"I feel like I let everyone down."
"I shouldn't have done that."
"How can I live with myself?"
This self talk is how guilt manifests itself in our heads. Guilt presents itself when we act in a manner that clashes with what our values are. It can be caused by something as simple as telling a lie, to something as serious as committing fraud. While guilt is not a pleasant emotion to feel, it acts like a moral compass and allows us to reflect on what we've done, and then make changes that will ensure it doesn't happen again in the future.
Guilt becomes a problem when it settles in and decides to stay for a while. The daily dose of negative self talk and shame is definitely not constructive. When feeding into the guilt becomes a habit, it can really take a toll on our self esteem and prevent us from creating the change that's needed to become the best version of ourselves. If you experience any of the below, you may have some excessive guilt in your life.
- You are quick to get defensive about your actions.
- You create excuses even when they haven't been challenged.
- You replay the act that caused the guilt over and over in your mind.
- You decline opportunities because you don't think you deserve them.
- You struggle to forgive yourself.
Try these tips to help rid yourself of the guilt you're carrying:
1. Own Your Failures
Every mistake should be looked at as an opportunity to learn. Before you get rid of your guilt, it needs to be addressed. Take some time to reflect on it's source, what went wrong, and how you can prevent it from happening again in the future. The mistakes we make can help us gain wisdom and compassion if we look at them as an opportunity to learn and grow.
2. Change Your Self Talk
When you feel excessive guilt about something, try replacing your negative self talk, with something a little more positive. for example, instead of thinking "I don't feel great, but I should have gone to my friends party", shift to "I was feeling a bit sick and my friends would probably appreciate the fact that I didn't want to expose them to it."
3. Learn To Forgive
So you did something that you're not too proud of. That's part of being a human being. In order to get rid of guilt, you need to forgive yourself. Sometimes, talking through your guilt with someone else, like a talk therapist, can often lighten the burden. If you're not quite comfortable with disclosing the source of your guilt, looking in the mirror and having a conversation with yourself can also be effective. You can also try writing a positive affirmation letter to yourself, or removing an item from your life that brings back memories of your guilt.