We have all experienced guilt at one point or another. Likely during those times we’ve wished to never experience that feeling again. We can’t just wipe out a whole feeling but we can learn to embrace it and harness its power as a motivational tool. Let’s banish negative guilt from our lives.
What Is Guilt? Why Does It Hold You Back?
When was the last time you felt guilty?
Think back to when you were a child. Remember the time you lied to your parents, your friends, cheated in gym class? Back then guilt was almost an unbearable feeling. You felt this terrible need to tell someone, to confess. The weight of your actions weighed on you until you told someone what you did.
As we grew up, the things we had to feel guilty about grew and for some of us, our urge to come clean shrunk. It went from an unbearable urge to confess to this compulsion to hide whatever is causing the feeling. Over the years guilt has become synonymous with shame.
Think about how you feel when you’re guilty. That sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, the heart palpitations every time you thinking about whatever is causing the guilt. It’s a feeling most of us try our best to avoid. By definition it is the feeling that you are deserving of blame for something, feeling responsible for a wrong doing.
Generally, guilt is a feeling we try to avoid. By thinking about the potential negative feelings involved it impacts our decision-making profess. If something is going to make me feel guilty, why would I do it? The potential for these feelings leads us to action. Hopefully, it leads us to do “the right thing.”
When Guilt is Bad
Think back to your days in elementary school. Remember when the teacher would ask if you did your homework? You nodded your head so you wouldn’t get in trouble. Then you spent the rest of the day worried about getting caught, every look the teacher gave you meant she knew. You spent the rest of the day looking over your shoulder waiting for someone to expose your secret. Not doing your homework and lying about it made you feel guilty. But, I’d bet you made sure your homework was done next time. With any luck, this one instance of guilt lead you to a successful academic career.
But sometimes it can be a bad thing. Something that holds us back from achieving the things we want out of life. We feel guilty about spending time and money growing a side business, furthering our careers or nurturing our hobbies. Sometimes we feel guilty for taking a risk, even knowing it’s likely to pay off. The risk impacts our sense of security. The risk and associated guilt is doubly high a spouse or children to worry about.
By working on things that are important to us, we’re taking time away from our loved ones, from pursuits that while they may not make us happy provide security. There are sacrifices related to everything. We don’t get to tuck the kids in at night because we’re taking night classes or working late. It’s easy to fall into this trap even when we know what we’re doing is important and worthwhile.
In short, like so many other things in life, guilt can be a good or bad thing. I can provide motivation or hold us back. If handled right, guilt can be something that encourages us to work harder and achieve our goals. But, sometimes that’s not the case. Guilt becomes an excuse. We might put off going back to school so we can be home to tuck our kids in at night. We might never pursue our awesome business idea because the time required is too great. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to your feelings of guilt. It’s important to find and determine if those feelings are productive or just holding you back.
Over the next few days we’re going to take a good look at these guilty feelings. We’re going to examine them, we’re going to look at whether that guilt is helping us achieve our goals or preventing us from even trying.
That’s the big problem with guilt. Sometimes it holds us back, it stops us from doing the things we really want to do. Guilt is problematic when it starts to hold us back, when it prevents us from giving our all. If you feel bad about missing dinner with your family, you’re not going to be fully present and committed in that client meeting or the class you’re taking. If the guilt you’re feeling is keeping you from committing fully and giving it your all. It’s holding you back.
This guilt is taking the joy our of something that should be exciting and rewarding. This may not seem like a big deal at first glance. After all, people do things without enjoying them all the time. But this lack of joy is costing your positive energy, drive, and motivation. This is what makes it harder to keep going when things get tough. Guilt leads to us giving up easier than you should. It may seem insignificant, but in the end all those things add up and take a toll on your motivation and ambition.
The guilt also gives you an easy excuse to give up. Life isn’t easy and any goal worth reaching takes work and effort. You will fail at some point. When that happens it’s important to get right back in the driver’s seat and keep going. Guilt makes you want to let it all go. Sometimes it’s easier to give up than to keep pushing hard, solve problems, or resolve conflicts we’d rather avoid. That guilty feeling may be just the excuse you were looking for to justify giving up.
By addressing these feelings of guilt and working through them, you can greatly improve your chances of reaching those goals. When we look at our emotions and manage them effectively, we set ourself up for success.
Follow this blog and check back on Tuesday when we’ll do a bit of self-reflection and look at exactly where this guilt is coming from.
Is guilt holding you back from doing things you really want to do? How do you cope with it?
If you found this helpful you might also be interested in learning How to Say ‘No’ without feeling bad.
If this is something your struggle with a lot, you might benefit from reading Escaping Toxic Guilt by Susan Carrell.