Would You Feel Better Letting Go Of Guilt?

August 30, 2013 at 11:56 am | Posted in Articles | Leave a comment
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The sounds of the summer are starting to fade.  Looking back at the great expanse of time some of us see as “the low season” (ie August!), it may just be that you, like me, didn’t get anywhere near as much “done” as you had hoped.

“I feel so guilty” are words I often hear from colleagues (and in my own head too) because of time apparently “wasted” and tasks left undone.  There is often self-reproach for spending too much time on social media, not replying fast enough to emails, not following-up networking contacts…the list goes on.   In my clients too, there is often guilt as they look back at their behaviour and its impact on their relationships.

The trouble with guilt and regret is that both are debilitating and of no use.  iStock_000005994502XSmall

To stop them, we first need to look at their cause.

Guilt is generally the product of a clash between a belief and an action.  To relieve the guilt, one of the two needs to change.

Obviously we can’t change the action if it’s in the past.  So, as there’s no point agonizing over the unchangeable, it’s therefore useful to consider what beliefs are creating the guilt, and check them out.

Let’s take an example of something I heard recently.

“I feel so guilty because I spent too much time mucking about over the summer and not getting the important stuff done”.

Whatever she did or didn’t do can’t be changed, so what beliefs are there, creating the guilt?

The most obvious ones are

  • what she did was “mucking about”
  • she didn’t get the important stuff done

First of all I asked her on both counts whether the statements were totally true.   Was she really mucking about, or was she relaxing and taking time out? Did she really get NO important stuff done?

Then we looked at what was implicit in the beliefs.  Is mucking about so bad?  Was what she was doing so unimportant? 

Turns out she had been spending time with her children.

See where I’m going……………?

It’s really helpful to become aware of our beliefs and thoughts, challenge them, check them out.  Often they are either not 100% true or we are choosing to focus on the negative rather than an equally plausible positive.

We can choose where we focus our attention, but often guilt is such a habitual response, we forget that we have a choice about where to focus.

When mistakes have been made and we’re really sure that what we have done was not for the best, the place to focus is the future and how we can do things differently.   For the most part, I feel grateful for the mistakes I’ve made in the past because, by learning from them, they’ve made me who I am today.

When I think about it differently I can see that most of my summer “mucking about” allowed me to relax, rejuvenate and reflect.  This means I am going into the new autumn season with renewed enthusiasm, creativity and energy.  I didn’t get as much “done” as I would like, but the time was certainly not wasted.

Focussing on an unchangeable past with remorse is not going to change it.  But focussing on what we can learn from it is more likely to result in renewed positivity (rather than guilt) and consequently is more likely to mean an even better future.

Juliette Smith

Relationship Coach


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