Emotional baggage is something most of us are carrying around to some degree. After all, we are all shaped by our experiences. But it’s less about what the experiences do to us than what we do with them. We are shaped by what we choose to make those experiences mean about who we are, what we deserve, and what we are capable of.
If you are on a guilt trip then you are most likely feeling remorseful because of something you did – or even forgot to do. Guilt trips can be minor or something that has festered away at us for years. Here’s the thing though, guilt isn’t a switch you can flick on or off. It’s a gradual process of accepting you’re not perfect – and that being imperfect is OK.
This week and next week, I’ll share some guidance on accepting that imperfection. But for now, here are my thoughts on how to get over your guilt trip.
Whatever you – or anyone – did or didn’t do, you must accept that human beings will always do the best they can with the resources they have at the time. So, before you go beating yourself up, acknowledge that you were probably trying to do the right thing – even if that effort didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to. Perhaps you just didn’t have the knowledge or skills or insights that would have allowed you to handle the situation more effectively.
If you behaved badly, cut yourself some slack. Realise that although something didn’t work out well, you were probably doing the best you could at the time. Our life is full of paths to our destination, so it’s not surprising that we take the wrong one now and again. The key is to realise it’s the wrong path and to get back on the right one as soon as you can. Choose to let go of any guilt you feel because of your brief ‘detour’. After all, you can’t change the past but you can change what happens going forward.
Hindsight Is A Tool – Not A Weapon
When we are on our guilt trip we can easily replay the whole situation repeatedly in our heads, turning up the volume and emotion with each repeat. We cycle through the past and thus re-experience the shame and regret. If only we could go back, knowing what we know now, we would have done it differently, right?
Instead of using hindsight as a tool to further flagellate yourself, celebrate it. If you know you wouldn’t behave that way now, then you are clearly a different person than the one who behaved badly. Guilt is only possible if the experience you feel guilty about changed you. If it hadn’t, you wouldn’t be feeling the guilt. Perhaps you are older, a little wiser, have more knowledge or information than you did then, or you’ve mellowed a little, become more resilient or expanded your life experience.
Whatever the difference, you are different, so to continue punishing the new you for a mistake made by the old you doesn’t really seem fair, does it? Let it go.
Is Your Guilt False?
False guilt is guilt that doesn’t belong to you. I see this in my coaching work more than you might think. We know if guilt is ours, right? Not always. Often a person can assume someone else’s guilt and carry it as though it were their own.
For example, a parent can feel guilty when their child behaves badly–and this can still happen when your child is an adult because you’re the parent and feel responsible for them. By accepting guilt on their behalf, you are effectively shielding them from the consequences of their own behaviour. But no one grows up until they experience — and appreciate– the consequences of their actions.
It can also happen when the individual in question doesn’t take accountability for what they did, so someone else in their vicinity will carry that guilt on their behalf. If you recognise this, give the guilt back: It’s not yours to own. The other person needs to take responsibility, so they can move forward and continue to develop as an adult. But regardless of whether they do, the guilt is not yours. Return it to its rightful owner. Immediately!
Guilt Is Complex
Remember, guilt is usually about something you have done or said or something you should have done or said but didn’t. We can do and say things in the moment because of other stuff going on in our lives. For example, following a death, illness, stress or because of difficult relationships. This stuff can be the driver that moves us away from who we really are inside and transforms us into something or someone we don’t recognise. In other words, the way we behaved, even if it wasn’t great, doesn’t make us a horrible person. It just means we said something or did something that wasn’t so great at that time.
This isn’t about letting ourselves off the hook for bad behaviour, but it allows us to remember that “I am a good person but I did something stupid”, rather than “I did something stupid so I am a bad person”. This is a very important distinction because it allows us to isolate the incident, rather than allowing it to negatively impact our self-esteem and sense of self. Ask yourself, “If I had another chance, would I have handled things differently?” or “Would I handle it differently in the future?” If the answer is yes, then it shows the problem lies not with you as a person, it was your behaviour or action at the time that you regret.
To Sum Up
Guilt is an emotion, not a personality trait. It’s something we create but that doesn’t mean we can’t reflect on our actions and make peace going forward. Ultimately, beating yourself up about what you did or didn’t do won’t change anything about the situation. But, you can use this time of reflection to consider if you would have handled things in a better way and learn from it.
As a therapist and life coach, I help my clients with a variety of topics including personal development. If you are ruminating over past situations and feel unable to move on, then talking about it could be a useful outlet. I am currently running virtual life coach sessions available internationally, so get in touch if it’s something that would be of benefit to you.
Want a better night’s sleep? Try The Paula Meir Sleep Hypnosis. Now with 50% off when you use the code SLEEPWELL50.
We make choices all the time, from whether we want tea or coffee, to what we will wear to work. Even what we’re having for dinner. Most of these are easy and quick. The choices can be obvious or not. Sometimes, we decide not to choose. We will simply stick our heads in the sand and resist making any choice at all. But I would argue this is, too, is a choice. This often comes down to a culmination of stress or an institutionalised situation where we’ve lived with something so long we’ve lost all hope of an alternative reality.
Ironically, it’s often when we need most new ideas and options that our creativity and ability to muster those options seem to desert us. That’s perfectly natural, but it’s also dangerous. Of course, when this happens it can be very easy to find other people who are more than willing to make the choice for you. In fact, you need to be vigilant, because other people may try to make your choices for you. This can happen even when you have a clear idea of what you want.
Here are my thoughts on the danger of giving up your choice.
Your Choice Is Yours Alone
“It takes courage to do what you want. Other people have a lot of plans for you. Nobody wants you to do what you want to do. They want you to go on their trip, but you can do what you want. I did. I went into the woods and read for five years.” – Joseph Campbell
If you don’t choose for yourself, someone else will choose for you. Beware of other people closing down your options or diminishing your possibilities before you have had time to fully explore them for yourself. Remember, other people’s advice is usually a reflection of what they would do (or not do) in the situation, often based on their past experience – not yours.
Their insight may not be what’s best for you. Of course, it’s always wise to seek advice and gather more information. As I mentioned in the previous post, it took a friend’s insight to help me make some important shifts in my own perspective.
That’s very different, however, from letting other people make your choices for you. Take what advice makes sense to you and gives you fresh ideas and leave the rest. Don’t tie any emotion or judgement to those opinions.
Above all, don’t get railroaded. Set your boundaries. We’ve discussed this before, but it bears repeating. Remember, this is your life. It’s up to you to set your own boundaries so others can’t manipulate you.
Hard choices are often so because we have to communicate those choices to those we care about, who may or may not understand the reasons. If you can help them understand, do so, but all that matters is that you understand your reasons. Your reasons are good enough.
Find Out More
Are you ready to make your own choices? Need help setting boundaries? My latest book, Your Life Your Way, offers insights, tips and tactics that give you the tools you need to live your life, your way.
Want a better night’s sleep? Try The Paula Meir Sleep Hypnosis. Now with 50% off when you use the code SLEEPWELL50.
Are you stuck with grief or currently going through the grieving process? Taking each day one step at a time is a powerful and practical mantra when you are dealing with loss or bereavement. Think of it like narrowing the beam of a spotlight: it reminds you to just focus on what you need to deal with right now. This, in turn, helps to minimise the feeling of being overwhelmed and also gives you direction during a very directionless time.
The focus on now also helps you maintain motion, which is essential for working through the process. It helps you avoid unhelpful thought loops about what was or what will be that can so easily keep you stuck. Here are my tips on how to move forward when you’re stuck with grief.
When You Are Stuck With Grief Put One Foot In front Of The Other
When you get stuck it’s debilitating and exhausting. Life cannot continue normally, and the impact on you and those around you can be significant. Be gentle with yourself but also firm. Take one day at a time and you will emerge from your grief as surely as night follows day. Don’t overthink anything, and don’t berate yourself if you don’t feel better in a few weeks; but at the same time, don’t allow yourself to wallow in the loss for years.
The person you have lost would not want you to stop living. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and a brighter day will arrive. You will always miss that person, and there will always be moments that remind you of them and retrigger your grief, but the day will come when you can manage that sadness and still look forward to life instead of constantly looking back.
Keep Talking If You Feel Stuck With Sorrow
Share memories, experiences and how you feel with close family and friends. This is why we have a wake. It allows people to come together and remember the person, share stories and experience more than just sadness at the loss.
Sharing in this way also helps us to reconnect to happy times, which can help the healing process. For your sanity and peace of mind, try to limit your sharing with people outside your close circle. They won’t necessarily understand your experience and it may just end up feeling uncomfortable.
Find A (Healthy) Way To Express Your Grief
Consider starting a journal and writing down how you feel each day. Express yourself fully in the pages and allow it to become a cathartic, self-healing process. Another option is to sing or paint how you feel. The key is to express yourself in whatever way helps you to come to terms with your loss and move forward with your own life.
Don’t Rush The Grieving Process
Shock and disbelief can cause your brain to short-circuit for a while. This is normal. Don’t rush it, or force yourself to pull yourself together. You feel what you feel, so just allow yourself to feel that emotion.
Being active can be good, but not at the expense of your health and wellbeing. If you have a lot of decisions to make (especially if they aren’t urgent) then don’t rush them. Whilst amid grief, you aren’t thinking with a clear head. Instead, take the time to breathe and think about the best solution. That way you’re a lot less likely to regret your decision.
Practice Gratitude When You Feel Stuck With Grief
As much as you are going through one of the most difficult times in your life, you have to find reasons to live for. At the very least – you need to do this for your wellbeing if not for the benefit of those around you. Include something from the person you lost if you want to, or just from life itself. This is a great way of regaining perspective and coming to appreciate that you still have lots to live for. This is a great technique for all of us to use, regardless of our circumstances.
Consider Grief Counselling
If you are struggling and can’t seem to move forward, you may want to consider grief counselling. There are some wonderful bereavement counselling groups and therapists that could help you. While nothing can bring the person back, grief counsellors can help you find a way through this most difficult time. It’s something that many shy away from, when in fact talking is what you need most. So, I encourage you to at least research the idea especially if you are struggling.
I hope you have found the above tips on how to move forward when you’re stuck with grief helpful. For more guidance on coping, consider reading my latest book, Your Life Your Way.
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