Hello Again Friend,
I have called this week’s blog post “Grace Upon Grace” because it sounds much prettier than “Rid Yourself of Unnecessary Guilt”, although that would perhaps be a more appropriate title.
For me personally, years of overwhelming guilty feelings were a major contributor to overwhelming anxiety that eventually led to overwhelming depression. Guilt is such a strange, useless emotion and so, I would like to state from the beginning of this post, that you are a human being. Therefore you cannot attain perfection. We are all a little bit crap. It’s not just you. So drop the unrealistic standards, breathe a sigh of relief, and let’s continue.
When I googled “guilt as a cause of anxiety”, a squillion articles appeared. Therefore I figured this wasn’t an issue only I had dealt with, and sharing my ideas on this could potentially help some other friends.
In church, we often quote a verse, which is very helpful when it comes to unnecessary guilt. Romans 8:1 says “Therefore there is now no condemnation [no guilty verdict, no punishment] for those who are in Christ Jesus”. Anyhow, the verse is helpful because it helps us to know that if we are feeling condemned, or shameful or guilty, that that is not God, and it is not good. We use another term in church – conviction. Conviction is helpful. Conviction is that little voice in your head that alerts you to the fact that you may have just said or done something that is a little bit crap. I.e. said or done something that violates your personal moral code. When conviction speaks, there is no guilt or shame attached, you are simply presented with an opportunity to acknowledge the mistake, confess/make amends if you need to, and move on with a clear conscience. Once guilt, shame, and fear become involved, we have crossed into condemnation territory, this territory doesn’t tend to help initiate any positive behaviour change and is just simply, not helpful to anyone, least of all, you.
Obsessing over our guilt and shame causes our mind’s defence mechanisms to come into play, suppressing our awareness of the guilty feelings and doing nothing to solve the problem. Guilt can be temporarily buried, but it will always surface again and mess up your life in many ways:
Your self-image can be distorted, because you feel as though you are hiding something, which makes you dislike yourself, as well as thinking that other people can see your “spots”. Spoiler alert: They can’t. They legitimately have no idea, mostly because your logic for feeling guilty is rubbish in the first place.
That energy you are using to suppress your guilt, takes up so much of your valuable energy, robbing you and consequently the world around you of your gifts and talents.
Feeling guilty can make you act like an asshat. People who feel guilty tend to put others down. This is one of our primitive defence mechanisms, to see others as being as rubbish as we feel.
Feeling guilty can give you a really short fuse. When we are consistently critical of ourselves, we have open wounds. If someone else prods at these wounds, we can react disproportionately.
Guilt can also make us feel paranoid. This is caused by projection, another primitive defence mechanism.
Guilt can make you sabotage your own success. We deny ourselves an achievement or prize to pay for our guilt. The problem with this is, it doesn’t work, and therefore we repeat the cycle.
Left unchecked, unjustified guilt is linked to substance abuse, sexual disorders and a variety of other self-sabotaging behaviours.
So friend, you are left with two options: to face the music and ditch this useless feeling for good or continue to kick yourself in the shins because you once nicked a cookie and blamed it on the neighbours dog.
So, how do I get rid of the guilt I hear you ask? Well, Dr Leon F Seltzer and I have some ideas.
- Realise that regardless of what you did, you were doing the best you knew how at the time. You used the best judgement available to you in that moment. Acknowledge that given the circumstances of that moment, you acted in the only way you saw fit.
- Acknowledge that at the time of your mistake, you didn’t know what you know now. It is really cruel to blame yourself for acting in a way that you would have avoided if you had more awareness or knowledge than you did at the time. “Hindsight is always 20/20”. The information was not accessible to you at the time and therefore, you cannot expect yourself to have acted as though it was.
- Stop being so hard on yourself for mistakes that everyone makes from time to time. You might think that by letting yourself off the hook for a mistake, you are somehow more likely to repeat the mistake. But the contrary is true. If you’re less nervous/distracted by the possibility of making a mistake you are less likely to repeat it.
- Even if by chance you were directly responsible for an accident, do you think anyone makes it through life without mistakes? We all have lapses in judgement. What makes you reluctant to forgive yourself? Do you really need to think less of yourself just because you’re as human as the rest of us?
- The behavioural ideals you have set for yourself might be too high. Someone else might have even forced these upon you. Endlessly striving for perfection is a guaranteed set-up for failure and low self-esteem.
Friend, I’ve no doubt that you have made mistakes. Be assured, you will continue to make them. But your mistakes weren’t made out of pure malice, you are worthy of grace and compassion. And when you get on the path to giving yourself sufficient grace, you’ll find there is less and less for which you even need to forgive yourself.
So my friend, this week I challenge you to give yourself a freaking break. Look back at the circumstances that make you feel guilty and I can guarantee you you were only doing the absolute best you knew how, in the circumstances you found yourself. You were not an asshat for no reason. You have given yourself a hard time long enough to cause a degree of mental illness and that is long enough.
So, confess your mistakes to whoever you know needs to hear your confession, make amends if you can and then let it go. Watch people love you anyway. You are not unforgiveable, you are not unloveable. You are a human being, and we’re all a bit crap sometimes.