Let Go of the GUILT—Here’s How

Let Go of the GUILT—Here’s How

Guilt has been on my mind lately.  We are all plagued by it in one way or another, but do you feel like guilt is playing too large a role in your life?

Do these scenario’s hit a chord?

A friend asks you to an event for a cause that she supports.  You feel guilty saying no, so you go even though you would rather be doing something—anything—else.

You are in a conversation with a girlfriend and make a negative comment about a mutual friend.  Later you are wracked with guilt about how the remark was taken and what the person you were speaking to might think.

You miss a family get together because you have had a different party on your calendar for months.  You feel tremendous guilt for not being with your family.

Your son has a baseball tournament at the same time you have planned a spa day.  You feel so guilty for not being with the team that you aren’t able to fully enjoy your day of relaxation.

Do these sound familiar?  Of course they do.  We have all been there.  Some of us spend too much time in this place, always feeling bad or uncomfortable about situations.  Always feeling like we have not lived up to expectation.

Because that is what this feeling is about.  Expectation: an unwritten rule inside ourselves that says we are supposed to do all these things;  a rule that says we have to be all things to all loved ones.  Even though, realistically, we know that this is impossible.

In her book Sacred Choices, (which I can’t recommend highly enough) author Cristel Nani identifies two kinds of guilt.  She defines true guilt (or what she calls sacred guilt) as when you have taken a life or betrayed someone.  Healing from sacred guilt is deeply personal and not our subject today.

What most of us call guilt, is not guilt at all.  It is the uncomfortable feeling we get when a battle rages inside us between what we think we are supposed to do and what we want to do.

It really is that simple.  But so many of us have been brought up to be “good girls” that we end up denying ourselves what we want for what we feel obligated to.  Or on the flip side, we choose what we want and then feel crazy guilty about it.

I am not saying that certain obligations don’t play a role from time to time.  Of course they do.  But if you are living with constant “guilt” as we have just defined it, you are not listening to your true nature.  You are living life on other people’s terms.  This will always lead to dissatisfaction and a life not lived to its fullest potential.

The reason we are wracked with this “guilt” is often because of things we were taught as children.  What Nani calls tribal beliefs.  These are beliefs taught to us by our families, teachers, coaches and clergy that we have taken to be facts.  We take these beliefs on without examining whether they are true or fit into our lives. We act upon them as though they are law.

From the examples above, these might be the underlying tribal beliefs:

A good friend is always supportive.

A good person never makes a negative remark about someone not present.

A good daughter always attends family events.

A good mother always watches her child’s sporting events.

The way out of this “guilt” is to rewrite our beliefs.  Sometimes the rewrite is easy and obvious, but other times it is tremendously difficult.  In fact, sometimes people are willing to go to their grave before they go against their tribal beliefs.  The example that comes to mind is people who refuse to leave a bad marriage because of the underlying belief that marriage is forever, no matter what.

A gentle way that Nani suggests rewriting your belief is to use the words “It is reasonable to believe”.  This is a way for our subconscious to deal with a new way of looking at things.  So even when your gut reaction screams “no!” you can look at it from a detached perspective and think “maybe”.  So for the above, it could be:

It is reasonable to believe that a good friend can be supportive without attending every function that they are invited to.

It is reasonable to believe that a good person can make a negative remark about someone not present if the remark is true and made without malice.

It is reasonable to believe that a good daughter can miss a family get together.

It is reasonable to believe that a good mother can take care of her own needs without damaging her children.

In her book, Nani addresses tribal beliefs around love, friendship, marriage, money, career, families and health among many others.  She clearly points out the beliefs that are holding us back and causing us to feel torn so much of the time.

The biggest a-ha I had about my own tribal beliefs and what was causing me unhappiness was my belief that:

A good mother always helps her children.
A good mother raises happy children.
A good mother can motivate her children to change.

What I have rewritten is this:

It is reasonable to believe that a good mother sets boundaries.
It is reasonable to believe that a good mother sometimes raises children who choose to be unhappy.
It is reasonable to believe that a good mother shows that change is possible by changing her own life.

Rewriting those beliefs and taking the pressure off myself has been HUGE.  Until I examined it I didn’t understand why I always felt so horrible when my children were unhappy and not choosing to change.  Intellectually I knew that I couldn’t make the choices and change for them, but a deeper part of me felt responsible.

This was my tribal belief talking and when I examined it I realized that it simply wasn’t true.  I now see it differently and don’t always feel that it is my fault or my responsibility to fix things when my kids are in a low spot.

So what about you?  Do you recognize that your tribal beliefs may be holding you back?  In what part of your life is guilt running the show?  Are you ready to have that be different?

Leave a comment below and tell me where you see this showing up in your life.




12 Responses to Let Go of the GUILT—Here’s How

  1. Lois Mariano says:

    First, there’s one copy of Sacred Choices in the Westchester Public Library system and I’ve just put a hold on it. I’m not going to feel guilty that others may be delayed in getting it (don’t worry, I’m a fast reader!). Seriously, this was a good topic. I have found that the older I get (I’m in my late 50s), the better able I am to minimize guilt. Growing up, I was wracked by it – so often by the most minor things. I learned to say “No, I can’t” when my late husband became ill and I’ve continued to say it when appropriate ever since. Too bad I didn’t learn it sooner but reading this book will help me continue to become as healthy as I can be. Thanks Loren!

  2. Cathy says:

    I love the reframe, or should I say the clear statement, that what we call guilt is really just an internal conflict between want & should. In that regard, it’s then par for the course when on a spiritual journey of trying to live in greater alignment with yourself, and not, as you say, according to other people’s terms. I’m all about the gentle approach to healing – the easing I. Of new belief systems reminds me of the way I tell clients to make big dietary changes or add a new supplement.

  3. april says:

    this is so helpful, lorna. i especially love how cristel nani describes that “uncomfortable feeling” – which is not real guilt at all. i am happy to say that i’ve begun standing up to that uncomfortable feeling, pushing it down when it’s something i really don’t want to do (and i know there will be no real consequences as a result).

  4. Lori W says:

    As we mature, we realize that we are permitted to adhere to certain boundaries without hurting or disappointing others. We all need to listen to our inner voice.

  5. Dana says:

    Lorna this is a great reminder for me as a few of these old tribal beliefs about mothers and family have resurfaced of late. Time to dust of my copy of Sacred Choices and ear mark some pages. Thank you…D♥

  6. Susie says:

    Great way to rewrite your beliefs! My mom is such a people pleaser that I had to learn to rewrite the messages I had in my head and eliminate the guilt…always a work in progress!

  7. Cathy Sykora says:

    Wonderful, wonderful post! I absolutely agree that it is the expectations that create so much misery and guilt. There is a balance between doing for others and taking care of ourselves. It is easy to forget that if we neglect to take care of ourselves, we won’t be in a position to give. I really work on making sure that I have integrity when I do commit, but am realistic and only commit when I know I can. I really enjoyed your post, thank you!

  8. Rosie says:

    I think mothers are especially guilty of feeling guilt on a regular basis! The media tends to feed us images of the perfect mother/woman which is usually portrayed as someone who gives of herself constantly to keep everyone happy and life balanced. And we feel guilty when we find living up to these high standards on a constant basis impossible. Very good article, I really enjoyed it thanks.

  9. This post was an eye-opener for me Lori. I have branded myself several times with the ‘feeling of guilt’ as a mother. Sometimes trying to rewrite the past so that the guilt doesn’t hurt so much. It’s a process that I am choosing to overcome, know that I am not perfect and it OK. Thanks for the post!

  10. Heather says:

    I know that many of us have been raised to feel guilty about so many things but guilt is one emotion that I really don’t put into practice in my everyday life. I know that I am unusual and I always attributed it to my mother, who was so “guilty” over everything when I was growing up. It was almost as if the more she practiced guilt, the more I shied away from it. I saw it as being so useless for her.

  11. Elizabeth MacLeod says:

    Yes… those unwritten rules. So many revisions on them! So many versions. Love the idea of rewriting them and changing our DNA… and finding their origins. Becoming the masters of our ship… deciding when to turn which way…. Yes.. rewriting these unwritten rules. A constant realization birthing in every moment. A releasing of guilt …. mmmmm … nice…

  12. deb says:

    I have freed myself from this most if the time. A friend recently asked me to a lecture with her Indian guru.

    I said at first I would go, as I knew she wanted me to. Then I checked myself and sent an email. Thanks fir inviting me. I would love to catch up with you but I know on the night of the lecture you will be busy with your teacher. Let’s catch up another day. Thanks for the invite but I am not interested. Love deb


    Honored me honored my friend

    Life is too short to be doing things you don’t want to do for other people.

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