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Letting go of guilt

Feeling guilty is part of the human condition and it can take many shapes and forms. Psychologist Guy Winch (Emotional First Aid) estimates that many of us experience a mild feeling of guilt for at least 2 hours a day. This can go up to five hours a week of feeling moderately guilty and three and a half hours a month of experiencing guilt in a severe form. We hang onto feelings of guilt for years or sometimes even a lifetime.

Guilt can be an expression of an imbalance in our relationship with others or related to expectations that we set for ourselves. We can feel guilty about not being a perfect parent, child, partner, unkind words, as well as injustice in the world. It really isn’t very hard to find things to feel guilty about all day long.

Sometimes guilt can be positive, it motivates us to bring balance and equality in our relationships. Talking about our sense of guilt with others can also help us to become clear about where our own boundaries lie in how we relate to each other.

Guilt can holds us back though and even make us physically ill. A good way to start tackling guilty feelings can be to examine whether the guilt is justified or not. There are different ways to deal with justified guilt, but there really is very little point in hanging onto feelings of guilt that are unjustified.

So how can we let go of some of these everyday feelings of guilt?

  • Change your expectations to ‘good enough’ rather than perfect. Many of us feel the need to project our ‘ideal self’ to others. It can be helpful to explore what that version is, e.g. do we want to be the life and soul of every party or be an unfaltering loyal friend. Understanding which particular unrealistic expectation we are trying to fulfill can help us examine and reduce feelings of guilt related to this.

  • Self -awareness. Most of our behaviour is driven by our sub conscious, which can lead to miscommunication, feelings of guilt or anger towards others. Research has shown that people with greater self -knowledge experience less guilt.

  • Give and Take. Research shows that giving makes us feel good. So don’t feel guilty when you are on the receiving end and allow others a feeling of satisfaction.

  • Recognise your talents. Just because somebody else cooks great meals for you does not mean you have to turn into a master chef yourself. Look at where your own strengths are and use these to repay any debts.

  • Does it belong to you or to the other person? We all project onto others and often when we receive an accusation it is nothing to do with us, but says more about what is going on in someone else’s life.

Letting go of guilt can bring a new sense of freedom and create a welcome space for feelings that can bring us joy instead.

Topic: Anxiety