The faith of the world and everyone around you rests on your shoulder. That’s what the doctor told me when I came into his office suffering from severe anxiety. I felt guilty about everything. That I was overweight. Guilty that I was tired. Because I felt the way I did. Guilty because my parents were sick and I couldn’t do anything about it. Or because I didn’t speak my mind. Guilt, guilt, guilt. I had to learn how to stop feeling guilty. It wasn’t an easy task that’s for sure. I had to really dig deep into my emotional triggers and reactions.The good news is I found a way to get through it. With this post, I want to share the steps I took and they might help you as well if you are struggling with this as I did.
There are various reasons why someone might feel guilty. And here I am not talking about the normal feeling of guilt, one that motivates you to respect others, not hurt their feelings etc. I am talking about the overwhelming feeling of guilt, which is often crippling.
Why am I feeling guilty?
The first step is to figure out the why. Why am I feeling guilty? This will seem like stating the obvious, but it is an exercise that might help you get a hold of particular patterns you are going through and eventually change those patterns. Think about situations when you usually feel guilty.
In my case I would often feel like I did something wrong or that I am part of a problem in the following situations:
- Any change was overwhelming. I was constantly overthinking the situation. Why is it happening? Why me? I must have done something wrong for this to be happening…Sounds familiar?
- Other people yelling their frustrations on me. The guilt would overwhelm me even if I am not a cause of that frustration or they were just venting out. It was probably coming from my childhood. As an overly sensitive child, I would clench when someone was yelling, even if they were yelling at someone else.
- I would need something from someone even though I would often do something for those people (even sharing my feelings with my friends would feel as if I’m burdening them). Will I come off too selfish? They have enough of their own issues for me to give them my own as well.
- People close to me going through something and I couldn’t do anything to help them.
How I began to change
The following step is sometimes hard to catch but think about the times you felt guilty and the why. Was the feeling of guilt really an adequate emotional reaction? When thinking about it in retrospect I realized that more often than not it was totally uncalled for. A lot of it has to do with self-esteem. On one side I felt incompetent and unworthy, and on the other, my ego (that little voice inside you that it makes you doubt everything) tried so hard to be noticed that I would turn every situation around me. It sounds weird, doesn’t it?
One thing I had to learn was that building your self-esteem doesn’t mean inflating your ego, it means accepting yourself, and your ego falls more silent or becomes more balanced. You can check an interesting article by Deepak Chopra on ego. It really resonated with me so I researched it into more depth.
How to stop feeling guilty?
I knew I needed to do something about my overwhelming feeling of guilt when my doctor used that line. He wanted to shake me up and he did. It made me think. Was I really responsible for it all? Of course, I wasn’t. I started questioning a lot of situations when I would feel the sensation of guilt. Once I started working on it I realized that I need to do the following:
- Accept the change is inevitable – some changes are easier than the others. Overthinking it will not change anything. You might not have the control over the change itself, but you do have control over the way you react. Start making a choice when it comes to your reactions.
- You are not responsible for other people’s feelings or actions – although you are responsible for your own choices and reactions, you do not have to beat yourself up over others people’s actions and reactions. It is not your responsibility. Repeat it: I am NOT responsible for other people actions, just my own. OK? Next time someone is venting their frustrations at you, ask yourself: is it about me?
- You are important and worthy – doing something for yourself doesn’t mean you are neglecting others. It’s ok to unwind. It’s ok to put yourself first at times. Sharing your feelings and your ups and downs with people who love you is important. You are not burdening your friends, true friends will be your friends whether you talk about high heels or depression. One of my friends actually told me when I finally confided how I feel, that she would sometimes get offended that I don’t tell her anything. I didn’t want to burden her, and she thought I didn’t think of her as a good friend. The truth was I never even thought about it that way.
- Accept that you can’t always help. As hard as it is to not help a loved one going through something, sometimes all it takes is listening. You can’t go through what they are going through, but you can listen and unburden them that way.
It takes some time and working on yourself, but YOU CAN STOP FEELING GUILTY! It doesn’t mean you will lose your moral values or respect for others, but that you will find some respect for yourself as well. You deserve it.
If you want to know more about the steps you can take to overcome the guilt there are many wonderful articles out there. I recommend reading this one: 8 Empowering Ways to Stop Feeling Guilty