In a year filled with so much loss, many of us are feeling remorse over things outside of our control. We all beat ourselves up from time to time — but when this kind of shame spiral becomes chronic, it can begin to stifle your best self. Here are some easy ways you can learn to listen to your emotions, move forward with joy, and ultimately stop feeling so guilty all the time.
Unearth your true feelings
Guilt can be tricky to identify because it’s often masked by other emotions, reveals psychologist Melanie Greenberg, PhD. “It’s easier to feel angry, for example, because unlike guilt, this ‘hot’ emotion can be directed outward, away from ourselves,” she explains. Just step back and determine if what you’re feeling fits the facts of the situation, adds mental health counselor Megan Logan, LCSW. “If you’re angry or irritable, and you realize you may be overreacting to the facts, then you might be experiencing something deeper, like guilt — this awareness is the first step.”
Honor your ‘code’
Perhaps surprisingly, guilt can actually be a positive thing, as it signals what our true values are, Logan notes. “For instance, if you feel bad about telling a white lie to get out of going to an event you were too tired to attend, this is likely a sign that honesty is a core value for you.” Next time, you may consider declining an invite simply by saying you can’t make it, without feeling the need to give an excuse. “Guilt means you have a personal code — one you should be proud of — and it helps you get back on track with your authentic self.”
Lean on your circle
We’re often extra tough on ourselves for no reason at all. That’s why it’s important to ask yourself, “Did I do something wrong, or do I just feel like I did?” urges Logan. “It’s also helpful to ask people you trust what they think.” They may very well tell you that you’re being too hard on yourself, she notes. “Just getting a more objective point of view immediately makes you feel like you’re not alone with an emotion that can otherwise feel isolating.”
Show yourself kindness
If we don’t address guilt, it can turn into shame, reveals author and emotional healing expert Leah Guy. “While guilt is about something we did, shame makes us feel bad about who we are,” she notes. “That’s why we need to give ourselves permission to be kind to ourselves, which might mean anything from calling a friend to journaling about our experience. Self-compassion is the only way to move past guilt and shame into self-respect.”
Move forward with more awareness
Once you’ve released any lingering traces of misplaced shame, you’ll be able to move forward, assures Greenberg. “For example, if you felt guilty about drifting apart from a friend, you might practice what you could say to her to repair the relationship — when we allow ourselves to look at it head-on, guilt propels us to act.”
Feeling bad about something you did or said is never going to go away completely — but you can improve things by choosing how you handle it, promises Greenberg. “There are two kinds of guilt: the healthy type that alerts us to positive changes we want to make, and the toxic variety, which leaves us feeling stuck and down on ourselves.” Simply making it a habit to pause and question your emotions and listen to what they’re trying to tell you will help you stay in the realm of “positive guilt,” the kind that motivates you to be true to your best self.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.