Breaking Free

3 Ways To Ditch Your Guilt For Good

Dr. Hayley Bauman

The other day, I was musing aloud about what my next blog-post topic should be, when my daughter said, “Maybe you should talk about the importance of feeling your feelings.”

Pretty insightful for a seven-year-old!

But, since I always need to put my own spin on things, I’m going to talk about the one feeling that you don’t have to feel: GUILT.

Well, let me clarify. Guilt does have a purpose, if you are considering committing a homicide, for example. But, most people who struggle with feelings of guilt haven’t killed anyone, or, even pretended that someone else’s iced caramel macchiato was theirs at Starbucks. No, what plagues most mortals is guilt over TAKING CARE OF THEMSELVES.

In my practice, I hear ALL the reasons why people can’t say “No,” to things that they don’t really want to do. Whether it’s family, work, or school obligations, or fear of disappointing someone, these voices are loud and, unfortunately, proud. Yet, what people sometimes forget is that saying “Yes,” for the wrong reasons will eventually lead to chaos. It may take days, weeks, or a year, but at some point the pot will blow over, and you will find yourself knee-deep in Cheetos, wondering how you got there.

So, in the interest of saving you from that orange disaster, here are three ways to ditch your guilt before it takes over:

Recognize Guilt For What It Is

In the world of addiction and recovery, guilt is seen as a withdrawal symptom from codependency. In a codependent relationship, one person is constantly meeting the needs of the other, and, possibly enabling the other person to continue his or her self-destructive behavior. When the codependent person stops focusing solely on the other person’s needs, and starts to focus on herself, major feelings of guilt often ensue.

These feelings of guilt stem from the area of the brain called the Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex, which helps us assess whether certain rewards in our lives will be worth the consequences. In plain speak, a codependent person would feel a positive reward if she said “No,” to her partner’s constant need for approval, but she would dread the consequences of his behavior. Without intervention, her dread would likely win this internal fight, however, simply becoming aware of this conflict can help her to overrule her guilt, and make a conscious decision to act in her own best interest. Amazingly, this will also help change her brain, to make it easier to act for herself in the future!

Turn Guilt Into Gratitude

Instead of focusing on what you aren’t doing for someone else, focus on the gift that you are giving to yourself. Practice saying “Thank you,” instead of “I’m sorry”, for a week, and watch how your feelings change. Not only will this help you cut down on your guilt, but it will also help those around you feel loved and appreciated.

Give The Present Of Your Presence

By saying “No,” to what you don’t want to do, and making more time for yourself, you will actually be MORE available to those around you when you do spend time with them. Focus on quality instead of quantity when it comes to your interactions with others. Put down the electronics and soak in the moment with loved ones. Remember, it only takes a second to make a memory that lasts forever.

If you want to learn more about untangling yourself from the constraints of guilt, contact me. I’m here to help!