Is your guilt stopping you from being who you want to be in this world? From being the best version of yourself? This is the one question you need to ask yourself every single time you feel guilty. When you’re not at your best, you cannot offer your best to others.
Ironically, we seem to think that we are sparing other people’s feelings at our own expense of guilt-tripping ourselves. We then proceed to use that guilt and take it out on ourselves, which then trickles into our every interaction with every living thing, ultimately ending with us being an expression of resentment instead of love.
That guilt and resentment will express itself as anger and frustration through every single interaction we will ever have, that is until we free ourselves from our guilt.
I Propose Five Reasons We Feel Guilty
- We said or did something that we feel we shouldn’t have.
- We didn’t say or do something that we feel we should have.
- We are contemplating whether to say or do something that we feel we shouldn’t.
- We are contemplating whether to not say or do something that we feel we should.
- We are afraid of hurting someone else’s feelings.
Every single reason started with a rule that you made up for yourself and if you dare to break one of these rules you will be sent on a frightening guilt trip.
Keep these in mind as you read on, they are extremely important. You will always fit into one of these categories with your guilt.
Lessons From My Caregiver Guilt
One of the biggest inner challenges I have faced as a cancer caregiver, as have many caregivers, is the tug of war between taking care of myself and taking care of my wife.
The inner battle I used to face on a daily basis was ferocious.
I had no idea where to draw the line between being selfish and selfless. Now I know that both definitions are fluid, made up, and can change according to my thought at the moment.
I could easily argue and find evidence to prove that my past actions were both selfish and selfless. What is indisputable is that I was not the best person I could be for my wife, nor was I who I wanted to be for my wife because of my guilt.
I Gave Up The Gym
I have been a passionate gym goer since I was 16 years old, I absolutely love going to the gym for a good workout. At times, I would go weeks on end without a workout because my wife was not feeling well enough to go to the gym with me. I didn’t want her to feel left out or lesser of a human being due to her illness so I decided to suffer the loss with her.
The gym is not just a vanity thing for me, it is a lifestyle, it is a nourishment for my soul. I did not realize the significance of the gym toward being a better version of myself until I had a paradigm shift, which I will discuss later.
I Gave Up Socializing
I thoroughly enjoy a night out with the boys, friends, and/or family. A few drinks, a bbq, a hockey game, board games, card games, dancing on a rare occasion, and whatever else the night may bring.
At first, I was receiving invites quite frequently, I was turning down nearly every single one. Eventually, I stopped receiving invites due to my frequent “No thank you, I’m going to stay in with Allie”.
She would tell me to go out and have fun and that she will be fine. I know that if she wouldn’t be fine she would be honest with me, so I knew she wasn’t just saying that.
The strange part is, at the time, I thought she was the one making me feel guilty. Now I know that I was the one guilt tripping myself.
My own thoughts were holding me prisoner to my own guilt, not her.
There were nights when Allie was deathly sick and under no circumstance would I have left her, and there were other nights I felt guilty for leaving her, guilty for having fun when she is at home resting.
I did not give myself permission to still live life and have fun despite our circumstance. I was the one who did not want to go out and have fun while she was staying home to rest. I am the one who felt guilty for leaving her by herself without my company.
Guilt And Resentment
I felt a lot of resentment building up due to ignoring my guilty feelings, but I kept ignoring them time and time again. At the time, I thought the resentment was towards Allie, she was the reason I chose to give up those things in my life after all, or so I thought.
Resentment does not go away by ignoring it over time, you must forgive, learn from it, and consciously choose your path forward.
You can only give to others what you have inside yourself so if you’re full of guilt and resentment you treat others as an expression of exactly that.
Over time, I started directing this resentment towards Allie and our relationship was in turmoil, almost ending on numerous occasions. Things weren’t getting better as I had hoped, ignoring this resentment only fed it what it needed to grow over time.
Nobody Can Make You Feel Guilty
My paradigm shift was this:
I was not being the person I wanted to be, nor I was not being the person I wanted to be for Allie. I was feeding our relationship more stress than I was love.
Once I truly saw this and lived it in the moment of my own experience, I finally realized that what I was doing was not working, I had it all backwards, literally. I blamed her when I really was blaming me, I was just projecting this blame outward instead of taking responsibility for my own feelings.
This insight generated new inspiration and motivation to change my actions. I was determined to free myself of my guilty conscience.
One of the insights that rocked my world and turned it upside down is that nobody can make you feel a certain way unless you give them permission. Another way to put this would be:
Your thoughts make you feel the way you do, not other people.
Understanding this and applying it to my every experience is beyond liberating. Once you can get to this point of understanding you will never feel emotionally prisoned to anyone else again. You can never feel guilt-tripped by anyone ever again.
You Can’t Hurt Anyone Else’s Feelings
I find this is a tough one to grasp for a lot of people. However, if you apply the principle from above and turn it around, it will look like this “their thoughts make them feel the way they do, not you”.
Now, this does not excuse you from being completely arrogant or cold-hearted. Use your common sense here.
If you are saying yes to someone, what are you saying no to?
If you are saying no to someone, what are you saying yes to?
For example, in my circumstance regarding not going to the gym thinking I was preserving Allie’s feelings, I was saying yes to thinking I was preserving her feelings and saying no to preserving my own. I was saying yes to offering the expression of guilt and resentment and no to offering the expression of love.
Forgive Yourself And Learn From Your Experiences
Forgiving yourself for whatever it is that you did, and are holding onto your guilt and resentment for, is crucial if you want to move forward into a life of freedom from your past.
Forgive yourself for whatever you’re about to do, you are doing it with your best intentions in mind. You are making a decision based on the quality of your thoughts at the moment. In your mind, you are making a decision to serve the greater good.
It was relatively easy to forgive myself for my actions once I realized I was only doing the best I could with the quality of thoughts I had at the time, if I could have done better I would have. I just had it backwards, now I know better.
Chances are, you had it backwards too, and now you know better. Remember, be gentle with yourself, you were, or are, just doing the best you can. How do I know? Because if you could do better you would.
I Became Virtually Guilt-Free (And Still Am)
Once I saw that I was not who I wanted to be, and forgave myself for my past actions, I was able to go to the gym again without feeling guilty. If Allie is able to join me that’s a bonus, if she can’t join me that’s great too, I will enjoy my workout and reap all of the benefits from it.
I have also been able to get out and socialize more without feeling guilty. This one was a little tougher to overcome as it meant I would be leaving Allie alone for potentially entire afternoons and evenings.
Sometimes I can feel the guilt creeping back in but I just remind myself that I am doing what I need to do for myself, for Allie, and for the world in order to be the best version of myself.
How You Too Can Become Guilt-Free
The story behind your guilt actually does not matter. Whether you can relate to my story or not,
the source of a guilty feeling is always the same (our thoughts) and the solution to a guilty feeling is always the same (our thoughts).
You can test this out on any feeling of guilt you have ever had whether it be for eating too much chocolate, cheating on a test, breaking a promise, it really does not matter,
you would not feel guilty without a guilty thought.
Lessons To Becoming Guilt-Free
- Our thoughts make us feel the way we do, not other people. Other people’s thoughts make them feel the way they do, not you.
- We are not being the best version of ourselves, and therefore not serving ourselves or others to the best of our abilities while we are riddled with guilt.
- We must forgive ourselves gently, reminding ourselves that if we could do better we would.
- Learn from the experience that led to the guilt. Apply that knowledge moving forward.
- Feel the liberation, live from a place of freedom instead of guilt and you will become of greater service to others and transform your life and the lives of others.
Learn from all of your experiences, opportunities are everywhere.