Three Things to Remember When You Feel Guilty

Guilt almost ate me alive last week – I’ll explain. I didn’t wake up on time for work and was about an hour and a half late.

That’s it! That’s all that happened. It wasn’t fatal to my job, and I got all my work done that day. But I felt very guilty about it. And it took much longer than it should have to make that guilt go away.

Why did I feel guilty? A more accurate question would be why did I not feel guilty? I felt like a bad employee and that I let my team down, which consequently led me to think about the worst-case scenario of the ramifications of my actions. I felt lazy and unreliable and perceived my lateness as a character flaw. I didn’t look at being late as a rare occurrence but as an indicator of who I am as a person. Is that true? As I came to realize, it is not, and that is not who I am.

I’m sharing this because I know I’m not alone in this experience. Guilt plays a much bigger role in our lives than I’m sure we want – at least, it does it mine. If guilt doesn’t affect you, please let me know how you’re able to exist in this way because I am all ears on that topic.

But let’s say you’re like me, and feelings of guilt are hard to get rid of. How do you get rid of them? I came up with three things I continued to repeat to myself until my guilt subsides.

This is not who you are – you are more than this

This is my favorite of the three things because, as I wrote earlier, my guilt comes from the fact that I believe my mistakes – even if I only make them once – are all character flaws. Reminding myself that there’s so much more to me than what I feel guilty about is a reminder that I am a complex person who is not defined by any one thing – good or bad.

Is it really that bad?

I’ll be honest; sometimes the answer to this question is ‘yes.’ Sometimes we do things that are just as bad as we make them out to be. But the reality is that our guilt permits us to make things out to be much worse than they are. Was being late to work one time, after not being that late all year, really all that bad? In the grand scheme of things, maybe not.

Who does this effect?

Another way my guilt becomes exacerbated is that I think that so many people will suffer from my mistakes. Did I miss a meeting when I was late? No. Did someone need me during the time I was missing? They did not. In reality, this situation affected me and my boss, who was wondering where I was, and no one else. The office didn’t come to a halt; people moved on with their day. Sometimes our guilt can make us think that our mistakes are the end of the world – oftentimes, the opposite is true. Most of my mistakes only affect me, if I’m being honest. That minimizes the impact of my mistake and gives me a good perspective to look from.

I don’t have all the answers. I continue to feel guilty about plenty of things – mistakes or not. But taking steps to assuage your guilt and remind yourself of who you really are, and that you’re more than one or two bad choices, is key to overcoming the debilitation that guilt can produce.

What’s something silly that you’ve felt guilty about? I want to know!

Problems Based in Reality

I had a blog post all set and ready to go last week when some things happened. For one, rainwater leaked into my apartment and ruined my computer. Then, that same rainwater pooled up in my ceiling and caused a portion of it to collapse on my bed, ruining my room for the foreseeable future. As I type this I am sitting on a mattress with a gigantic hole in my ceiling with a time TBD for when it will be fixed. This came on the heels of having my car towed and getting a speeding ticket. I know, I know, that’s a lot of shit to be thrown at someone in a week and a half. But I’m okay. Truly, actually, I am fine.

With a well-documented history of mental illness (re: this blog), I feel like it would be understandable for these kinds of problems to freak me out. If I have anxiety about nothing, wouldn’t I feel worse when something bad actually does happen? I thought it might. But it didn’t happen. Instead, something interesting happened: I actually became calmer. I was more accepting of what happened to me and took each necessary step to correct these missteps and fix what was broken. Why did this happen? I have a theory.

As someone who lives in their head constantly, these problems threw me headfirst into reality. I had to deal with real problems that have real consequences, and therefore I had to come up with real solutions to solve them. I emphasize the word ‘real’ because oftentimes, my problems are not reality-based. They are fictitious concoctions that I spend my days thinking about, and while they may have real consequences they are, in another sense, my own machinations.

However, taking up residence in my head allows me to better attack real-world problems. It’s funny, I think nothing of waiting in line for hours at the DMV or having to sleep on my floor for weeks, which might bother the hell out of someone. On the flip side, some people go through life without negative thoughts about themselves and I…do not (you have to smile at that – I personally think it’s pretty funny). But these real problems remind me that I’m human, that I’m a real person that has real things happen to him. And for someone who can spend his days living inside his head, it’s nice to be jolted out of it every once in a while. So I might not be entirely happy with my situation, but I am grateful. It’s nice to be reminded that I’m a person sometimes. We could all use that every now and then.

Muhammad Ali Quote