How many times have you said, “I should have” or “I could have” or even “I can’t believe I just did that?” Well, if I would have gotten a dollar for every time I said those words, right now I wouldn’t be writing this article, I would be sprawled out on an oversized beach chaise, sipping a piña colada on my private Island. Would I feel guilty about it? Probably not, but only because I have been lucky to figure out how to detect when guilt is worthy and when it is quite useless.
Guilt comes in all different shapes and sizes, it can last a minute and it can last for years. It can be a small bother to us and it can take over our emotional states on a daily basis. Whether it is that uncomfortable feeling when you tell a white lie to someone you care about or when it is that heavy feeling in your heart after you know you have hurt someone. The way you address your feelings of guilt should be the same in either case.
Before we go any further we must clarify that guilt is the resulting emotion after you feel you have violated your own standards. For example, if I have a standard of always eating healthy and I indulge myself with half a pizza and a triple layer chocolate mouse cake, I may feel a bit guilty after. So this is where guilt is helpful. It is helpful because it is keeping you in check with your standards. But there is a catch! The only way it is helpful is if what you are feeling guilty about is in your direct control and you can actually do something about it. For example, in the last scenario, I would make sure to work out the next day for an extra 30 minutes. As you are working out, your state of guilt can easily be replaced with a state of motivation, ambition, control and confidence. There are hundreds of examples of situations where we fell guilty about something that was in our control and spend way to much time wallowing in our self pity instead of talking proper action so that we grow from the experience rather than be stagnant in sorrow and regret.
There is, however, a clear time and place when the feeling of guilt is completely unproductive. That time is when the situation that you are felling guilty about is out of your control. For example, if you are a single mother that must work to provide for your family and you are unable to attend most of you children’s school activities. This is a very common cause for many working parents, both single and married. In situations like these, if you can’t change the actions or inactions you are taking that are causing your guilt, work around it. If you can’t change your job or ability to attend your child’s school performances or sports games, make the time that you do have with your child extremely special. Have another parent it record it and make a video viewing party at home. Once again, replace those feelings of regret or inadequacy with feelings of accomplishment and gratitude.
We have all repeatedly heard the common saying, ‘make lemons out of lemonade’. In my experience, in most of the cases where guilt is overtaking one’s emotions, it is simply because that person is focusing on the lemons not the lemonade!
The good news is, no matter why you feel guilty, even if you can’t change a situation or action you have taken in the past, you can definitely take control of your emotions and all actions you will take in the future.
So next time you feel guilty, follow these directions for making a delicious and refreshing lemonade:
1. Inspect the lemons
Ask yourself, “What is the standard I am violating?” Sometimes you will discover that you aren’t actually violating your own standard, you may be violating someone else’s standard which would make what you are feeling shame not guilt. If that is the case, take the bulls by its horns and create your own standard that feels right!
2. Start squeezing those lemons!
Find different actions you can take that would replace those feelings of regret with feelings of pride and accomplishment
3, Add the sugar
Congratulate yourself either for taking control of your emotions and being able to right your wrongs, or for realizing that what you originally thought was a lemon was really a sweet orange.