What does guilt look like to you? To me, guilt looks like a pile of dirty laundry. It looks like a wall half-painted. It looks like an unfinished letter, or a mistake at work. What does it feel like to you? For me it sits in my chest, deep within my core, pulling my shoulders taut and my stomach tense. It makes me want to bury my face and hide from everything and especially, everyone.
Guilt used to be a feeling I experienced all of the time. A year and a half ago I was in the depths of a codependent relationship, and in the midst of a self-esteem spiral. As my relationship ended I put myself in therapy and began putting my mental health and emotional well-being first.
When I started focusing inwards I was surprised by so much of what I found. I felt sick, I felt sad, I felt tired. I hated myself. And for some reason I felt guilty, about everything. As I worked through a lot of those emotions, learned coping mechanisms, and started to re-learn the language I use to talk about my body and mental health, I got really, REALLY tried of feeling guilty.
I decided I was not going to feel guilty anymore. Guilt is an important MOTIVATOR. It tells me when I need to DO SOMETHING. But it should never be the final feeling, the end result of our conscious and/or subconscious telling us to do something.
So whenever I found myself feeling guilty this is what I would do:
Let me give you an example. It’s Tuesday night, I feel an ache in my chest and I feel tense and I don’t know why. Instead of ignoring it I sit down, take a breath and ask myself what I am feeling. Is it guilt? Yes. I sit with the feeling – try to draw a line backwards in time, follow the thread to find what I am feeling guilty about. Okay, I am feeling guilty because I only took my dog on one long walk this week – there’s my reason. Would taking an action make something change? Yes – if I walk my dog more I will stop feeling guilty about it. She will get more exercise, all good things. So I take an action, I follow through, I walk my dog more. Guilt gone.
Here is another example. It’s Saturday morning, I wake up and my stomach feels tight. What am I feeling? Okay, guilt. I get myself a cup of tea, I ask myself, what am I feeling guilty about? Is there a reason for me to be feeling guilty? Two years ago I said something mean to someone who may or may not have deserved it. Do I need to feel guilty about this? No, I made amends, there is nothing left to say, the person is no longer in my life. I breathe, expel guilt, and move on.
I didn’t realize how much guilt was ruling (and ruining) the way I lived my life until I decided I didn’t want to feel it anymore.
I don’t make excuses for the way men treat me anymore. I don’t walk around carrying the weight, feeling incredibly guilty about other people’s choices. I feel lighter, I feel freer, and I feel more able to focus on the things that really count – my loved ones, my community, and my self.
Guilt is a choice, I hope you join me in not choosing it anymore.