How to let guilt go? - 4 steps to start a guilt-free life
Updated: Aug 1
There are so many things, a parent can feel guilty about.
"Are you coming to play with me?" - and we wish to say yes each time, we hear it; and feel guilty each time we respond with "not yet; a bit later; I cannot now".
We know we should start each day with exercise, but when we have that rare chance of sleeping in, we grab our pillow with both hands and then eat a hearty breakfast... just to feel guilty afterwards.
We know we should get home, have dinner together, catch our kiddos before bedtime... yet more often than not we stay late at work, and feel guilty when getting home we find everyone asleep... or to the contrary, we get home, but then feel bad about work left undone.
And there is a circle of people, who are never happy, no matter what we do, as if their life's mission would be to make us be guilty and apologetic for sunny weather as well as rain, and anything in between.
On top of all these, all the challenges and frustrations related to Covid19 - a roller-coaster ride that takes new turns every week, and is far from its end yet-, tend to increase our feelings of insecurity, inadequacy, incompetence... thus shame and guilt.
Any of these sounds familiar? Maybe you believe, that this is how it should be - feeling guilty is just an indication of us striving to be perfect, and being aware that we are not yet. But maybe you wish to let guilt go, and get free. If you belong to the later, the below 4 step exercise may be a good starting point.
Step 1. When someone or something makes us feel guilty, we react resentful. Next time you catch yourself, take a blank sheet of paper, fold it to thirds, and in the first section complete the sentence: “I feel guilty about XYZ”
Step 2. In the middle section describe, how your guilt feels - what do you feel in your body, what physical sensations do you experience (i.e. frowning, knot in stomach, short breath etc.). Next time you experience these, you can recognize them and name the emotion: “I have a stone in my stomach, am short of breath and my face muscles are all tense and cramped - I feel guilty again". Identifying and facing our emotion is a liberating action in itself, the freedom of which will fuel the last step.
Step 3. In the third section of your paper complete the sentence: “I resent X. for Y” – if someone else made you feel guilty, thus you resent that person. Give yourself some time to really put down everything you feel. Do not judge, rationalize, reason, search for logic. Just pour down whatever you feel.
Step 4. When you are done, take a deep breath, and complete the last sentence: “I appreciate X. for Z”. What is that you do respect X for? What do you appreciate in them, despite/besides the resentment? Maybe the courage it took to tell you what they did? Or their care for your development? Take a moment to look for a reason you can appreciate the other for, and return to all the things the other said or did with that in your heart.
You can also apply steps 3 & 4 to yourself – pouring out all the things you resent yourself for; and turning that resentment into acceptance and appreciation at the end.
IT IS OKAY to feel guilty. BUT it is NOT A MUST to feel guilty. Re-framing your feelings don't change the facts - they only help you select the facts from all the opinions, views & beliefs, and make facing these facts a bit easier on you.