I was hitchhiking through the North and South islands of New Zealand one summer, many moons ago. A life coach and his girlfriend picked me up at Pancake Rocks (not as delicious as it sounds, but quite beautiful rock formations) and gave me a lift back to town. They were kind and personable and invited me to stay with them whenever I arrived back in Aukland.
A month or so later, I was staying with them for a week. I was struggling with anxiety quite a bit at that time and the life coach offered to do some sessions with me to see if we could pinpoint what was going on.
“Only agree to these sessions if you are really ready to be done with anxiety. Like really ready,” he said. I agreed with skepticism, but those few sessions with him changed my life and did significantly decrease anxiety for many years.
Now the details are a story for another time, but I share this much with you because it was through these sessions where I realized that guilt was motivating pretty much everything I did.
I woke up because I felt guilty for sleeping in. I went to work because I would feel guilty for calling in sick. I exercised at ate well because I felt guilty for not doing the things that I “should.” The list goes on, but I even felt guilty for feeling guilty all of the time!
Does this sound familiar? Hopefully not to this extreme, but for whatever reason, we have a very guilt-motivated culture. We manipulate with guilt and bring guilt upon ourselves, consciously or unconsciously.
This is quite unfortunate for many reasons, but particularly because guilt is heavy, sticky, and laden with anxiety. It’s a feeling that does more harm than good in the long run.
During those life coaching sessions, I realized just how much harm guilt can do and that guilt was a huge source of my anxiety.
I invite you to have an honest look as to what role guilt has in your life. How does this emotion fuel your actions? How does it contribute to anxiety or depression or self-worth? Where is it even coming from?
The way that I started to shift my way of functioning was
1) realizing that that is a silly way to live and
2) using the initial feeling of guilt as a trigger, a warning sign that I’m doing or feeling something that doesn’t align with who I am. Or it’s a trigger of an old pattern or way of thinking that doesn’t serve me anymore and I can consciously let it go.
I came to this 'using guilt for good' thing from my own experiences, but apparently I’m not alone in this. A little lady named Brene Brown also has some thoughts about guilt.
“I’m just going to say it: I’m pro-guilt. Guilt is good. Guilt helps us stay on track because it’s about our behavior. It occurs when we compare something we’ve done – or failed to do – with our personal values.”
Yes! Using guilt for good from Ms. Brown herself!
So next time you experience guilt, really dig in there. What is that about? What is that guilt trying to tell you? How can you transform it into something good and productive?
You are too good to walk around feeling guilty all of the time. I dare say that no one who truly loves you and cares for you would want you to function that way.
So flip that guilt frown upside down and see how your life starts to shift. I can say from experience that life is so much lighter without it.