Guilt is a key inhibitor to joy.
“I feel guilty when…” You fill in the blank. When talking about failed attempts at lifestyle changes, this phrase is probably the most commonly used one. The message: that feeling guilty is an appropriate, if not acceptable, reason for not following through on great self-care is wreaking havoc on our bodies, minds, and souls. Because you feel guilty does not indicate you care more about something or someone. It’s very likely that the word guilt is not really the true meaning of what you are feeling.
Let’s check this out. Write out on a piece of paper what guilt means to you. Now, look at its definition and synonyms and see if you really mean what you say.
Merriam-Webster defines guilt as:
: the fact of having committed a breech of conduct especially violating law and involving a penalty; broadly : guilty conduct
2a : the state of one who has committed an offense especially consciouslyb : feelings of culpability especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy : self-reproach
3: a feeling of culpability for offenses
Synonyms are criminality, blameworthiness, reprehensibility, censurability.
Now ask yourself, is guilty the right word for what you’re feeling? If not, what would be a better word?
How about the word responsible? “I feel responsible for not getting there on time.” Is that an appropriate question if you arrive thirty minutes late? Sure. What could you have done differently? Not shoved in one more errand that threw you off schedule or answered those three more emails? The next time the better choice (if not being late is a value for you) would be to leave more time in between commitments, stop checking email, don’t take the call that voicemail could pick up, etc. Those are all choices that you can control. On the other hand, if a traffic accident occurs, you can’t control that, so you needn’t feel guilty.
I understand that letting go of guilt is easier said than done because feeling guilty is also a habit formed in life that you need to be replacing with a healthier, more appropriate emotional response. I hope it helps you to be able to look at it through this new lens and understand that really it is responsibility that you are feeling more often than not… not guilt. AND you have every bit of control over what choices you make in responding to that responsibility and in acting on those healthy choices.
Try this new approach the next time you begin to feel guilt over a situation or circumstance. I hope it motivates you to make healthier choices as you pursue a joy-filled, intentional life day by day, moment by moment.