From the colourful spectrum of human emotions, guilt is one of the darkest, most uncomfortable, and most destructive. Guilt sneaks up on you like the ghost of an uneasy dream but you’ll sense its presence in the way your chest flounders beneath its heavy weight.
Much like worry, guilt is a pretty superfluous emotion. Maybe it’ll stop you from performing a certain guilt-inducing activity again but, more than likely, like some masochistic idiot, you will do these things again, thus welcoming guilt back into your life like a bittersweet drug habit. Guilt sure makes you feel bad but it doesn’t stop you from snapping at your loved ones, reaching for that large bag of Maltesers, or, instead of going to college, lounging in your pyjamas all day as you consume an entire season of Grey’s Anatomy.
“Unhealthy guilt is an autoimmune disease of the soul that causes us to literally reject our own worth as human beings.” Joan Borysenko
Guilt is a sticky subject. Should we discuss how to deal with guilt or should we simply avoid the activities that lead to this unwelcome emotion? If you have a propensity towards feeling guilty, then most anything you do will cause you some level of this ugly emotion. So, when guilt comes knocking at your door, here’s what to do:
1) Don’t punish yourself further
Okay, so you cheated on your partner/skipped class/ate all the pies/drank too much, but this awful feeling should be enough punishment. Guilt affects you physically and robs you of any enjoyment. You have two options: you can decide never to do these things again, or you can accept that what’s done is done and that feeling guilty about it isn’t going to change anything. So, make peace with yourself and with anyone you may have hurt along the way.
2) Accept it
Accept that this is how you’re feeling right now. It will pass. Don’t fight it or it will tighten its grasp over you. If you stand still with it, you’ll simply slip out of its clutches, relatively unharmed.
3) Don’t run from it
Confront this cunning emotion head on. As it sprays you with its familiar but overpowering perfume, inhale it. Pick out the individual scents and explore how they make you feel. If you do this, you’ll be able to work out why you’re feeling this way and what you can do about it.
4) Question it
Now’s the time to interrogate this crafty mofo. Why are you here? What do you want from me? More than likely, it’ll give you the info you’re seeking. And then you can throw it by the wayside. If you cheated on your beautiful, caring wife, ask yourself why. If you can’t stop your late night bingeing, consider the emotions you’re trying to bury. If you continue with your Call of Duty marathons instead of attending class, maybe this course isn’t for you. Or maybe you can’t get over the label of “lazy so-and-so” your mother attached to you. Or you’re terrified of failure. The only reason we feel bad is to direct us towards change. But it’s too easy to get stuck in the emotion. So, allow it to wash over you, then ask why it’s there.
5) Ignore it
If, after accepting and questioning it, the guilt still persists, ignore it. Like an attention-seeking toddler, it just wants you to fuss over it. But if you ignore it, it’ll get bored, stop its fake wails, and move on to some other poor sucker.
Guilt is one of those bad feelings that will eat away at your insides if you allow it to do so. If you dwell on the “shoulds” or “shouldn’t haves”, you’re just feeding it, giving it more energy, and allowing it to grow. Treat guilt like an important but annoying visitor. Be polite, hand it a cuppa, and chat to it for a while, but if you make the mistake of offering it a meal, a bed, and your undivided attention, no wonder it’s not going to want to leave.
Guilt doesn’t have to be useless. Use it to learn more about yourself. It’s only when you dwell on the guilt that it’ll immobilise you. And recognise when you’re feeling guilty over something that’s not worth worrying about. Don’t take life so seriously. Give yourself permission to indulge in your guilty pleasures. Just don’t wallow in the guilt.
Lady Gaga music videos are just one of my guilty pleasures: