GUILT: I think it imperative to discuss this often felt feeling. I’d like to close this year with some thoughts on how guilt (yes, guilt) can bring you a more fulfilling and peaceful life. GUILT IS USEFUL TO FEEL!
Guilt lets you know someone or something is not being respected. Guilt lets you know when you are not following your values. Guilt lets you know that you are grieving your inability to do it all. Guilt lets you know when you are not caring for yourself and others or at least not well enough. Guilt is useful as it can nudge you into changing your behaviours.
When you feel guilty it can be because you are being yourself while believing somebody else’s values are actually yours. This one assails most of us. The difficulty lies in striving to be yourself while maintaining your parents’ beliefs and values. This may not fit very well. Guilt brings on a wide variety of physical, emotional, and spiritual symptoms. When you feel guilty, sleep can be difficult as may be eating. When you feel guilty, you may be irritable and ashamed. Guilt is useful as it can nudge you into self-examination and personal growth.
Guilt, and its associated moods and behaviours, indicate that you may need to grow up into your reality. Yes, this means your life, not some fictitious life of make-believe of how you think your life would or should or could be if circumstances were different. When you allow guilt to teach you you can come around to accepting yourself and your life “warts and all”.
Guilt sometimes is simply there to remind you that compassion is needed in general everyday life. When you are able to let go of doing it all, commonly referred to as over-extending, you are able to let your natural compassion come forth. Burn-out is not useful for anyone, so by paying attention to GUILT, an early sign of burn-out, you are going to be able to readjust and let go as you become more fully you. When you choose to not burn-out, you are being very respectful of yourself and for those for whom you care.
Some very useful questions to ask yourself when you are feeling guilty are:
- How old do you feel? If you feel young, most likely you are also feeling relatively powerless and controlled. I recommend that you remind yourself that you are actually choosing to care for this person. If it’s too much for you share the load.
- What lets you know that you are feeling guilty? You may feel it in your stomach, or perhaps you get a stiff neck, or even a headache. Responding early to this warning sign will make you feel better and interrupt the burn-out cycle.
- Who is saying that you should be feeling guilty? This can be very complicated. Basically, when this happens someone believes themselves to be superior to you. If you believe this too, I suggest that you ask them how they could help you in your difficulties. This engages their belief that “they know better” and can reduce your guilt virtually immediately. If you think they are on even-footing to you, I suggest that you remind yourself that this is your choice (difficult as this may sound) to heed their words at your expense. Guilt is a very well-used weapon in this society. Beware.
- Are you the only one able to do this? This happens to most of us so be gentle with yourself as you read this. Frequently, when you find yourself overloaded and feeling guilty you are harbouring an omniscient view of yourself. How arrogant! Remember, you are not the only one able to care for this person unless you choose it to be so.
M. Allison Reeves, M.A., R.C.C. (250-595-5441) is a Registered Clinical Counsellor in private practice. She welcomes new clients.
Network News, Vol.15, No.5, January 2001