6 steps to use guilt positively

I’ve always found guilt quite a difficult emotion to be present with. It’s a really visceral feeling that plants itself in the forefront of my thinking and gnaws away, urging me to solve the problem. Finding ways to make good on the wrong doing or re-contextualising the situation to make it less problematic. It’s not surprising that guilt is such a ‘persistant’ emotion, because it’s there to act as our conscience. To help us remain part of a positively functioning social group. We feel guilt when we believe we have acted in ways that may impact on our position with that social group or within a specific relationship. Strong, uncomfortable feelings are nature’s way of telling us to change course or make amends.

 

When I forgot to buy my husband rugby tickets the other week, I had that sudden, cold realisation about an hour after they went on sale. Obviously, they had all gone within minutes, so by the time I looked, they were on the re-sale sites for massively inflated prices and I couldn’t make good on my mistake. There was nothing I could do to re-frame what had happened as I simply forgot. I had no choice but to admit my mistake and feel the guilt.

 

As I spent some time just sitting with my emotions I could feel how physically it affected me. The tightening across my shoulders and neck, the feeling of wanting to squirm, the unsettled feeling in my stomach. I did my best to just extend some curious attention to these feelings and I realised that I felt some discomfort with the balance of ‘give and take’ in my relationship with my husband. I spend so much of my time ‘giving’ to my children that I often don’t have much left to give my husband. He’s a good egg and doesn’t ask for much, so to have let him down on one of my opportunities to actually do something for him was really disappointing.

 

It was important for me to feel that so I could think about our relationship in a broader sense and decide to make some changes. To think about how I could give a little more to him and create a better sense of balance. Rather than sitting ruminating and feeling uncomfortable for days, I had the opportunity to make positive changes for both of us.

 

Guilt quote Brene Brown

 

Luckily, mindfulness offers us tools for using guilt in a positive way to make improvements in our lives and strengthen our bonds with others. If you notice that you’re experiencing guilt and you’d like to try relating to it in a different way, here are my 6 steps to use guilt positively. I’d recommend doing this when you have 5-10  minutes to just sit and be. It doesn’t have to be silent, but you do need to be able to turn your attention inwards. Closing your eyes while travelling on a train for instance would be fine.

 

6 steps to use guilt positively P

 

Step one: welcome the emotion of guilt

Once you’ve noticed that you’re experiencing guilt, let go of any attempt to resist the emotion or blame others. Just allow it to be there for now. If verbal mantras work for you, you may want to try repeating something like “Thank you for being here guilt. I am open to learning.” You can do this silently if people are around you.

 

Step two: explore the physical experience of guilt in the body

As you welcome the feeling of guilt, pay curious attention to how it feels within the body. Are there areas of your body that feel tense or uncomfortable? How does your breathing feel? There’s no need to change or resist any of this, just allow it to be there for now.

 

Step three: observe your thoughts

Allow yourself to observe your thoughts without getting caught up in them. You may experience some critical thoughts like “I’m a terrible wife” or some questioning thoughts like “how did I forget?”. None of these thoughts are ‘true’ per se, they’re just thoughts. It may help to imagine each thought as a different person offering their perspective on a particular situation. You have a choice about who you listen to.

 

Step four: extend yourself some self-compassion

Imagine that you are talking to a friend or loved one. What would you say to them in the same situation? How would you help them be kind to themselves? Self-compassion allows us to let go of any over catastrophising (such as “I’m a terrible wife”) and make peace with our actions as normal, human imperfections or mistakes.

 

Step five: set intentions for future behaviour

By this point, you should have a more compassionate and clearer view on your situation and can start to set some positive intentions for what to do next. Going back to my example above, my intention was to write down one kind thing I wanted to do for my husband every day. These weren’t massive things. Perhaps preparing some lunch for him, tucking a note into his work bag or simply giving him a big hug. Small daily acts of kindness reminded me to prioritise him more and create more balance in our relationship.

 

Step six: give a heartfelt apology if it’s appropriate

Guilt can actually cause us to avoid the people we’ve wronged or even become angry with them (as we try to deflect the feeling). Giving a heartfelt apology in which we acknowledge our wrongs helps us to let go of the guilty feelings and repair our relationships. Apologies can feel really awkward (and we often put them off), so a good way to get over this initially is to set ourselves a reward for when we’ve done it. This could be a solo trip to the coffee shop, reading a book or perhaps visiting a friend. Whatever works for you. Having something to look forward to afterwards makes us much more likely to do it.

 

So there are my 6 steps to using guilt positively. I hope you found them useful. If you’d like to keep up to date with all my news and articles then please do follow me on Facebook.

 

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Giving the gift of presence

Thich Nhat Hanh said

 

“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”

 

In today’s busy, multi-channel, multi-attention world, it’s rare that we give our full and undivided attention to others. We talk whilst preparing dinner or we watch movies whilst surfing on our phone. Slowly and silently the distance between us can increase until  all of a sudden we can turn to the person next to us and feel adrift or disconnected. We all crave connection with our fellow humans; especially those we love. Gifting our mindful presence can help to reduce that divide and bring us closer as well as allowing our loved ones to bloom in our unconditional love.
If you fancy bestowing your presence rather than presents upon your loved ones this Valentines Day here are 3 suggestions.

 

1. A shared experience in the present moment
Have you ever smelled a scent or listened to a song and been transported to a vivid memory? Strong, sensual (by that I mean activating one of your 5 senses) experiences have the ability to ground us in the present moment. Enjoying these together can really allow us to be present in each other’s company and let go of distractions. The sky is your limit here but examples would be:

  • Watching the stars
  • Trying new foods together
  • Listening to live music
  • Massage with aromatherapy oils
  • A nature walk

 

 

2. Deep listening
Listening deeply to others allows them to feel heard and understood; and ultimately loved. With deep listening we use our self awareness to let go of our own agenda and embrace all that the speaker has to communicate in the present moment. We’re not evaluating or categorising the content of what they say, we’re not thinking about what to say next and we’re not trying to make them feel better. We’re simply listening to and absorbing what is said. Perhaps with some reflective statements to ensure we understand what they’re saying.
You don’t have to sit down and ‘do’ deep listening (unless you want to). Just try to be mindful of the next time your loved one seems to have something to say or work through and remind yourself that this would be a good time to listen deeply to what they have to say.

 

“The listener’s job is simply to be present and by their presence to hold a space for the other person to explore their felt senses and chosen issues. It is not the listener’s job to “be helpful,” to problem-solve or commiserate or evaluate, but simply to be mindfully present, including being mindful of their own felt senses as they arise.” (mindful.org)

 

If you want to learn more about deep listening there is a great article on mindful.org here.

 

3. The heart’s bulletin board
In her book ‘Only Love Today’, Rachel Macy Stafford talks about the heart’s bulletin board.

 

“Every human being, young or old, has a heart’s bulletin board. Every person needs safety, love and affirmation offered in terms he or she can understand.”

 

We are in charge of the messages we leave pinned on our loved one’s bulletin board. We can leave messages of love and affirmation that demonstrate our understanding of their unique qualities or we can leave messages charged with criticism, shame or anger. When we bring our mindful attention and presence to our loved ones, we can decide to offer soul building words that affirm our love for them.

 
I am grateful when you…
I notice that you…
Your eyes sparkle when you…
I enjoy when you…
You make my day better.

 
So there are my 3 suggestions for giving the gift of presence to your loved ones. If you have any more suggestions I’d love to hear about them! Just comment below.

 

Free reduce screen time course

 

 

Mindful tips to improve relationships