This is part III of my blog 9 Things to Stop Feeling Guilty About. If you missed the first or second part, click here to catch up.
Feeling guilt or feeling guilty about a situation robs your present moment of all potentials: being happy, enjoying the now, being thankful for your life, as well as the opportunity to learn and grow… I could go on and on about the toxic effects of guilt on your energy but let’s focus on the reasons why you need to stop this vicious cycle today. In this 3-part blog series, I focus on 9 common actions or behaviors to which people typically attach guilt around, and why there is no reason to continue this pattern. Remember that living in guilt robs you of the endless possibilities of enjoying your life right now.
Express (or Keep) Your Point of View
Sometimes we choose to either keep things to ourselves or align with what others are saying even though we don’t agree with what is being said. We do this to “protect” our own views. There is a difference between “choosing our battles” in a manner where we select the best timing to share our opinions vs restricting the verbalization of our thoughts and preferences simply out of fear, which is a very common driver behind guilt. When you restrict your opinions out of guilt and this becomes a chronic pattern, the more it constricts your power to express who you really are. What is behind the guilt of expressing or keeping your point of view? Fear plays a big role behind guilt, for instance: there might be a fear of being judged. This may be based on the content of the opinion you’re expressing; or you might want to keep certain activities, such as favoring a particular team or practicing a specific sport or hobby under the radar, for fear of being judged or criticized in a disfavoring way.
So, how do you overcome this fear-based guilt? Well, for starters, keep in mind that balance IS key. What this means is whether you choose to express or keep your point of view to yourself, do it for the right reason or the intention that best aligns with your true you. Typically, if the intention behind not expressing yourself is to avoid things like judgement, confrontation or simply out of laziness, then by all means you’re indulging in allowing guilt to control your freedom and happiness. If, on the other hand, your intention behind expressing yourself is to honor who you really are (your values, beliefs, those who you believe in and love, etc.), then you are able to naturally discern when and where not to make your point of view known. This will allow you to feel zero internal conflict about which path you choose. Figure out the intention and you are on the path of removing guilt from expressing or keeping your point of view.
Ignore what Others Say About You
This is a big one for many people and honestly I can’t say that in the past, I have not included myself in this destructive category of over focusing too much on others’ opinions about me or my choices. In my coaching practice, I help a lot of people with getting detached from taking things personally, which is closely related to caring about others’ opinions of you. First, let me tell you how guilt relates to this topic: when you shift your focus and energy to what others think or say about you, what you are actually doing is tacitly giving the power of approval to others and when you transfer that power out of yourself, where it belongs, anything and everything that other people say about you becomes your behavioral map. When you don’t follow that map, then you feel guilt and you start questioning your every action, your words, your choices, your preferences, and in short your whole life. An acute manifestation of this guilt is someone who is living their life through the standards of someone else – whether that be a supervisor, a friend or a love partner. Think about those people who are always buying the type of clothes everyone else “approves” of but them, no matter how uncomfortable or pricey they may be; or those who never take a break or a vacation even though they desperately want and need one, or those who even have shaped their entire career and life around the opinion of someone close to them… have you ever come across anyone like that? And just to show you how innocuous this looks on the other side of the spectrum, where the manifestation of guilt may not be as intense: I used to care about what others would think or how they would perceive me if I wore a certain brand of boots or if I kept self-help books in my personal library. Thank God I got over that ridiculous behavior! I snapped out of it and decided that if I wanted to buy that puffy boot brand or read books written by self-help gurus, the only person whose opinion I should care about was my own and that if anyone wanted to judge me and have a judgmental opinion about me, well, that is their problem.
So, how do you detach from caring about what others say about you? It all starts with a simple declaration that even though you acknowledge that everyone is entitled to their opinion, you don’t necessarily have to accept their opinion as your standards for living. Love and respect yourself enough to enjoy the choices you make for your happiness. Start with something small first and make your way through the bigger challenges. For instance, leave work at a decent time because you had a productive day and you got a lot done and there’s no need to stay late simply out of fear of being criticized by others. Use your common sense, but start with a baby step and enjoy the freedom of ignoring the nonsense others may be saying about you.
Saying “no” when You Feel Like Saying “no”
I have a client who used to do anything to avoid having to say “no” to anyone who asked for anything and you know what her life looked like? Busy, filled with stress, void of peace, fulfillment or balance. Because she led her life this way, she would usually feel anger, lack of appreciation and she described herself as a victim of other people’s agendas. She never had time for herself because she kept giving it away to others who would fill her personal calendar; leaving her with zero time to even accomplish her own to-do list. Thankfully this client learned that saying “no” is an act of self-love and that it requires careful balance. Like this client, you start by figuring out what amount of “no” makes sense in your life and the why behind saying it. Saying no to someone because you don’t care does not apply. Saying no because you have priorities in your life and you are committed to respecting those priorities makes perfect sense. Saying no because you are afraid that people will form negative opinions of you is a guilt-driven behavior (this relates very closely to my two previous points), and is not healthy for you or your family. If you are one of those people who think they just “can’t say no” because that’s how they’re wired, think again. There is a priceless sense of freedom in being able to say “no” for the right reason.
So what are your thoughts on how guilt creeps into your life? Are you done with enabling it and need a few pointers to get yourself started with a guilt-free way of life? If so, let’s talk! I’m here to help.