Imagine how tiring it would be to carry a disapproving parent, partner or boss on your back all the time. People who frequently experience feelings of guilt know that it can be downright exhausting.Life coaches point out that one of the most interesting things about guilt is how people sometimes describe it. “The word ‘guilty’ often automatically conveys a victim mentality,” according to Jody Michael, CEO and founder of Jody Michael Associates. “People are quick to point the finger to an external source when they refer to guilt, saying that someone in their life ‘makes them feel guilty.’”
The truth is: emotions are not put upon you. Your father can tell you he wishes you could visit more than once a week; your daughter can tell you you’re the worst mom on the planet for not baking for the school bake sale; your boss can shoot you a disapproving look when you make an uninformed comment at a division meeting. Still, how you feel is up to you.
“You drive your own thoughts and moods,” as Jody emphasizes in all of her coaching engagements — whether life coaching, career coaching or executive coaching.
5 Life Coaching Strategies to Overcome Guilt
Guilt can be a pesky feeling, with an emotional hold that often lasts beyond the event associated with it. Whether your guilt stems from perceptions of how others are judging your actions, or from your own assessments, the following strategies could help free you from its grip.
- Differentiate between empathy and guilt — There is a fine line between understanding how someone might feel in a certain situation and taking responsibility for those feelings. Don’t cross that line. While you always want to be respectful, you are not responsible for managing other people’s feelings.
- Let go of perfectionism — Research has established a link between perfectionism and situational guilt. That comes as little surprise. If your measure of “perfect” is based on being all things to all people at all times, you will fall short. One life coaching strategy to consider, particularly if you notice that your perfectionistic tendencies result in guilt, is evaluating whether your own standards are realistic. Can you ease up on any self-imposed pressures?
- Recognize triggers — While it is up to you to take responsibility for your own thoughts, moods and behaviors, we are all products of our past. Dynamics that were established in childhood, or in previous relationships, can impact the way you hear something that your partner says to you today. If you were unfairly blamed for something as a child, you might be inclined to feel guilty whenever your significant other complains about something, even if you’ve done nothing wrong. Developing an awareness of your triggers can help you manage them.
- Do a reality check — Before beating yourself up, thinking of all the ways you’ve failed as a parent, partner or dog owner, stop. Do a reality check. Accept the fact that, on certain days, there will be people in your life, whether overly demanding bosses or overtired children, for whom your best simply isn’t good enough. Remind yourself that you are not falling short; rather, their expectations are not reasonable. As we suggest to our life coaching clients, find a reassuring mantra, like “I’m a good mother,” and repeat it over and over in your head until a sense of calm replaces the guilt.
- Identify healthy versus unhealthy guilt — Healthy guilt is a valuable learning tool. It can serve as an emotional red flag that a thought or behavior is out of alignment with your values, giving you an opportunity to steer yourself back on course. Unhealthy guilt, on the other hand, is much more complicated. If left unchecked, unhealthy guilt can take a toll on self-esteem, getting in the way of building strong relationships and achieving personal and professional goals.
What other strategies have helped you overcome guilt?