How To Deal With Guilt?
By Anubhav Srivastava ( Register for his Workshop – Build Super Confidence For Super Success!)
All of us deal with guilt at some point of our lives. It doesn’t matter whether we would be held responsible for something in the court of law, many of us tend to blame ourselves for things that have happened in the past, whether or not we were truly responsible for it.
In this article I will mention 4 strategies you can use, in order to deal with guilt more effectively. I have used these strategies myself effectively so I am pretty sure, they can work great for you as well.
1) Separate what you were responsible for vs what you were not
Here is a reality check, most of the things you are guilty about have had almost nothing to do with you or very little to do with you. In life, many times certain events happen over which you had no control or certain events over which your role was a very small factor.
For example if you are driving a car at on a highway and somebody just jumps in front of you to commit suicide, or if someone on a two wheeler ignores the traffic signal, are you responsible for it? Of course not. It maybe a shocking incident and a ton of people in those situations end up feeling guilty afterwards, but it is not their fault. It is only your fault if you are driving extremely rashly or were driving drunk. Those are habits that would lead to a bad thing happening sooner or later.
Sometimes you may face scenarios where you may have had a tiny role to play
In the last one year, somethings have happened for which I know I was not personally responsible. I may have had a small role to play in it (as did others) but ultimately I know I was not responsible for it. And yet, I had this nagging guilt around me.
The way I dealt with it is by speaking to some people I trust who I had conversations and finally I realized this: Most people who actually are responsible or do something intentionally don’t feel a shred of guilt. On the other hand, the ones that feel guilty are usually not the ones who were actually responsible, they are the ones who actually cared enough to blame themselves for it. So the fact that you feel guilty about something doesn’t automatically make you responsible for it, it just shows that you are a person who cares.
Your role may have more to do with destiny than any intentional act. And if there was no one directly at fault, can you really blame yourself for what was ultimately God’s decision?
But about what about the cases where you actually made a mistake and feel repentant now. Here is what you do.
2) Accept that everyone makes mistakes
A key requirement to be able to deal with guilt effectively is to accept the fact that everyone makes mistakes and you are no different. You will make mistakes, you will make errors. It is a part of being human and a big life truth.
Read any religious book or mythological epics, many of them have extremely positive characters doing things they regretted later. If you read the great Indian Epic, the Ramayana, even Ram who is considered to be an avatar of the God Vishnu, embodiment of virtuousness as well (He was an extremely devoted son and a loyal husband) ended up abandoning his wife Sita because a washerman questioned her chastity.
Another Epic, the Mahabharat, too is full of such incidents where characters who were on the side of Dharma (The Right Deeds) committed some wrong things. Yudhishtr, the character who was the embodiment of virtuousness in this epic, was a compulsive gambler who gambled away his brothers and wife.
I am pretty sure, in any book of other religions too, you can find positive characters doing not so positive things. In real life as well, if you look at many great leaders in history, they have all had a grey side to them.
So when even the greatest leaders and even someone considered a God have made mistakes, why can’t you forgive yourself for the mistakes you made in the past? Accept that you are not perfect and can make mistakes. Try to forgive yourself for what you did.
But make sure you do not repeat the mistakes. To err is human, to err over and over again is either stupid or evil.
3) Do not dwell in the past.
Our greatest ability as humans which is to think and conceptualize beyond the present moment is also one of our curses. Unlike other animals who tend to live in the present moment, we tend to live in everything but the present moment. We keep playing mental movies in our head again and again about the mistakes we have made. We keep thinking about them, going over them wonder what we could do differently. Sometimes we even imagine a different scenario in the past all together and try to control it.
The problem obviously is you can’t change the past. In fact you can’t even control the future completely. Thinking unnecessarily about the past only trains the brains to lock in patterns of repetitive negative thinking which further fuels guilt. It also fuels depression and a lot of stress.
When I was young I did quite a bit of things I am not proud of . For example, being a jerk at times and frankly being a bully with some kids on occasions. To this day, I am not proud of these things. But I know I cannot dwell upon them. I cannot change the past obsessively replaying it will only make me feel worse and more guilty. So instead of thinking over the past, I focus under my control that can hopefully lessen some of the guilt associated with the past.
One of the best ways you can learn to let go of the past is through mindfulness meditation. This meditation trains the mind to not live in the past or the future but in what is happening in the moment. When you live in the past, you are regretting, when you live in the future, you are imagining, but when you live in the present, it is only then that you are actually DOING things that matter. Action happens only in the present moment
4) Understand that you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to do your best
One of the main reasons people deal with guilt is because of their obsession with perfection. If they are on a diet and for some reason cheat on their diet, they feel guilty, so much so that they let of the diet totally simply because they believe that as they were not perfect, all of their hard work is now pointless.
If you have committed yourself to something, after feeling guilty about past mistakes (for example related to your health) and for some reason you are not able to adhere to it perfectly, it’s okay, as long as you are doing the best you can.
I actually experienced the most sustained benefit from my workouts when I allowed myself to be imperfect. When I was trying to be absolutely perfect, I used to work out religiously for a few weeks before I realized it was just not possible for me to cope up with this kind of physical activity on a daily basis.
Not only was I not getting time to do other important things, I was getting physically burnt out and developing nagging injuries. So I quit working out for sometime and in a few weeks my body returned to pre workout days making me feel depressed, this further fueled guilt and anger and I quit totally.
This obsession for the perfect body and adherence to schedules perfectly and becoming guilty when I could not follow it, only backfired on me. Frankly, this erratic habit of working out sometimes and then quitting totally resulted in me oscillating between looking fit for a few weeks and fat in the months thereafter
Finally in 2014, I made a decision that I would keep my workout schedule regular, I would not quit. BUT I would only do what I can handle. It was not realistic for me to keep doing grueling workouts every single day because neither my mind nor my body were tolerating it in the long run. So from a six day a week grueling workout schedule that I could only tolerate for a few weeks, I switched to working out moderately 3 times a week, it was better than not working out at all. Will I ever get a fitness model like body with this workout, of course not, but the results are still pretty good, and I benefit a lot from it mentally and physically.
Now for many of you the guilt may have to do with something else, maybe giving up addictions or maybe trying to correct some other mistakes you did in the recent or distant past. The process is the same. Stop trying to be perfect, because the moment you try to be perfect and fail, you will begin to feel guilty once again.
Commit yourself to doing your best to do the things that lessen the guilt associated with those mistakes and do what is under your control today. If you are able to take the more extreme approach and succeed, great! But if you aren’t, take this more gentle approach. You will realize that even if you are not perfect, a gentle sustained commitment at doing positive things is better at lessening guilt than taking an extreme approach that you give up in a week.
I hope this article has given you some useful tips on how to deal with guilt in a better manner. Now you have to realize, that sometimes eliminating the guilt is impossible, depending on the nature of what happened and how responsible you consider yourself for it. Many times you have to learn to live with the guilt and move on with your life and. Even in those cases, these four strategies of examining whether you were actually responsible, accepting that everyone makes mistakes, living in the present moment and doing the best that you can without trying to be perfect can be immensely helpful in teaching you to live a productive life and lessen your guilt significantly. So apply these strategies and make your life much better.
About the Author
Anubhav Srivastava is an author, speaker and the director of Carve Your Destiny, a first of its kind inspirational documentary featuring some of the most famous personalities from diverse fields. It has been seen by over 1 Million People on Youtube. Anubhav has also been featured in numerous International and India Media outlets such as BBC , The Times of India, Hindustan Times, Rediff.com, Leicester Mercury and many others.
For one on one consulting or a motivational workshop at your organization please email firstname.lastname@example.org . If you would like to write a guest blog post on Anubhavsrivastava.com you contact me on the same email address.
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