Guilt is such a prevalent theme in the recovery world. Almost everyone that I've ever worked with feels profoundly guilty about something.
I hear a lot from clients about how they feel guilty about being unwell, being a burden to those around them, hurting those that they love, eating and spending money on themselves. Guilt is something that so many people are battling on a daily basis… but why?
Guilt is an emotion that arises during childhood and essentially gives us a 'cue' to consider what is 'right' and to what is 'wrong', it allows us to reflect and make amends.
But for so many of us, that emotion has started to play out unnecessarily and is often out of proportion to the event that we’re dealing with. Ultimately, I think that deep down we feel undeserving and that’s why we feel guilty. All of us have needs and wants but when you have a sense of low self-esteem, our ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ make us feel guilty. Many people suffering in this way will find it challenging to even consider how they may have experienced loss in their lives. Because they don’t feel deserving of anything, they attribute wants and needs to selfish and gluttonous emotions. An unwell voice will use ‘guilt’ as a tool to justify those feelings of self-hatred – claiming it as evidence that in fact you are undeserving. This is simply not the case.
Nobody is perfect and there is no room for reflection or growth when you develop this good or bad thinking about yourself.
We can reflect on our behaviour and how we respond to certain situations. We can consider how we might approach things differently in the future, but this isn’t then grounds for beating yourself up. We all get things wrong and we all make mistakes; these events are opportunities to grow and develop as human beings. Guilt shuts us down and we retreat into a place of darkness where we are not able to reflect or move forward.
When you feel plagued by guilt, try to ask yourself how you would coach a close friend who was going through the same thing. Focus your intention of developing self-compassion and kindness and try to anchor yourself to that. It takes time to foster a relationship of kindness toward yourself but it is possible.
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