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How To Stop Feeling Guilty And Forgive Yourself

How To Stop Feeling Guilty And Forgive Yourself

Guilt is perhaps one of the most debilitating emotions, and one that has the potential to negatively influence the human mind. Such feelings can build to the point where they become unmanageable, creating a fragmented mental outlook the prevents us from achieving goals, pursuing dreams and becoming the masters of our own destiny.

Guilt is also one of the most misunderstood emotions, as numerous scientific studies can testify to. In order to explore the nature of guilt and dispel many of the misconceptions surrounding it, psychologists Claire Adams and Mark Leary devised an experiment which focused on women who were striving to lose weight. The pair split the subjects into two groups and encouraged them to eat doughnuts and candy, with the simple goal of determining whether people would indulge less if they were relieved of their guilt.

This premise seems both cruel and ridiculous in equal measure, but while one group was made to feel better about skipping on their diets, the other was made to experience feelings of guilt. While logic would suggest that the former would eat more, they were actually found to have consumed just 28 grams as opposed to the 70 grams eaten by the group that were left to feel guilty. So what does this tell us about guilt, and what steps can we take to stop feeling guilty as individuals?

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5 Ways to Stop Feeling Guilty:

1. Remember that the brain exists as a separate entity to the mind

These findings can be explained by the fact that the brain exists as a separate entity to the mind, meaning that we cannot fully control our emotional responses to specific events. In this instance, it is important to understand that all emotional triggers are processed in an area of the brain known commonly as the limbic system, which is driven by short-term cravings and wants to indulge specific impulses. So when we feel guilty, we are empowering this part of the brain and allowing ourselves to indulge more than we otherwise would.

It is therefore crucial that we remember this, while taking steps to manage our response to emotional triggers and rather than giving in to sudden impulses and feelings. One of the best options is to engage in a process called mind-mapping, which involves the visual representation of your thought processes at any given time. This has emerged as a popular business tool, but it also has the dual benefit of mapping your personal thoughts into a structured form and helping you to plot specific responses to debilitating, emotional triggers.

2. Learn to consult yourself like your best friend

If you are struggling to accomplish a specific goal (think of weight loss, for example), it is easy to become consumed with guilt, remorse and the emotional response to failure. You can strive to avoid this by introducing objectivity to the situation, and imagining that it is as a close friend or beloved family member who is struggling to remain focused on what they are aiming to achieve.

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This instantly changes your perspective, as rather than focus on the emotion you are instead required to offer actionable advice and viable solutions. So rather than berating them and forcing them to feel guilty for their perceived failings, you would instead focus on rationalising the situation and empowering them to rebound from short-term setbacks. By visualising such a scenario and challenging your perspective, you can become your own counsellor and negate the emotional impact of guilt.

3. Learn from your mistakes and embrace the lessons of failure

When we are children, we are much more tenacious and fearless when learning new things. When learning how to walk and developing our academic skills, our burgeoning minds are incapable of guilt and therefore purely focused on the attainment of a single goal. As a result of this, we simply consider failure as an inevitable part of the learning process as children and build on our mistakes with the encouragement of others.

As we grow older and lose our inhibitions, however, we begin to fear failure and become consumed with guilt when we do not accomplish important goals. We subsequently allow the negative emotions that are associated with failure to prevent us from trying further, which in turns creates a vicious cycle of guilt, depression and anxiety. If we can instead focus on the core lessons of each specific failure and use these to inspire future efforts, we will gradually become more successful and eliminate guilt as an influential emotion.

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4. Learn to say no instead of acting out of obligation

Let’s face facts; there will also be little chores and activities in life that we do in spite of ourselves. From visiting the in-laws to food shopping, these mundane tasks are completed not out of love but because they are a fundamental part of everyday life and crucial to our interactions with others.

It is important to draw the line between necessary (but functional) tasks and voluntary activities that we have no obligation to participate in, however, as otherwise we can be made to spend the vast majority of our time either feeling guilty or acting out of obligation. If you can learn to make this distinction and simply say no to invitations that do not appeal to you, you live a more enriched life without becoming burdened by excess guilt.

Working on your delivery helps this process, as it prevents you from feeling as though you have been unnecessary rude or harsh.

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5. Learn to forgive yourself by righting specific wrongs

If you are to stop feeling guilty and manage your emotional response to failure or adversity, you must ultimately learn to forgive yourself. While this may be easier in instances where we have only let ourselves down, we must strive to forgive the mistakes that have impacted negatively on those who we hold dear. This can be an extremely difficult challenge, but you must ultimately ask yourself who benefits from your underlying feelings of sadness, guilt and helplessness?

The answer is nobody, as this simply creates a scenario where you are incapable of atoning for your mistakes and righting the wrongs that have hurt those around you. Such atonement is the only thing that can help you to move on as an individual, while this can only be achieved if you forgive your own mistakes and believe in your ability to make amends. Interestingly, the part of out brain that drives willpower becomes stronger when we have the belief and desire to accomplish something, and forgiving ourselves is the first step towards fostering this mind-set.

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Last Updated on July 18, 2019

What Makes People Happy? 20 Secrets of “Always Happy” People

What Makes People Happy? 20 Secrets of “Always Happy” People

Some people just seem to float through life with a relentless sense of happiness – through the toughest of times, they’re unfazed and aloof, stopping to smell the roses and drinking out of a glass half full.

They may not have much to be happy about, but the simplicity behind that fact itself may make them happy.

It’s all a matter of perspective, conscious effort and self-awareness. Listed below are a number of reasons why some people are always happy.

1. They Manage Their Expectations

They’re not crushed when they don’t get what they want – or misled into expecting to get the most out of every situation. They approach every situation pragmatically, hoping for the best but being prepared for the worst.

2. They Don’t Set Unrealistic Standards

Similar to the last point, they don’t live their lives in a constant pursuit towards impossible visions of perfection, only to always find themselves falling short of what they want.

3. They Don’t Take Anything for Granted

Happiness rests with feeling fulfilled – those who fail to stop and appreciate what they have every now and again will never experience true fulfillment.

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4. They’re Not Materialistic

There are arguing viewpoints on whether or not money can really buy happiness; if it can, then we know from experience that we can never be satisfied because there will always be something newer or better that we want. Who has ever had enough money?

5. They Don’t Dwell

They don’t sweat the small things or waste time worrying about things that don’t really matter at the end of the day. They don’t let negative thoughts latch onto them and drain them or distract them. Life’s too short to worry.

6. They Care About Themselves First

They’re independent, care for themselves and understand that they must put their needs first in order to accommodate the needs of others.

They indulge, aim to get what they want, make time for themselves and are extremely self-reliant.

7. They Enjoy the Little Things

They stop to smell the roses. They’re accustomed to find serenity when it’s available, to welcome entertainment or a stimulating discussion with a stranger when it crosses their path. They don’t overlook the small things in life that can be just as important.

8. They Can Adapt

They’re not afraid of change and they work to make the most out of new circumstances, good or bad. They thrive under pressure, are not overwhelmed easily and always embrace a change of pace.

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9. They Experiment

They try new things, experience new flavors and never shy away from something they have yet to experience. They never order twice from the same menu.

10. They Take Their Time

They don’t unnecessarily rush through life. They work on their own schedule to the extent that they can and maneuver through life at their own relaxing pace.

11. They Employ Different Perspectives

They’re not stuck in one perspective; a loss can result in a new opportunity, hitting rock bottom can mean that there’s no where to go but up.

12. They Seek to Learn

Their constant pursuit of knowledge keeps them inspired and interested in life. They cherish information and are on a life-long quest to learn as much as they can.

13. They Always Have a Plan

They don’t find themselves drifting without purpose. When something doesn’t go as planned, they have a plan for every letter in the alphabet to fall back on.

14. They Give Respect to Get It

They are respectful and, in turn, are seen as respectable; the respect they exude earns them the respect they deserve.

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15. They Consider Every Opportunity

They always have their eyes open for a new road, a new avenue worth exploring. They know how to recognize opportune moments and pounce on them to make the most of every situation. Success is inevitable for them.

16. They Always Seek to Improve

Perpetual self-improvement is the key towards their ongoing thirst for success. Whatever it is they do, they take pride in getting better and better, from social interactions to mundane tasks. Their pursuit at being the best eventually materializes.

17. They Don’t Take Life Too Seriously

They’re not ones to get offended easily over-analyze or complicate matters. They laugh at their own faults and misfortunes.

18. They Live in the Moment

They don’t live for tomorrow or dwell on what may have happened yesterday. Every day is a new opportunity, a new chapter. They live in the now, and in doing so, get the most out of every moment.

You can learn how to do so too: How to Live in the Moment and Stop Worrying About the Past or Future

19. They Say Yes

Much more often than they say no. They don’t have to be badgered to go out, don’t shy away from new opportunities or anything that may seem inconvenient.

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20. They’re Self-Aware

Most important, they’re wholly aware of themselves. They self-reflect and are conscious of their states of mind. If somethings bothering them, they fix it.

We’re all susceptible to feeling down every now and again, but we are all equipped with the necessary solutions that just have to be discovered.

Lack of confidence, inability to feel fulfilled, and susceptibility to stress are all matters that can be controlled through the way we handle our lives and perceive our circumstances.

Learn about How Self-Reflection Gives You a Happier and More Successful Life.

Final Thoughts

The main philosophy employed by the happiest includes the idea that life’s simply too short: life’s too short to let things get you down, to take things for granted, to pursue absolute and unrealistic perfection.

For some, employing these characteristics is a second nature – they do it without knowing. For others, a conscious effort must be put forth every now and again. Self-Awareness is key.

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Featured photo credit: Charles Postiaux via unsplash.com

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