Give Yourself the Gift of Letting Go of Guilt


“Don’t SHOULD all over yourself” is a phrase I often use with my clients. I didn’t come up with it, but I sure wish I did because it’s one of my favorites. I often get a laugh when I say it because my wise and witty clients get the joke. When you are drowning in “shoulds” you really ARE shitting all over yourself! It is the “shoulds” that breed so much of the guilt we feel. With it, there is little or no room to be motivated by what you are actually feeling or wanting. The guilt takes up all your brain and emotional space. It is no easy to task to identify and move past all the ways that guilt rears its ugly head in your life, but it is definitely worth it to bring your attention to this pattern, if it plagues you, because awareness is the first step to making a change in your life with this. When you do, you are truly giving yourself a gift of self-care.

What is guilt, anyway?

The working definition of guilt I am going with here is: “The fact of having committed a specified or implied offense or crime.” Interesting. Guilt can pervade the thoughts and feelings at a very deep and disturbing level, yet, when most of us feel guilty, we haven’t committed any crime, we are just holding onto the burden that we caused some negative feeling in another and we are blaming ourselves. Look, we are not that powerful, none of us is. We can’t MAKE anyone feel anything. Stop and reflect on that a moment. We are NOT THAT POWERFUL. If someone feels something as a result of what we have done or said, we do want to acknowledge them, but we don’t need to be feel guilty about it. We have been taught that we are responsible for others’ feelings, and often have been told that we are “selfish” as children if we don’t live by this. I’d like to offer another path in this arena. It helps so many of my clients when I invite this possibility, because feeling guilty is so knee-jerk for so many of us and we often haven’t ever considered that there IS another way.

How to Manage that Guilt

Feeling and being motivated by guilt are old patterns that can be changed. Beginning with that so-powerful awareness, begin by asking yourself “Why I am feeling guilty?” Do you actually believe that you did something wrong, or is that feeling coming from old programming that isn’t actually true to you, but is still lurking inside? If you don’t actually believe you are at fault, the awareness alone may be enough to toss it away. If you are still struggling with owning the feelings, you can play at asking yourself how would you feel if you held your ground, your boundary, and allowed yourself to be free of the guilt? Trust that your best intentions were at heart, if they were, and own it if perhaps there were other motivating factors. Admit to what you felt, what you did and why. Even admit it to the other, if need be, but release the burden because it is like paying double, or even triple, rent that is actually owed. Claim within yourself that you deserve to have peace and are not responsible for others’ feelings or reactions. Choose an affirmation that can replace the space in your brain that guilt is currently occupying, like “I am free right now” or “I am at peace with whatever is happening.” You don’t have to be completely comfortable or like what has resulted from a situation, but you can work toward acceptance, which is a powerful part of letting go of guilt.