Riding the Wave of all the Guilty Feels
In the past I let my feelings of guilt, when justified or unjustified, control my thoughts and behaviors. If I didn't attend every event that I was invited to, I felt guilty. If I said something that hurt someone's feelings without any intention to hurt them, I felt guilty. If I wanted to go to the movies with my friends and my family was going out to dinner, I felt guilty. If I said I would complete a task for someone and I let them down, I felt guilty. My feelings of guilt were so powerful it seemed as though almost all of my behaviors violated my morals and values.
I found myself replaying particular events, such as these, in my life and ruminating on them for days thinking I could change or prevent the outcome of events. Thus, protecting my self from the guilty feels. I also found myself engaging in over apologetic behaviors such as numerous I am sorry comments and even making repairs to others by giving gifts. Feelings of guilt seemed to be my kryptonite. Although my best friend and sister constantly offered cheerleading statements to help change the way I felt, I continued to feel stuck.
The constant battle between feelings and facts were overwhelming.
Then I was introduced to Dialectical Behavior Therapy. I was educated on the importance of becoming more mindful of your emotions and to view them without judgement. It sounded pretty easy, OK..think about my thoughts I can do that. Now think about my thoughts in a non-judgmental way...YIKES!!! BRICK WALL!!! HOW THE HECK AM I GOING TO DO THAT! I am judging myself for judging my thoughts. The constant struggle between "if I feel something it must be true", and "feelings are not facts no matter how powerful they may be" was such a hard concept for me.
I first started by increasing compassion for myself, especially when I felt a powerful emotion like guilt. This was something that was very new for me as I always wallowed in my guilt. I frequently tried to get rid of my feelings of guilt by pushing them away or holding onto them which only increased my guilt. This was not helpful! I was suffering. Ah ha! In DBT I found that there is a way out of my emotional suffering! I needed to learn how to ride the wave!
This took a lot of practice! I learned to become more mindful of my guilt by allowing myself to experience and observe my feelings of guilt, just notice them for what they are (thoughts), get unstuck from them, and experiencing them as a wave coming and going. Guilt will always be an emotion I experience, however it does not have to create a state of constant suffering for me. I do not need to act on action urge feelings of guilt or make unjustified repairs. There are times when guilt is not justified and my behaviors do not go against my morals or values. And I do NOT have to judge my guilty feeling as a bad part of me.
Just like waves in the ocean coming and going, guilt will be an emotion that comes and goes out of my life. I choose to be skillful and radically accept it as a part of me, and to practice willingness to experience the emotion.
“You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”― Jon Kabat-Zinn
I am in control of my guilt, my guilt does not control me.