The feeling of guilt is something almost everyone at one time or the other would have experienced. While over time, some might have learnt to deal with it properly, it is very possible that many still struggle with this strong and imprisoning feeling of guilt. Guilt can be at different levels, there are unbearable levels of guilt which need quick attention before things get worse, guilt could also be not as aggressive as when it is unbearable, nonetheless, it is still so imprisoning. Guilt comes when you feel there is something you should have done or do, which you have not done, or a thing you should not do which you have done. Guilt can form on the basis of what you feel is right or wrong, that is your personal sense of values which is likely to have been influenced by your background, upbringing and experiences, guilt could also come from knowing that you have done something which is legally wrong or wrong according to the set of standards that an organisation or institution you are attached to. Whichever is the cause of guilt, the police man within called the conscience is what makes it so powerful. Whereas the conscience is there to help us have a sense of right and wrong so as to have a sane and safe community, in some cases, the conscience can become a tool for our minds to play hard tricks on us making us feel so bad about ourselves and causing so much fear of punishment, that it is hard to get out of its claws. Getting out of the claws of guilt is very possible, consider the following ways.
1. Accept the Fact
Guilt gets stronger when you keep trying to run away from it without facing it and dealing with it. You should be strong enough over your mind and self to accept what you did, don’t run away from it. If you really did commit an offence or caused something painful, didn’t do what you should have done and have led to a bad consequence, accept the fact that you did wrong and learn from it. The part of acceptance is the first step towards overcoming guilt. Don’t let the fear of what punishment you’ll face keep you hiding away from accepting what you did. The prison of a haunted heart is more dangerous than an earthly punishment. Funny thing is, this thing called guilt happens to anyone who knows left from right already, as much as the small child wants to hide from the bad thing he has done, it’s even more serious for the grown-ups because more is expected, and to own up for something when it’s a bad thing, is really difficult, but if that is what has to be done, it should be done.
2. Tender Apology/Make Amends
A simple apology can help you to get the feeling of guilt off your mind. Instead of trying to argue with yourself and keep having your mind preoccupied with the thought of wronging someone else, and the thought keeps popping up, not allowing you to be productive, and making you absent minded and disturbed, it is better for you to just go ahead and apologize or make amends with the person you’ve wronged. There are two problems here. One is ego, the ego won’t want you to look stupid in front of the other person or look weak by apologizing. The other problem maybe fear, the fear of what the offended party will do should they find out the offence, but both of these emotions have to be overcome. And when it is a complex or sensitive case, seeking proper guidance on how to go about it is very much advisable, but the truth still remains that you should find the right way of apologizing and making amends, but only do this when necessary.
3. Ignore It
There are times when the guilty feeling is not legitimate, that is you are not supposed to be feeling guilty, but somehow your mind is playing a smart one on you and you are so down on yourself feeling guilty, make yourself know that you are not afraid of doing what you should have done should the guilt have been true, but since it is not true, and it is invalid, you won’t be disturbed about it.
4. Avoid Magnifying It
Don’t go to the extreme when thinking about the incident, don’t make it look more terrible than it really is.
5. Be Ready to Forgive Yourself
Be ready to forgive yourself. You should be a bit fair on yourself, and know that you could also have been overwhelmed in the situation at the time and probably couldn’t think as cool or straight as you are thinking now. Even if you could have done better, you should still forgive yourself. Make a promise to yourself to do better than you have done in the past. If you survived a situation that another person didn’t, you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself.
6. Discuss it with Someone
When you keep the feeling of guilt to yourself, it will continue to have greater effect on your emotions, but when you take the courage to tell a trusted friend or elderly person, then you will be sharing the burden, and the other person who may not be directly in the situation as you are, wil be able to judge the situation from a clearer point of view. Share it with the right person, don’t share it with someone who will just judge you and condemn you without considering the situation well, and don’t share it with someone who you think may give a biased opinion because of how close they are to you. Talking to the right person about your guilt can be the first step in helping you take more right steps in the direction of recovering from the guilt.
7. Evaluate Your Standards
Is it possible that you have laid down such high and ideal standards for yourself and you are no longer giving yourself the chance to be human with your fallibilities and possibility of being imperfect? Are you expecting yourself to be so perfect without flaws or mistakes? Don’t be too hard on yourself, evaluate the standards that you are using to judge yourself, are they really fair on you? Are they just ideal but not realistic. Give yourself the space to be human, not to use that as an excuse to be bad, but to understand when you make imperfect decisions. Adjust your sense of right and wrong. While it is possible that there are standards you grew up with, now you are probably grown, more exposed and with some real-life experiences perhaps, you should be able to evaluate those standards more critically and realistically.
8. Face the Thought
When the thought about what you’ve done or not done wants to come and probably bring the guilt again, don’t try not to think about it. The more you don’t want to think about it, the more it comes, and the more you are tormented. Try to allow yourself think about it, look at what happened critically, don’t allow your mind to add or remove from it, consider the event properly and see if the guilt you feel is actually right or not.