Does Guilt Impact Your Wellbeing?
Guilt is an interesting emotion, in that many of us feel it and yet it often isn’t constructive in initiating change.
As guilt can get caught up in regret; I wish I hadn’t done that, I wish I had done that… and that thought has a tendency to ruminate in our minds to make us feel worse. This often leads us to punish our wrong doing and not take action to learn and move on.
Guilt is often described as a moral emotion, as it is defined through your own lens of right and wrong.
In the wider world of our society, we have rules which if broken are punishable by law after you are found guilty. These rules keep order and keep us safe. There is in essence a right and a wrong way to behave, which in the context of social interaction makes sense.
Yet what if this is turned on yourself?
What I mean is that you create a set of rules to live by. These can be rules with a wider context as in family rules; if someone breaks said rule, do you find the person guilty? Do you impose a punishment upon them? Do you want them to atone for their mistake? Do you demand an apology?
Now, I am not here to tell you how to run your family and what is right or wrong. That is a moral judgement… and if we return to the emotion guilt being a moral emotion then I could make you feel guilty if I disagree with your rules of how you take care of your family and vice versa.
Guilt does seem to nicely package itself into parental guilt! With the many ways people tell you how to look after your child and if you do it wrong then welcome to guilt!
How many times do we reflect back on our childhood and blame our parents for how they took care of us (or not)?
Parental guilt is a minefield for sure and an area I am going to move away from here as I want to focus on you and your wellbeing.
How does guilt impact on the way you look after you?
Let us go back to the idea of rules. What rules do you have around how you take care of yourself? For example: I must walk 10,000 steps a day; I must eat healthy home-cooked meals; I must go to the gym; I mustn’t drink wine every day; I must meditate; I mustn’t binge watch Netflix etc.
Make a list of all the rules you have. You may not have thought of them as rules before, if not, think of a rule as an intention for what you are going to do or not do to ensure your body and mind are looked after.
Now… what happens when you break your rule? When you don’t walk those steps, you eat a take-away, you don’t go to the gym, you open the bottle of wine, you don’t meditate, you snuggle into the sofa with the TV on etc.
Do you feel guilty? And if so, what does that feel like?
What does that feeling make you do? Do you tell yourself how rubbish you are? Do you ‘punish’ yourself? If so, how do you punish yourself?
The thing is we cannot go back and change what you have done.
You have also not really done anything inherently wrong, so beating up on yourself and punishing yourself is counter-productive, as it so often leaves us feeling bad and giving up on our motivation to look after ourself.
What to do?
Re-examine your rules. Are they really working for you? Are they what you really want? Or are they something you feel you are meant to do, thereby being somebody else’s rules?
Can you create kinder rules to benefit you? Look at making a rule which honours where you are at right now. For example instead of ‘I must walk 10,000 steps’, a new rule could be ‘I am going to enjoy some fresh air’.
If you set a wellbeing rule and you do break it, say sorry to yourself and rather than punishment, find gratitude for being the wonderful person you are.
I invite you to re-examine your relationship to guilt and the impact it has on your wellbeing.