Everyday we are presented with choices. How we handle those choices affects our life either positively, or negatively. If we make a good choice, we are rewarded with good results. However, make the wrong choice, and we are handed negative consequences combined with a feeling of guilt.
It’s important to realize that this will happen at some point in life, and sometimes repeatedly. It isn’t something we should beat ourselves up over. We instead must figure out what went wrong and do it differently next time.
But, when it happens to us, we often don’t just easily let it go. Instead, we let our minds run rampant, and follow along for the ride. It’s like we get to a point where we feel like we shouldn’t let ourselves off the hook, and that we must discipline ourselves for a while.
It is good to administer some discipline, because that’s how we learn, but, not for a prolonged period of time. At some point, we need to say, “what I did was dumb, but I won’t do that again”, and get back to a productive life.
The effects of letting the guilt build and fester within can start to affect our actual health. We might not eat properly, sleep properly, or, get enough exercise. Guilt can go from a thought of, “that was stupid”, to overall depression if we let it.
3 ways to break free from the guilt today
Regardless of what was done, how severe or minor it was, guilt is guilt. The effects are the same. How we cope with it is what is important.
I have listed my top 3 ways that I overcome an emotion of guilt, so I can get back to living a more peaceful life.
- Seek forgiveness
- Make amends
- Learn from it
1. Seeking forgiveness is the first step in overcoming guilt
Whether we have wronged ourselves, or someone else, we need to take responsibility for our actions and apologize. If no one else was involved, but is something that affects us in some way, then we must forgive ourselves for this.
If it was an action that affected someone else, then, we must try not to waste time. Apologize to them as soon as possible and start the rebuilding process. Because, that is what it will be; a process. When we are wronged, and someone apologizes, sometimes it is small, and we let it go. However, if it was something bigger, even when we forgive someone, we still might need some time to get over it.
This is all part of the process that we must understand. Sometimes, the results of our actions can be long-standing too.
If we make a bad choice (rack up too much debt, cause a misfortune to someone else…), the consequences from that choice might be there for many years. We can’t just live with the guilt of that choice for many years. Instead, seeking forgiveness is step one; accepting forgiveness is step 2.
We must accept that what is done is done and move forward.
2. Make amends to help rectify the issue
Seeking forgiveness is one part of the process; making amends is another important part. This is where we try to undo as much of the damage we have done as possible. If someone’s property was damaged as a result of our actions, then paying restitution is in order.
If someone’s character was slandered in some way, then a public apology might be necessary to help clear their name.
Whatever it is, it is important to try to reduce any damaging effects as soon as possible.
3. Learn from it
The final step in this process is to learn from the action. We can help ourselves move on and past the situation when we set a plan in place to help ensure that we don’t do this again.
As I mentioned, it is likely that we will in fact, do something that we consider to be stupid several times throughout this life. It is true that life is short, but it is certainly long enough to offer us many chances to make mistakes.
We must be sure not to make the same mistakes repeatedly.
I did a lot of dumb things throughout my life. I used to drink too much and would make poor choices. Most of them only affected my pride. Some of them did affect others. But, after quitting drinking for many years, the dumb choices didn’t stop.
Instead of spending an entire paycheck on a night of drinking or picking fights with someone and getting my butt kicked, it moved on to something just as damaging; financing.
I know, this seems ridiculous. I mean, everyone finances stuff, right? Well maybe this is true. But, for me, financing above my family’s means is where I went over the line.
Eventually I made a choice to stop financing things, but, the payments didn’t stop. This is where the feeling of stupidity and guilt escalated into depression for me. Watching my family deal with big monthly payments for an item I no longer even valued or cared about, became a big inner burden.
I understand that many families split under the pressure of debt, and that fear was real for me.
I have since realized that cash is king, and for us, saving up for a purchase is much more rewarding than instant gratification anchored to a long line of payments and guilt.
If we are lucky, our poor choices and actions only affect ourselves. When this is the case, it is easier to move on. It is when our actions affect others that we really feel the full weight of guilt. This is because every time we see them, we are reminded of what we did.
We must practice the 3 steps covered in this article; seek forgiveness, make amends, and learn from it, so that we can move from a feeling of guilt, to a lesson learned.
It is difficult to climb out of a hole when we keep throwing more dirt on ourselves. So, instead of mulling over the offense, look for a way out and watch for any signs of a repeat offense in the future, and find a different path.