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How to Stop Feeling Guilty and Move on from the Past

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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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More About Freeing Your Mind

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 July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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