to negate - an inward struggle for a murky outward experience about something we did or didn’t do. Kind of sounds like a lose-lose right? So how do you actually win with guilt? Hang tight, you’re in luck.
What does guilt feel like?
Our bodies recognize guilt as a less than desirable emotion – in short, it hurts. But when we experience this hurt, are we actually feeling guilt or is it shame rearing its ugly head? Brené Brown shares that the difference between shame and guilt is the difference between ‘I am bad’ and ‘I did something bad.’ Take that in for a quick minute because we’re on the verge of a perspective shift here.
When you imagined the examples described before, what came up for you? Was it uncomfortable because it challenged your values? Or was it unworthiness because you felt flawed? If it was discomfort – that’s guilt. If it was a lack of worth – that’s shame. Neither feels good, but there is a difference.
Why is guilt important?
So what does this difference mean for guilt? Guilt is uncomfortable, but it has a purpose. When we experience guilt, we are gifted with the opportunity to adjust our actions and behaviors because we have held something we’ve done (or not done) up against who we want to be. Does this mean that guilt can actually be…good? In moderation, yes! When we feel guilty, we are given the chance to acknowledge the values we cherish, actively shift gears and evaluate what we could do differently and how. In other words, we create change.
By implementing healthy changes into our lives, we improve our sense of mental, physical and emotional well-being.
How does guilt impact me?
Imagine being confronted by a wild lion. Your body would immediately goes into survival mode. Your survival instincts would kick in to make you think and react super fast. Guilt is like that lion. It increases the same stress hormones – cortisol and adrenaline. Although these hormones can be helpful when we need to protect ourselves, avoid danger, or fend off immediate threats, they can be damaging in large amounts. Imagine if you were standing in front of that lion for hours on end! Your body would go into a consistently flowing state of survival. Imagine the exhaustion.
This is what it would feel like to be overwhelmed by guilt. When we have prolonged exposure to these hormones, our blood pressure increases and heightens our risk of heart disease, diabetes, depression and anxiety. Learning how to decrease our guilt will help our bodies respond in tandem and improve our overall health and wellness.
So how do I get rid of guilt?
I think it’s safe to say that it’s difficult to rid yourself entirely of guilt. But there are things you can do to diminish it in order to live a healthier and more fulfilling life.
- Acknowledge when you feel it. This awareness will help you identify the underlying meanings to the guilt you are feeling and discover if there are conflicting values being challenged.
- Stop ‘should-ing’ on yourself. Social constructs demand a lot from us. Do what feels good for you and be compassionate with yourself along the way. Those outside pressures can make the guilt feel that much more difficult to break free from.
- Practice self-care. When we take time for ourselves, we are allowing our bodies to rejuvenate so we may fully immerse ourselves into the lives we choose to live. If we don’t allow time for this, we are essentially pouring from an empty cup.
- Use guilt as a motivator for action. If you are consistently feeling guilt over a similar topic, listen to that guilt and begin to implement small changes. When you take small steps towards a larger goal, you will begin to feel happier and more balanced.
You wouldn't guilt trip someone else. So why do it to yourself? Be curious about guilt. Ask what purpose it serves, and then take action. Be watchful that guilt isn't actually shame in disguise and practice self-compassion and letting go. Here's to winning your own personal guilt trip!
To schedule an appointment with Alyssa Cornett, LMFT-Associate, call 737-226-3803.