On A Guilt Trip

Guilt: It’s an emotion that’s hard to avoid. From feeling guilty about not spending enough time with the children or feeling bad for forgetting a friend’s birthday, it’s common to feel guilty. And, for many of us, it’s a feeling we experience on a daily basis.

But guilt can be a destructive emotion, leaving us feeling bad about ourselves, causing depression or anxiety or even making us feel resentful towards the person who has led us to feel guilty. So how can you tackle guilty feelings and turn them into a source of positivity?

The first thing to decide is whether guilt is an appropriate response. You may, for example, feel guilty for leaving a party early because you weren’t enjoying it. You might be beating yourself up, thinking how rude the host must think you are. But, in reality, there’s no reason why you should feel pressurised to stay at a party you’re not enjoying and it’s likely the host was too busy with other guests to even notice you’d left. In situations where you shouldn’t really feel guilty, it’s best just to let the feeling go, rather than dwelling on the situation.

Guilt is harder to overcome when you know you’ve done something more serious. Whether it’s cheating on your partner, betraying a friend, or letting down a family member when they needed support, guilt can be especially painful when you know you are in the wrong.

The first step is to apologise where appropriate and then take a look at how you could change your behaviour in the future to avoid hurting those you love. If you make changes for the better, you can turn guilt into a positive reaction. In fact, guilt can be a very useful emotion in helping us to grow and develop into well-rounded human beings.

Maybe you feel guilty for events in the past and you’re not able to apologise. This can leave you feeling stuck. For example, perhaps you feel guilty for bullying a classmate at school but apologising to them now isn’t possible. If this is the case, perhaps you could make a positive action to help lessen the feelings of guilt – for example, by donating money to an anti-bullying charity.

It’s also important to know when to forgive your former self and move on. We often feel guilty about things that we did as a teenager. But people change and the person you were then is not necessarily who you are now. Whether you committed minor crimes, were cruel to your siblings, or feel you let your parents down by not studying hard at school, there are some things in the past that you should move on from by recognising that you are a different and better person now.

Quite often the quickest way to relieve guilt is by taking action. If you feel bad for not visiting your parents more often, pick up the phone and schedule a visit. If you feel guilty for snapping at a colleague, apologise. If you feel guilty for working long hours, book in some time with the family.

Guilt can be a useful emotion when it leads to positive change. But if you can’t change a situation, know when to let go of the guilt.

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