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Empowerment Insights

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Life Change Articles from Jenny Jarvis Coaching

How do you cope with guilt?


A person with a sad face and a stressed face feeling guilty with the heading Guilt is a wasted emotion

Guilt is a wasted emotion.


Stay with me while I explain.


Guilt is something we are brought up with. It’s a way of managing others and being controlled ourselves. How many times have you felt guilty for something because your parents “made you” feel bad? And how does that impact your relationship with them, and others long term?


I also know that for ourselves, we often think “good, I hope they feel guilty” when we feel wronged. I know when my last relationship ended, I wanted him to feel guilty for all the things I perceived he had done to me.


But in the end, how does guilt ever help?


I firmly believe it doesn’t.


I asked this question in a group and people said, “but if you don’t feel guilt, how do you know you have done wrong?”.


Even if we are talking about people who have really wronged us or society, what is the role of guilt? Many say it’s a feeling that creates learning, but I would also challenge that. I think that unless you look for the learning, it’s still just a wasted emotion that eats at you and stops you moving forward.


I see remorse differently to guilt. You can be sorry for doing something bad and hurting others without the guilt feeling, and that will then help you move forward.


I recently posted about this in a single parent’s group. It seems rife with guilt for all sorts of things. One mum was feeling terribly guilty about going on holiday without her child. Others said they feel constantly guilty. But why do we do this and who does it help?


One person commented that if she doesn’t feel guilty, she feels selfish. And I think that is the case for most people who feel constant guilt. If you feel guilty, you feel bad, if you feel bad then you can’t be a bad person.


The problem comes when you are a people pleaser. People pleasing and guilt go hand in hand. If you can’t do everything for everyone, you feel guilty. The guilty feeling makes you feel awful, so you do everything possible for everyone else and then you burn out, lose yourself and go into survival mode.


I don’t think there is a person out there who says, “I’m so grateful for all the years my parents felt guilty”. I don’t think it happens.


Guilt is a burden for not only the person who is feeling the guilt, but also the person receiving it. Guilt is an exchange of energy. I know when my mum says she feels guilty for some parenting mishap in the past, it doesn’t feel good to me. I’m not happy she feels bad and then I also feel burdened.


How do you cope with guilt?


My daughter is brilliant at pulling me up when I put my guilt onto her. “It’s not about you mum” is her mantra. That’s not necessarily always true, but should she be made to feel bad about it? She always gets me to reflect back on myself about who the guilt is serving.


I was ironing some shirts for my mum, and she said, “watching you do that makes me feel guilty for sitting here”. In the past that would have also made me feel bad but now I just say, “I didn’t ask you to feel guilty, I just ironed some shirts”. Handing people back their own guilt can be the first step with dealing with yours.


When I have those guilty moments, I stop myself and ask, “what is the purpose of the guilt”? You have to be very honest. If it’s to get reassurance from others that you aren’t a bad person, acknowledge that. If it’s so you don’t feel selfish, acknowledge that too.


By knowing what the guilt is giving you, you can move past it. Living a life filled with guilt is like wading through treacle. Everything is so much harder.


If you have done something wrong, apologise (if you mean it), and plan not to do it again. Going over and over it in your head is helping no one.


I get fleeting moments of guilt where I wish I had done things differently, but I do not dwell on them anymore. When I think “I wish I had noticed that when the kids were younger” I remind myself that I was doing my best with the knowledge I had at the time.


When I have guilt over going on holiday without the kids, I remind myself that it’s important for me to re-charge and they will get their time when they are older. It took me 44 years to get to New York, so when my teenager was miffed I was going when she would love to, I could have let guilt stop me or reduce the fun I had. I just reminded myself how long I had waited, and it would be her turn later.


Guilt is an opinion


Another thing with guilt is that it’s often opinion, based on our upbringing, values and beliefs. If you are brought up in a family where they would look at the lady next door going away without her kids and your parents said, “I would never leave my kids, even for a day”, you are more likely to feel guilt around that later in life.


If you have parents who have been together forever and you get divorced, you may feel guilty for not being able to match up to their modelling. Equally, if you struggled as a kid because your parents got divorced and you also end up in the same situation and worry for your own children, you may feel guilt.


Guilt is based on your experiences in life and is often an opinion and judgement. We judge others and ourselves and when we feel we haven’t been perfect humans in our eyes, it can lead to guilt.


Ask yourself:


How often do I feel guilty?


Does it stop me doing things?


What purpose is guilt serving me?


If I didn’t feel guilty, how would that be?


Are others expecting me to feel guilty, or is it just me?


Am I expecting others to feel guilty and how do I feel if they don’t?


If someone else doesn’t feel guilty about the same things, what does that say about them?


Instead of guilt, what else could I feel that would be more beneficial?



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Coach and NLP Practitioner Jenny Jarvis

Jenny Jarvis is a UK Life Change Coach and NLP Practitioner who has empowered her clients to live a life of their dreams, unleash their relationship with money and start and grow brands and businesses to great success. A truly inspirational individual, Jenny is also the mum to two amazing teens, a Reiki Master and motivational speaker.


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