How to Shift Guilt into Positive Action

Guilt is a tremendous waste of energy. It does no one any good.

Guilt is all about feeling bad. Using guilt, you can make yourself feel bad, make someone else feel bad, manipulate yourself into doing something that you don’t want to say or do, manipulate others into saying or doing things they don’t want to say or do. Using guilt, if you let them, others will manipulate you into doing something that you don’t want or need to say or do.

Guilt is grounded in standards and values. Standards and values are expressed with words such as – must, have to, ought to, obligated to, vowed to, should, responsible for, etc. The most used word is ‘should’.

I should work harder. I mustn’t talk so much. I should lose 10 pounds. I have to exercise more. I ought to drink less. I should go to church more often.

You can ‘should’ on yourself and you can ‘should’ on others. It’s a guaranteed way to make yourself and others feel bad.

Wants and needs are expressed with words that describe what we want or don’t want, what we need or don’t need, our preferences, passions, interests, tastes, etc.

I want to work with people. I need to feel wanted. I love music. I am fascinated with antique cars. I need some exercise. I need quiet to focus. I love holding my grandson. I hate licorice. I don’t want to travel any more. I don’t need as much sleep as I used to. I’m crazy about tennis.

When we feel guilt, either of our own making or from what others say or do to us, it is often because our (or someone else’s) standards and values are opposed to our wants and needs.

E.g. I should visit my friend in the hospital more often.

You may not like hospitals so you avoid visiting your friend. You are also busy in your life and have difficulty finding the time to go. You value your friend and have a standard of how friends interact so you make yourself feel guilty for not acting accordingly. Or, you use the guilt to make yourself visit your friend. People often do or say things, not because they want or need to but in order to stop or avoid feeling guilty.

Sometime guilt is employed to avoid confrontation or to control your own impulses. Perhaps you’re mad at someone but you feel it is risky or unsafe to be angry with that person so you turn the anger back on yourself. Only you experience the anger as guilt. “I should not be angry. I’m a bad person. There must be something wrong with me.” There is less danger of confrontation; there’s less danger of losing control of your own impulses. And, you feel bad.

Guilt is energy. When you feel guilty, turn that energy into productive action:

If you are religious or spiritual shift the energy of guilt into prayer. Prayer is the action of sending energy to God. You can pray for God to help you. You can pray for God to help others.

For example, When you feel guilty about not visiting your friend in the hospital shift from feeling guilty into praying for your friend.

Prayer is something you can do for your friend, no matter where you are or what you are doing. Praying for your friend will help you feel good about yourself. Guilt is passive, it does not do your friend any good. Prayer is active and may help your friend. There have been scientific studies that show that prayer is effective. Guilt is negative energy going round and round inside your head and body. Prayer is positive energy going outward into the universe.

This does not mean that you wont visit your friend. When you feel better about yourself you are more likely to visit, or contact in some other way (phone, email, card, flowers), because you want to, not because you should.

If you are not religious then consider how the universe is made up of energy. The sun is energy. Gravity is a force. Wind is energy. X-Rays give off energy. The human body emanates heat.

When you feel guilty turn the energy of guilt into positive vibes and send them out into the universe or send them to yourself. Sending positive vibes makes you feel good about yourself and about others.

This is using your energy productively, effectively and wisely. When people feel good about themselves, they are more likely to live by the standards and values that they hold. They don’t need guilt to make them do it.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay

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