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How to Stop Feeling Guilty and Move on from the Past

How to Stop Feeling Guilty and Move on from the Past

Despite being of a negative nature, guilt ought to be used as a sign or a motivator for improving emotional intelligence and mental health. However, it shouldn’t be used as a motivation tactic.[1]

Guilt, triggered as a biochemical reaction of an event with bad outcome, is a negative mental energy (negative emotion), a repetitive feeling of having a bad conscience about having done something wrong or not having done something.

Consequently, there is an inner conflict that impacts self-worth, leaving a feeling of insecurity which results in lack of control over actions. Remorse follows as a result which leads to inward self-punishment that has humiliating effects on the mental health like, anxiety, doubt and complex of inferiority. It’s no wonder that one’s self-confidence is destroyed when guilt cannot be handled properly.

Obviously, we want to prevent this and learn how to not feel guilty but let guilt trigger a call for righteous action and self-improvement. In this article, we will apply 4 steps and practice to turn guilt into a positive outcome, understanding its dynamic structure as an emotion and get the knowledge of how to not feel guilty ever again.

No matter how many statistics or researches we’re going to read about the different types of guilt that have been classified, and which type of guilt we feel, nothing can help the fact that the guilt has to be faced and dealt with — because its feeling is present (but not entirely real).

The feeling of guilt must be approached with the idea of reducing the pressure of the anxiety and uncertainty created through the big question “What have I done?”

Let’s approach it right away and investigate deeper into that knowledge.

Step 1: Put Guilt Where It Belongs

You probably wonder “How long it takes to get rid of the guilt? The answer is: it can be a lifetime or only a minute – it’s a matter of understanding the origin and the nature of guilt, and your decision about the approach of dealing with it.

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The approach begins by understanding the fact that the origin of guilt belongs to the past. Each time we feel guilt, we reactivate a memory of a dead event. For example, let’s say you are in a peaceful state of mind where all of a sudden, someone blames you about a thing you have (or haven’t) done some while ago. Immediately, there is (inflicted) guilt; confusion or frustration you feel.

Since the origin of guilt lies in the past, we want to handle the past to our advantage and not stay in it. Because when we do, we feed the dead event (making it alive and present) inflaming the feeling of guilt constantly. Guilt affects us physically and mentally and invites confusion and suffering to our presence.

The first step for how to not feel guilty is to:

  • Leave the guilt to the origin of the event – in the past.
  • Act consciously and constructively – in the present.

This will lift off pressure and enable you to investigate and resolve your guilt. You must act from a neutral position with a clear mind, unclouded by any emotions.

Picture this: A building is burning and you run to save your life. On your way out, you try to save as many people as possible. You have run passed more than twenty people but saved only one. You are still running, not thinking or feeling guilty about the ones you couldn’t save.

You see, you don’t get stuck in the past creating an emotion that is of no use at that moment, but stay present without inflicting guilt on you and focus on moving forward constructively to repair whatever possible. Occupy yourself with present priorities!

But what happens if there is the acknowledgement of direct actual wrongdoing caused? How to not feel guilty then?

Step 2: Improve the Skill of Acceptance

Relax, there is no person in this world that hasn’t suffered or dealt with guilt. Life consist of making mistakes and as a result of a committed mistake, guilt is an ingredient of life.

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When you’re conscious of the wrongdoing, the event still stays in the past, it is irreversible and you can put the feeling behind you by:

  • Accepting your guilt and the fact that you can handle it. Although the event and the cause are irreversible, its effect is temporary and you have the power to change it.
  • Expressing will and courage to repair the wrongdoing – firstly, to yourself, and secondly, to the parties affected by the event.

Don’t get intimidated about not possessing a heroic capacity of courage, that’s not needed here. We know that there is a lack of courage in society today, but that little courage to put the guilt behind you and focus on reparation and self-improvement, that much you have.

Acting this way will amplify your courage and you will be able to notice a sense of worth within. Instantly your suffering will cease to exist! You’re still conscious of the guilt but don’t suffer from it anymore. You’re on your way to repair and improve things and become the “better version of yourself”. Alone, this is a great achievement and an act of fulfillment.

Occupying yourself with the search for the right action will motivate you to find out what to do and how to do it.

And what to do when the guilt is self-inflicted?

Step 3: Improve Emotional Intelligence

So many times we have failed at things and felt guilty, and so many times we’ve made others feel guilty. But most of the times, many of us impose guilt on ourselves for no objective reason. The more we impose guilt on ourselves, the more we disconnect from our emotional intelligence, and fail to understand the signals of our emotions and that of other people around us.[2]

Therefore, it is inevitable to understand guilt as a sign for practicing acceptance and behavior improvement in order to improve emotional intelligence. Otherwise, we run the risk of becoming emotionally incompetent.

After a meditation seminar in Switzerland back in 2011, one of my clients said to me that she feels guilty about the global warming and deeply concerned about saving the planet. She was already living a holistic life but still wondered how to make her lifestyle even more eco-friendlier.

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I recommended her to travel to a poor country and see the difference between cultures and lifestyles. She decided not to go because of the high CO2 emissions caused by the airplanes she would fly with. On top of that, she resigned from driving to work, taking the train instead which added more hours and hustle in transporting herself. She suffered badly from self-inflicted, inappropriate guilt from things she wasn’t personally responsible for. Her internal conflicts made her feel helpless.

A specific meditation on guilt which I prepared for her, helped her focus on activities in her domain of responsibilities. There she worked diligently achieving real positive outcome and her internal conflicts about the global warming came to an end. She managed to use guilt as motivator to focus on her health and achieve emotional stability. That made her realize that her actions are worthwhile and later got involved in charitable and ecological projects for poor countries.

Most of us are confronted with similar situations in life from which we impose guilt on ourselves without ever inquiring if we are really accountable for any of that guilt. I urge you to accept your position, tune in deeply within your feelings (more effective if practicing deep breathing exercises) and inquire to find out where you made a mistake.

This way, you’ll be able to balance your emotions and improve your emotional intelligence.

Step 4: Choose How You Want to Feel

This is the most important step. How can you deal with strong unresolved guilt?

The sense of unresolved guilt doesn’t mean you have to carry it with you, let alone leave to disrupt other aspects of your life. No matter how intense your guilt, it’s still in the past and its mere existence must not be a reason for self-punishment.

Even if it can’t be repaired, it can be repaid. Offer yourself to repay the wrongdoing in any way possible. That is an act of courage and self-acceptance. This act alone, for which you have the freedom to choose it at any time, will make you feel great, honest, loyal and righteous. No one can take that opportunity away from you.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”. — Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning

As a Holocaust survivor, Viktor E. Frankl understood and chose not to succumb to the negative forces imposed on him.

Use your freedom and the opportunity to shift from the emotion of guilt to the driving desire of achieving a positive outcome and feel the way you want to feel. In such a case, guilt can be one of the greatest life-teachers.

Your Freedom to Choose Your Attitude

Remember, the inability to manage guilt is a hindrance for your emotional growth and it damages your mental health. Choose an attitude of an achiever in your particular set of circumstances. Awaken the dormant potential within you which will show you the solution and bestow you with inner peace.

Love yourself and use your guilt to grow magnificently together with your inner freedom. I would recommend you to use this simple and proven breathing technique:

Inhale gently – saying “This guilt and my inner freedom motivate me to find solutions…

Exhale gently – saying “…so all guilt fades away.”

The immense effect of inhalation and exhalation is so immediate that when you apply it seriously and absolutely, the feeling of guilt ceases to exist. Realize that you are worthy and capable of repairing your wrongdoing no matter what it takes.

Turn guilt into courage and be present with a vision for doing something worthwhile again. I salute the spirit in you!

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Featured photo credit: Jean Gerber via unsplash.com

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Marcin Gil

Marcin is a spiritual being just like anyone challenging to uncover what we already have โ€“ spiritual freedom.

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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