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How to Stop Feeling Guilty and Free Your Mind

How to Stop Feeling Guilty and Free Your Mind

Is there anything that you feel guilty about?

I think we can all agree that guilt is a heavy burden. Metaphorically, it can make you feel like you are carrying a huge weight on your shoulders. If you allow it to, guilt can hold you hostage and consume your life.

This is the ultimate form of self-betrayal.

I’ve got great news for you… you don’t have to carry around this negative emotion for one day longer.

If you’ve ever stopped to take stock of all the emotions you feel, you’ve surely come across basic emotions like “happy” or “sad.” These are emotions that are easy to understand, and we usually know where they’re coming from. According to Psychology Today, these are hardwired, innate emotions, meaning that we’ve all got them and can recognize them in ourselves and others.[1]

As we all know, life can get messy sometimes. This is when not-so-fun emotions tend to creep up and try to ruin our day, or worse, our life. One of these emotions is guilt.

So, how to stop feeling guilty? You’ll learn about it in this article.

Guilt Defined

There are different definitions of guilt, depending on which modality you view it from. I resonate most with a cognitive approach which states that guilt is an emotion that people experience because they’re convinced they’ve caused harm to someone.[2]

This is a trap that a lot of people fall into, including me. Oftentimes, it’s the illusion of possible harm that you’ve inflicted upon someone that causes guilty feelings. It’s really easy to misinterpret the events or behaviors of others.

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No matter how you deconstruct it, guilt sucks. The question is…. why do we feel guilty? Once you know where your guilty feelings come from, you can learn how to stop feeling guilty and free your mind to focus on more empowering things.

Why We Feel Guilty

Guilt is a personal experience, meaning that what may make you feel guilty may not bother someone else in the slightest. It all boils down to the moral code that you live by. If you think that something is wrong, and I don’t, you’ll feel guilty for doing it even if I don’t care.

At its core, guilt is a way of recognizing that we have not lived up to our own values and standards.[3] In the words of Brené Brown,

“It’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.”

The most common cause of guilt comes from the things you do or don’t do. Letting yourself down is one thing, but letting someone else down is a perfect recipe for experiencing guilt, which can sometimes lead to shame.

What Does Guilt Do to You?

Guilt, like most negative emotions, isn’t a good feeling to have. Having to rethink your bad choices can drive you crazy and force you to overthink how you could have done things differently.

But, as we’ve already learned, there’s no going back when you’ve followed through with something.

When you feel guilty, you may automatically jump to your own defense. Some people will try to talk themselves into thinking that their actions weren’t as hurtful as they were.

Sometimes, we try to find ways to believe that the people we’ve harmed deserved it somehow. This is just the ego talking.

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When we’re forced to re-evaluate these beliefs, we may become irritable or defensive, which is a self-defense mechanism. On the flip side, when we’ve accepted our guilt, we often try to compensate for it.

So, if you’ve made someone upset, you may do everything in your power to try to make him or her happy again. While making someone feel better can be a great thing, it can also take a toll on your emotional state.

It’s important to remember that trying to hold onto or fix a relationship through the emotion of guilt isn’t necessarily healthy. Choose your battles wisely, knowing that you cannot change the past, only re-write the future. If the people in your life aren’t on board with that concept, it’s time to rethink the friendships.

The Side Effects of Guilt

When you’re feeling guilty, oftentimes, that means that you’re also stressed. If you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done, it only makes sense that it will take a toll on your body. This is why it’s important to assess how your guilt is impacting you physically.

Guilt also takes a toll on an already fragile mental state. It contributes significantly to depression and anxiety, as it very often involves a negative view of self.[4]

The more that you think about things, the more you start to dwell on them. If you ruminate about your actions on repeat, you’re taking up space in your mind that could go to more productive thought patterns.

Don’t let guilt get the best of you. Give yourself a break. Life is way too short to feel guilty all of the time, and it’s bad for your health.

How to Stop Feeling Guilty And Set Yourself Free

It is possible to retrain your brain to stop feeling guilty. Feeling guilty about things that you’ve done wrong is perfectly normal, but when you hold onto guilt for too long, it has the potential to take over your entire life.

This is why it’s important that you retrain your brain to stop feeling guilty. It starts with learning how to effectively cope with feelings of guilt in a proactive way

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1. Own Your Decisions

Once you make a conscious decision and carefully weigh your options, it’s over. Agonizing about what you should have done differently will only drive you crazy. The moment that you take responsibility for your choice, you stop overthinking and move on.

Where people get stuck is that they make decisions without thinking about the consequences. As a result, they end up creating situations that lead to stress and guilt. Don’t let life happen to you. Rather, let it happen for you.

The best way to do this is by making decisions and owning them. By choosing any decision (even if it’s not the best one), you are claiming personal ownership. This is how you diminish feelings of guilt and shame and reclaim your power.

2. Practice Self-Compassion

You’re not perfect and nobody is expecting you to be. We all make mistakes. Don’t self-sabotage yourself more than you have to because life is hard enough as it is.

It’s important to realize that feeling compassion for yourself does not mean that you instantly give up responsibility for your actions. Rather, it means that you are finally able to let go of self-hatred and free your mind.

The next time you start to experience feelings of guilt, try practicing self-compassion instead. Make it a daily ritual. Tell yourself that you’re good enough and forgive your wrongs. You’re worthy of that.

3. Reflect Upon Your Actions

You can’t change anything until you intimately reflect upon what it is that you did to make you feel guilty. Self-awareness is the foundation of personal growth.

When we accept the invitation to reflect upon our actions, we force ourselves to go inwards and do the work to better understand who we are.

Guilt leads to unproductive behaviors like rumination, which compromises your self-awareness by not letting you remain in the present.[5]

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There is no point trying to run away from whatever it is that’s causing you to feel guilty. So, why do you feel guilty? Don’t place blame elsewhere. Instead, accept the role that you played in a situation. Once you’ve done this, you can start to think about why you made the mistake in the first place.

4. Learn from Your Mistakes

You’re human, remember? That means that you’re allowed to screw up. It’s a part of the process of becoming the best version of yourself.

Whenever you feel like you’ve made a mistake, it’s important to take the time to think about what you wish you had done differently.

The best way to prevent yourself from spiraling into guilt is to ask yourself, “What can I learn from this experience?” If you’re not failing forward and learning from your mistakes, then you are most likely punishing yourself.

When we learn to experience guilty feelings as a way of receiving information, we are already healing from our mistakes.[6]

Don’t ask for permission from someone to set yourself free from guilt. Give that gift to yourself.

Final Thoughts

Don’t allow guilt to control your life. Living your life feeling bad about yourself is a waste of precious time. Life is short. Forgive yourself, move on and be happy.

Are you ready to stop feeling guilty and free your mind? Take a deep breath and let go. Life is waiting for you.

More About Freeing Yourself

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Ashley Elizabeth

Resilience Mastery Coach and Motivational Speaker

What Motivates You to Succeed in Life and Keep Moving Forward? 5 Reasons Why Keeping a Mood Journal Is Good For Your Mental Health 5 Ways to Help Yourself Advance Your Mental Strength 13 Simple Habits to Cultivate Self-Compassion 5 Steps to Bounce Back Fast When Life Knocks You Down

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Last Updated on January 24, 2021

How to Say No When You Know You Say Yes Too Often

How to Say No When You Know You Say Yes Too Often

Do you say yes so often that you no longer feel that your own needs are being met? Are you wondering how to say no to people?

For years, I was a serial people pleaser[1]. Known as someone who would step up, I would gladly make time, especially when it came to volunteering for certain causes. I proudly carried this role all through grade school, college, even through law school. For years, I thought saying “no” meant I would disappoint a good friend or someone I respected.

But somewhere along the way, I noticed I wasn’t quite living my life. Instead, I seem to have created a schedule that was a strange combination of meeting the expectations of others, what I thought I should be doing, and some of what I actually wanted to do. The result? I had a packed schedule that left me overwhelmed and unfulfilled.

It took a long while, but I learned the art of saying no. Saying no meant I no longer catered fully to everyone else’s needs and could make more room for what I really wanted to do. Instead of cramming too much in, I chose to pursue what really mattered. When that happened, I became a lot happier.

And guess what? I hardly disappointed anyone.

The Importance of Saying No

When you learn the art of saying no, you begin to look at the world differently. Rather than seeing all of the things you could or should be doing (and aren’t doing), you start to look at how to say yes to what’s important.

In other words, you aren’t just reacting to what life throws at you. You seek the opportunities that move you to where you want to be.

Successful people aren’t afraid to say no. Oprah Winfrey, considered one of the most successful women in the world, confessed that it was much later in life when she learned how to say no. Even after she had become internationally famous, she felt she had to say yes to virtually everything.

Being able to say no also helps you manage your time better.

Warren Buffett views “no” as essential to his success. He said:

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

When I made “no” a part of my toolbox, I drove more of my own success, focusing on fewer things and doing them well.

How We Are Pressured to Say Yes

It’s no wonder a lot of us find it hard to say no.

From an early age, we are conditioned to say yes. We said yes probably hundreds of times in order to graduate from high school and then get into college. We said yes to find work, to get a promotion, to find love and then yes again to stay in a relationship. We said yes to find and keep friends.

We say yes because we feel good when we help someone, because it can seem like the right thing to do, because we think that is key to success, and because the request might come from someone who is hard to resist.

And that’s not all. The pressure to say yes doesn’t just come from others. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves.

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At work, we say yes because we compare ourselves to others who seem to be doing more than we are. Outside of work, we say yes because we are feeling bad that we aren’t doing enough to spend time with family or friends.

The message, no matter where we turn, is nearly always, “You really could be doing more.” The result? When people ask us for our time, we are heavily conditioned to say yes.

How Do You Say No Without Feeling Guilty?

Deciding to add the word “no” to your toolbox is no small thing. Perhaps you already say no, but not as much as you would like. Maybe you have an instinct that if you were to learn the art of no that you could finally create more time for things you care about.

But let’s be honest, using the word “no” doesn’t come easily for many people.

3 Rules of Thumbs for Saying No

1. You Need to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Let’s face it. It is hard to say no. Setting boundaries around your time, especially you haven’t done it much in the past, will feel awkward. Your comfort zone is “yes,” so it’s time to challenge that and step outside that.

If you need help getting out of your comfort zone, check out this article.

2. You Are the Air Traffic Controller of Your Time

When you want to learn how to say no, remember that you are the only one who understands the demands for your time. Think about it: who else knows about all of the demands in your life? No one.

Only you are at the center of all of these requests. You are the only one that understands what time you really have.

3. Saying No Means Saying Yes to Something That Matters

When we decide not to do something, it means we can say yes to something else that we may care more about. You have a unique opportunity to decide how you spend your precious time.

6 Ways to Start Saying No

Incorporating that little word “no” into your life can be transformational. Turning some things down will mean you can open doors to what really matters. Here are some essential tips to learn the art of no:

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1. Check in With Your Obligation Meter

One of the biggest challenges to saying no is a feeling of obligation. Do you feel you have a responsibility to say yes and worry that saying no will reflect poorly on you?

Ask yourself whether you truly have the duty to say yes. Check your assumptions or beliefs about whether you carry the responsibility to say yes. Turn it around and instead ask what duty you owe to yourself.

2. Resist the Fear of Missing out (FOMO)

Do you have a fear of missing out (FOMO)? FOMO can follow us around in so many ways. At work, we volunteer our time because we fear we won’t move ahead. In our personal lives, we agree to join the crowd because of FOMO, even while we ourselves aren’t enjoying the fun.

Check in with yourself. Are you saying yes because of FOMO or because you really want to say yes? More often than not, running after fear doesn’t make us feel better[2].

3. Check Your Assumptions About What It Means to Say No

Do you dread the reaction you will get if you say no? Often, we say yes because we worry about how others will respond or because of the consequences. We may be afraid to disappoint others or think we will lose their respect. We often forget how much we are disappointing ourselves along the way.

Keep in mind that saying no can be exactly what is needed to send the right message that you have limited time. In the tips below, you will see how to communicate your no in a gentle and loving way.

You might disappoint someone initially, but drawing a boundary can bring you the freedom you need so that you can give freely of yourself when you truly want to. And it will often help others have more respect for you and your boundaries, not less.

4. When the Request Comes in, Sit on It

Sometimes, when we are in the moment, we instinctively agree. The request might make sense at first. Or we typically have said yes to this request in the past.

Give yourself a little time to reflect on whether you really have the time or can do the task properly. You may decide the best option is to say no. There is no harm in giving yourself the time to decide.

5. Communicate Your “No” with Transparency and Kindness

When you are ready to tell someone no, communicate your decision clearly. The message can be open and honest[3] to ensure the recipient that your reasons have to do with your limited time.

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How do you say no? 9 Healthy Ways to Say “No”

    Resist the temptation not to respond or communicate all. But do not feel obligated to provide a lengthy account about why you are saying no.

    Clear communication with a short explanation is all that is needed. I have found it useful to tell people that I have many demands and need to be careful with how I allocate my time. I will sometimes say I really appreciate that they came to me and for them to check in again if the opportunity arises another time.

    6. Consider How to Use a Modified No

    If you are under pressure to say yes but want to say no, you may want to consider downgrading a “yes” to a “yes but…” as this will give you an opportunity to condition your agreement to what works best for you.

    Sometimes, the condition can be to do the task, but not in the time frame that was originally requested. Or perhaps you can do part of what has been asked.

    Final Thoughts

    Beginning right now, you can change how you respond to requests for your time. When the request comes in, take yourself off autopilot where you might normally say yes.

    Use the request as a way to draw a healthy boundary around your time. Pay particular attention to when you place certain demands on yourself.

    Try it now. Say no to a friend who continues to take advantage of your goodwill. Or, draw the line with a workaholic colleague and tell them you will complete the project, but not by working all weekend. You’ll find yourself much happier.

    More Tips on How to Say No

    Featured photo credit: Chris Ainsworth via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Science of People: 11 Expert Tips to Stop Being a People Pleaser and Start Doing You
    [2] Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Tips to Get Over Your FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out
    [3] Cooks Hill Counseling: 9 Healthy Ways to Say “No”

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