Feeling guilty is the worst.
Seriously, it just is. Especially when it’s guilt that just sticks around, even after you’ve dealt with the problem. And it is so easy to get stuck in a trap of feeling guilty about things we can’t change.
Now, I do believe that conviction, a kind of guilt, is really important–it helps show us that we’re not living out our beliefs, and that we’ve got places in our lives where we need change. But I’m not talking about conviction here. I’m talking about soul-sucking, day-ruining, emotionally-destructive guilt.
But on this blog I really want to help you experience purpose and freedom in life, and a huge part of that is learning when to let go of feelings of guilt. So I have compiled 8 things to stop feeling guilty about to share with you today! I hope it gives you some comfort.
1. Not having time for everyone
I made a video about this recently, and wrote a blog post to follow up on it, but I cannot say this enough: you do not need to feel guilty about things you have no control over. You simply do not have enough hours in a week to give everyone your undivided attention. If you’re finding that something or someone is draining your energy and is taking too much time, cut it out of your life, or at least create some boundaries so that it’s manageable.
So often we feel guilty because we “should” be able to be there for everyone. But should you really? It’s just unrealistic, and it’s toxic to hold yourself to unrealistic and unattainable standards. Give yourself a break, and allow yourself some breathing space!
2. Past mistakes
Now, although I believe it is very healthy to experience sadness at times about mistakes we have made, guilt is another matter. Feeling guilty about it and beating yourself up for past mistakes isn’t going to change the fact that you made them. But it is going to make current you very insecure, very depressed, and just generally a very sad person.
If you truly believe that God has forgiven you for your mistakes, and that he has paid for them in full so they no longer define you, you do not need to feel guilty about that anymore. When you feel guilt creeping up about a past mistake, just tell yourself this: “Yes, I was wrong to do that. But I have been forgiven, and I am a clean slate thanks to what God did for me to take away my sin.” There’s no need to feel guilty anymore because it’s forgiven. Feeling guilty about it now, after you’ve asked for forgiveness, is actually a sign that you aren’t truly understanding and believing in God’s powerful forgiveness.
3. Someone taking the truth the wrong way
Often when we’re in a position where we need to be blunt with someone, or we’re just speaking up because we’re worried about them, it can turn bad. When someone is in a negative place, and you reach out, they can take it personally.
This can be especially an issue if you’re working in a job where you have to give feedback to people. I was working as an academic writing coach at my university during my third year of college, and a large part of that job was showing where there was improvement to be made. And no matter how encouraging you are, and how sensitive you are when explaining where someone might be wrong, there are times when that person will just take it 100% the wrong way. They get defensive, and you feel like a really bad person because you hurt them.
But did you really hurt them?
I don’t think so. When we tell the truth, even if it’s a hard truth to accept, that person has the option to accept the truth or to reject it and keep their pride intact for a little bit longer. It’s humbling to accept when you’re wrong, even if it’s about something as silly as comma placement. So if you had to call out an uncomfortable truth with a friend lately, and they took it really badly, stop feeling guilty. If they were offended by the truth, and you were kind and understanding when saying it (that part is key), that is on them, not on you.
4. Making an honest mistake
Did you forget you were meeting up with a friend for coffee and accidentally stood her up? Yikes. Yeah, that sucks. I’ve been there (on both ends!). It can be so easy to let guilt just eat you up when you do something wrong, but here are some questions I want you to ask yourself next time you’re feeling guilty over a mistake that may have hurt or inconvenienced someone:
- Have I sufficiently apologized?
- Did I made amends?
- Have I put systems into place so that I don’t make the same mistake again?
If the answer is yes to all three of these, stop feeling guilty! Feeling guilty isn’t going to help fix the relationship if you’ve already sincerely apologized and made sure to make it up to your friend somehow. Also, feeling guilty isn’t going to help you actually change anything, you’re just feeling guilty! So use that guilt to show you “Whoops, I did something majorly wrong” and then do something to fix it. Then, let the guilt go away.
5. Following your own aspirations, not someone else’s
A lot of us grow up feeling pressure to become one thing or another. Maybe your family wanted you to become a doctor, and you chose a job in journalism instead. Maybe your parents are pressuring you to find someone and get married, but you just don’t feel like that’s what’s right for you right now.
The people in our lives have expectations for us, and they don’t always line up with what we want for ourselves. And that’s OK. They aren’t trying to be mean–they just want you to be happy and to succeed. But sometimes they do that by making sure that you succeed their way instead of the way you’re supposed to. Don’t feel guilty for following who you truly are instead of forcing yourself to fit a mould you were never meant to fill.
6. Being “different”
I have struggled with this one a lot, especially after getting married. I am not a typical housewife. I’m messy, I hate doing dishes, I rarely have dinners planned, and I usually only do laundry when we don’t have any underwear left instead of on a regular schedule.
I was always fine with that until I got married.
When I got married, I started comparing myself to what I saw so many other women doing effortlessly. No, their houses weren’t perfect at all. But I just struggled with the meal planning, tidiness, and keeping life under control that was so easy to other wives.
And I started feeling guilty.
Because I started feeling like I was depriving Connor of something he could have had with someone else.
But no matter where you are in life, or what you’re doing, stop feeling guilty for not being someone else. God made you you for a purpose! Connor doesn’t need someone to do his laundry for him. He needs me. That’s why he chose me. So we’ll suffer through the house chores together. And it’s the same for you–if you’re feeling guilty because you can’t be more like someone else, stop it! You are selling yourself short. You are you, and no amount of guilt is going to change that. So accept it, and rejoice in it!
7. Not having it all together
There are so many “shoulds” that we believe about ourselves, and it gets worse when we feel like we’re failing something or we’re not at our best. If you’re struggling to make ends meet, or you’re only barely keeping it together, you don’t have to feel guilty about that. So stop. Instead, take a look at your life objectively and figure out if there are any ways that you can simplify your life or cut back on some expenses. Maybe you’re suffering from anxiety or depression and need to seek treatment. These aren’t things to feel guilty about. They’re things to prompt you to take action.
8. Doing the right thing, even if it hurt someone
Often doing the right thing means doing the hard thing. I’ve been in a few situations before where people have disclosed things that were simply unwise to keep secret. Eating disorders, self-injurious behaviours, or even suicide attempts. And I told someone who was in a position to help them seek treatment. And not all of them took it well. Some did, and some understood why. But when you do the right thing, it’s not always easy. The truth is, I did break their trust. But breaking their trust was the right thing to do in that situation.
Not every situation is that drastic, though. Many people who quit partying or who became Christians later in life find that their friends feel hurt and abandoned when they adopt a different lifestyle. But was it wrong to follow God, or get out of the party crowd? No, it wasn’t.
We can’t feel guilty about making someone angry if we know it was the right thing to do. You’re never going to be able to please everyone, but I’d much rather someone be angry at me because I did the right thing than accepting of me because I did the wrong one.
Here’s the truth: guilt isn’t helpful or necessary unless it is pointing us towards God. So stop feeling guilty about things that don’t fall into that category. You are meant to have such a fulfilling and purposeful life, so let’s stop piling on all this baggage that comes with feeling guilty!