Complex Emotion of Guilt
A new client came in to see me recently and sheepishly admitted that she felt bad for being there. She had put off coming for almost a year and finally made herself come. But it wasn’t because of the emotional pain around a certain experience that made her feel so bad.
This new client felt guilty for having an issue with anxiety because she had such a “charmed” life.
After our meeting I couldn’t help but continue to think about the complex emotion we call guilt. Especially when it keeps us from doing something that will help us…like reaching out for help with something we need help with!
The thing is, anxiety doesn’t really care what kind of life you’ve had in order for it to slip in and make itself at home. Charmed, crappy, or anywhere in between is all fair game when it comes to anxiety.
Anxiety must love it when people feel guilt and avoid help. The last thing anxiety wants is for its’ person to seek help. It almost seems that anxiety is in cahoots with guilt just for this purpose!
So what can you do about it?
3 Ways to Overcome Guilt
- Recognize “guilt” is a conditioned feeling. We may not know how we picked up on this association. But at some point we started associating guilt with having more things than others or doing something others can’t do. We then repeated this association enough times until it stuck. So, to unstick it and condition a different response, whenever your feel your guilt, kindly thank it and then turn your attention onto something else to let it go.
- Get help anyway. Clearly you not seeking the help you want (and need) is not a message you should listen to. Think of it this way, if your friend gave you the advice to avoid getting help, you’d have no problem not listening to that friend would you? We need to treat our guilt the same way in this case. Just don’t listen to it and look up online someone to help you with your anxiety.
- Turn guilt to gratitude. Life isn’t fair and unfortunately there are many examples of haves and have nots. Instead of feeling guilt if you are in the “haves” category, use it as an opportunity to express gratitude for what you have. And try to have that be: gratitude, full stop. It is extremely hard not to feel empathetic to others less fortunate than you. But denying yourself of the help you need does absolutely nothing for someone in a less fortunate situation than you. Gratitude, full stop.
If you find that you have a hard time letting go of the guilt after trying these 3 things, it might be helpful to do a little inner reflection on your feelings of self worth. It is extremely common for people to feel unworthy of good things.
Mainly because feeling worthy makes one think that it automatically assumes some people are unworthy. And that feels totally wrong.
And it is wrong. This is a false dichotomy, and simply not true. No one is unworthy of good things.
So replace self-worth with self-esteem so your brain doesn’t slip into thinking in terms of worthy/unworthy.