When I refer to guilt, I’m talking about instances where you think it’s all your fault.
In my case, I struggled with guilt and regret after my son’s suicide. All the regrets and coulda woulda shouldas played in my head on repeat for months and even years. Maybe you have guilt from substance use disorder or a suicide attempt.
You can’t hold yourself hostage for past mistakes you probably had little control over or ones influenced by trauma, crisis, or mental illness forever. Carrying that weight won’t benefit you, your loved ones. At some point to move forward and live you have to let go of the guilt. It’s a process so be patient and trust it.
Step 1: Recognize it.
Before you can do anything about it, you have to label the feeling. Then you’ve got to want to do something about it and be ready to take steps to minimize it. It’s important to set expectations. There is no way to eradicate guilt completely. Just like pain, you have to learn to accept a certain level of it.
Step 2: Set boundaries.
Limit the real estate it takes up in your brain. So if you spend ten minutes wallowing in your guilt, give yourself a time limit. If it’s 5 minutes, then limit it to 4, then finally seconds. The goal was to minimize the time it takes up in your life which is wasted time and unproductive.
Step 3: Do something different.
When those thoughts are tormenting you, get up, and do something different. Take a walk outside, do breathing exercises, meditation, go to the drug store, start cooking something, weed the garden, or shred old documents–anything to reboot your brain. No unhealthy stuff, though. Drugs and alcohol are cheating and will get you stuck in guilt. It solves nothing so make sure you do something productive and/or healthy.
Step 4: Diminish its power by granting yourself forgiveness.
Forgiving yourself doesn’t mean absolving yourself of any responsibility but rather allowing yourself to acknowledge human errors and the grace to live as an imperfect human. Super Hero is not on your resume. Things happen for which you cannot change. It’s time to move forward and learn from errors without punishing yourself for them for the rest of your life which benefits no one.
Step 5: Understand you have knowledge now that you did not have then.
Appreciate your new knowledge and the journey it took to get you where you are now, wherever that is. Widen your lens and appreciate that which you did do well and quit focusing on the one thing or few that you didn’t do well or missed. Even if it had a catastrophic result. You can’t look back at something and apply the knowledge you have now and pass judgment on your past self.
Step 6: Recognize it’s return
This is not a fast process. You will make progress and then you will regress before you move forward again. Healing takes time. Letting go of guilt and that part of you that is sure you had more control over the situation than you probably had is a process. Trust the process and stay with your program.
Step 7: Acknowledge the sting, call it out and watch it float away
Regrets, mistakes, and the guilt that is the result of having done something or missed something can be minimized but will never completely disappear. What you are going for is a level that can be tolerated. There will be times there is that bite of regret. Remind yourself you’ve forgiven yourself, take a deep breath, sit back and watch it float away.
I hope that helps. I hope it gives you some solid steps to take to achieve a life and a future you deserve.