Since this feeling has surfaced in multiple conversations over the last week, I thought it would be worthwhile to unpack the emotion called guilt.
Just to make sure we all are on the same page, guilt is defined as the feeling which arises when you believe you have or will do something which causes harm. Bad conduct if you will.
As you probably know, there are degrees of guilt. For example, you may feel slightly guilty when you eat a food not on your diet. You may feel moderately guilty for saying no to someone, and you may feel really guilty for doing something which causes harm.
There are multiple factors which contribute to your feelings of guilt. Factors such as the way you were raised, the community’s values in which you lived, the beliefs you were taught, and your relationship with anxiety influence when, and to what degree of guilt, you feel. Understanding how these factors impact you helps to discern when guilt is useful versus maladaptive.
Guilt is useful if it prevents harm and makes you feel more aligned with your values. If you don’t like specific consequences – if your feelings make you uncomfortable, then you may choose to do something different. This type of guilt is useful until it becomes maladaptive.
Maladaptive guilt is when you feel guilty for things beyond your control. Maladaptive guilt either immobilizes you (can’t make a decision) or wears you out (constantly doing). The important thing to remember about maladaptive guilt is it is rooted in the belief that you are responsible for other people’s feelings.
If you want to stop making decisions based on guilt, then you must learn two things.
One: You are NOT responsible for other people’s feelings. You are responsible for your choices.
Two: When you make decisions which are value-aligned, you are living with integrity.
I like using Byron Katie’s “The Work” to discern if what I am feeling is pressure to meet another person’s expectations or the disquiet which arises from being out of integrity.
When you sit with the question: Is it really true? (the first question from The Work), there is an opportunity to uncover the origin of your thought and learn what or whom influenced your belief.
Many of us were taught we were bad if we did not do what an adult asked. For example: “Be a good child and get me a glass of water.” The implication is we are bad if we don’t get, or even if we don’t want to get, the water. (In some families, even thinking about not wanting to do something is considered “bad.”)
Instead of using scare tactics to motivate behavior, what if we were taught reciprocity or mutual benefit? What if we were encouraged to pay attention to the impact of our choices and modify behavior based on how we wanted to feel (alignment) and how we wanted to be treated (mutuality)? Can you imagine how different your life would be if decision-making rubrics were based on collaboration, kindness, compassion, mutuality, and interconnection?
Examining the whys behind your actions is the first step to eliminating maladaptive guilt from your life. When you know what motivates you, then you are better able to discern when you are causing harm versus when you are encountering resistance to a “no.”
If someone wants you to feel guilty for saying “no,” then they are essentially saying: “I don’t like it when you don’t do what I want.” They can have whatever feelings they want to have about your “no.” It does not make you bad or wrong to say no, and their feelings don’t have to make you feel guilty either.
Wishing you a guilt-free week!
Kim Bushore-Maki is a soul-driven entrepreneur who understands the undeniable urge to create a business and a life filled with meaning and purpose. Her vision of opening a center where people could heal and grow led her to open Shakti in the Mountains in Johnson City, Tennessee: a place where the creative, feminine energy is nurtured and valued.
Kim is a licensed professional counselor and a yoga teacher. She completed the Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy program as well as the Shake Your Soul Yoga Dance program. Kim is very interested in somatic expressive therapy, archetypal psychology, gardening, herbalism, astrology, wisdom traditions, and regenerative economics.
Kim continues to build and to support inclusive, vibrant communities. She spends most of her time mentoring leaders, guiding healing programs, and providing mental health counseling.
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