Guilt is a necessary emotion. It’s our way of helping us correct our path when things get out of hand. Unfortunately, it has a nasty habit of hanging around for much longer than it was intended to. It’s all too easy for a guilty person to embrace guilt as though it were a penance in its own right.
It’s not. Feeling guilty for doing something wrong is a good thing. It’s healthy but living in guilt all day, every day? It’s a disaster for you mentally and emotionally and if it goes on for long enough it can even take a physical toll.
Here are five tips to help you let go of your guilt:
· Acknowledge you did the best you could. Sure, you may have gotten it wrong but back at the moment of action, you were acting on the information you had to hand in the best way possible. You might have had anger, fear, anxiety or even just plain old distraction to deal with. Once you recognize you acted in the right spirit even if the consequences were wrong — you can start to forgive yourself.
· Acknowledge that hindsight is 20–20. I refuse to believe that we deliberately sabotage ourselves, but it can certainly feel like it when we look back on something and have all the information including the end result to hand. It’s not the way life works. You’re being unfair to judge yourself in this light; again you do what you can when you have to. Let it go.
· If you have survived an incident when someone else has not. It can help to just stop and think and truly internalize that you do not carry any blame for somebody’s death (unless you acted to take their life deliberately). “Survivor’s guilt” is a real and debilitating form of guilt but it’s a misplaced feeling. You hold no guilt whatsoever, the more you repeat that message, the easier it is for your brain to grasp it.
· Ask if you are attributing a motive to an action that you didn’t have at the time you took action? This sounds complicated but it’s not. Our memory is not real. It’s a carefully constructed story that our brain tells us to give us a sense of coherent self. Much of it is pure fabrication. So, when something goes wrong, it’s perfectly possible for the brain to justify that by deciding we acted in spite or with malice — when we really didn’t. Ask yourself are you given to acting in mean spirits? If not, let it go. You almost certainly weren’t acting that way at the time either.
· Recognize that your own standards may be too high. Some of the best people on earth set themselves impossibly high standards, the kind of standards that Mother Theresa or Gandhi might struggle to meet and which we lesser mortals are going to miss constantly. Perfectionists are especially likely to feel guilty. It’s time to recognize that nobody’s perfect even you.
These five tips are really simple. They ought not to take more than an hour to work through in your head and they can free you up from guilt almost immediately. When guilt becomes a burden, it’s time to take action to get rid of it — you don’t need it and you don’t deserve it.