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How to Deal with Guilt in Your Professional and Personal Life

A powerful milestone in the journey to deal with guilt occurs when you no longer have to focus on “letting go” because you never grabbed hold of guilt in the first place. It is a sign that you’ve untangled guilt’s grip. Guilt might show up at the doorstep of your mind, but there’s no open door for it to come in.

Arriving at this milestone signals the point in your journey where the focus of your energy is on what you want rather than what you don’t. A powerful goal can never simply be the absence of something. It must be a declaration of the presence of something. It’s not enough to let go of your guilt. Letting it go will certainly feel better than wallowing in it, but at some point you’ll realize “letting go” is not your deepest desire. Your spirit longs for something more. Your spirit desires joy. It desires peace. It desires love.

8 Habits to Deal with Guilt and Take Back Your Joy

  1. Notice that your joy is missing

You won’t go looking for what you never noticed was lost. Guilt can leave you in such a fog, feeling anxious and unhappy as you ruminate on what you think you’ve done wrong, that it doesn’t really occur to you what’s been taken from you. You can come to believe the goal is to get rid of the guilty feelings.

You can get serious about allowing your soul to be restored, reclaim the joy that’s buried there, and hold on to it. The first step is simply to notice your joy is gone when guilt is present.

  1. Accept the past

To accept is to make peace. But acceptance can also bump up against your perceptions of yourself and who you want to be in the world. It can bump up against what we wish our lives were. You know, that ideal you have of yourself and your circumstances? If an event from the past doesn’t line up with that ideal, we can cope by resisting the truth. By ignoring it. By rejecting the part of our story that doesn’t line up with the dream of who we wish we were and how we wish things had been. And sometimes, acceptance means owning your values without apology. It is difficult to accept the past when you haven’t made peace with what really matters to you.

  1. Embrace humility

It might seem counterintuitive to say that those who want to let go of guilt and embrace joy need to tap into humility to do so. After all, guilt says that you are concerned about others and not so arrogant that you don’t feel the need to apologize, right? Well, yes and no. Guilt requires empathy, and it is other-focused. But embracing joy requires forgiveness of oneself. And before we can talk about you forgiving yourself, we must first talk about how hard it can be to see ourselves as imperfect. After all, you typically beat yourself up because you are angry with yourself for not being perfect enough to meet your own high expectations. It takes a certain confidence in your abilities to believe you can live up to those expectations in the first place. Accepting that you’ve fallen short without beating yourself up means accepting your own humanity.

  1. Forgive yourself

Forgiveness is a release of debt. It means you don’t owe any further. There is no revenge or further punishment sought. Release the debt and the anger toward yourself that causes you to beat yourself up. Notice the ways in which you are punishing yourself and withholding good things, and stop it. If you forgive yourself for something that has caused authentic guilt, it does not mean what you did is okay. It means you choose to learn the lesson, pay the consequence, and change your behavior.

Forgiveness of yourself is also an opportunity to become a better version of yourself. The relationship should not remain the same. Whether it is gaining the courage to have a tough conversation with a guilt tripper or making the decision to trust your instincts, forgiving yourself means growing yourself, not remaining the same. Use your guilt dilemma as an opportunity to evolve, to go to the next level, to be honest about your self-sabotaging habits and let them go.

  1. Articulate your lessons

Think about the guilt dilemma that has plagued you most. It may be the one you’ve overcome or feel yourself overcoming as a result of the words in this book. Now ask, What is the most important message for me in this situation? When you are able to put into words exactly what your challenge has taught you, you solidify new or expanded values that you truly own. There is peace in knowing what you believe and why.

Some lessons we can learn because others tells us, but the lessons we tend to embrace most are those we’ve learned through experience. Don’t just casually ponder the message and lesson being offered to you. Articulate it clearly. Print it out. Keep it in front of you. It will bring you freedom. And with freedom comes joy.

  1. Spend time with people who make you feel good, not guilty

Some guilt trippers and manipulators are not as easy to set boundaries with as others. Start intentionally seeking and nurturing healthy friendships with people who don’t like guilt trips, people who celebrate with you and are authentic. These people should share your values so that you don’t find yourself trying to live up to expectations and values that are not aligned with yours.

If you are serious about taking back your joy and letting go of guilt, be intentional about who you spend your time with. Research shows that having just one happy person in your network increases your chances of happiness by 10 percent. Happiness is contagious. What do your closest friendships and relationships pass along to you? If the answer is guilt, doubt, or insecurity, it’s time to make some changes. The choice is yours.

  1. Do stuff that makes you feel guilt-free and happy

Putting yourself around people who leave you feeling guilt-free and full of joy is one step. But another very important step is doing things that make you feel happy and guilt-free. What brings you joy? What makes you smile? What activities align so perfectly with your values that you feel fulfilled when you do them? I’ve observed that many of us talk and think in the abstract about our dreams and things we’d love to do, but we put those things off indefinitely. Take the time right now to identify some of the things you love to do that you haven’t done in a while.

  1. Study the happiness triggers

Lastly, my research has led me to identify thirteen happiness triggers. Most people use the same happiness triggers over and over again out of habit. But knowing all thirteen of them can help you be very specific in doing things that will bring you joy, oftentimes almost immediately.

They include:

  • Anticipation
  • Gratitude
  • Connection
  • Service
  • Purpose
  • Movement
  • Play
  • Winning words
  • Financial savvy
  • Smiling
  • Relaxation
  • Flow
  • Savoring

What to do next? Envision a guilt-free you.

Imagine what your life might look and feel like when you are guilt-free.

Something powerful happens when you put words to paper, especially when it comes to your vision of yourself. I invite you to walk forward with a clear picture of what it looks and feels like to have false guilt replaced with authentic joy. The same research that shows that writing through challenges is powerful also tells us to imagine a “best possible future self” scenario is equally powerful. So take fifteen minutes right now to imagine yourself guilt-free.

I invite you to write about it in detail. Write in the present tense. Paint a vivid picture. See yourself kindly setting boundaries, boldly resetting expectations, and freely embracing the joy of being true to your purpose and divine assignments in life. Take a moment now to vividly describe the guilt-free you.

Want to read more? Get the book!

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Valerie Burton

Valorie Burton helps readers find joy and resilience while navigating the challenges of modern life. She is founder of the Coaching and Positive Psychology (CaPP) Institute and has written a dozen books on personal development. Her unique combination of research, faith, and personal transparency inspires action and delivers practical tools to find fulfillment and purpose in work and life.

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