So it’s one thing to feel guilty because of something you did; it’s another thing feel guilty about something you did not do.
With the former, there are going to be times in our lives where our behavior causes harm to someone or something (whether intentional or not). Here, guilt is appropriate and functional. It helps us identify ways in which we can change our behavior to not cause harm.
With the latter, well, this tends to be dysfunctional and chronic. So let’s look at this scenario a bit closer. Feeling guilty about something you did not do usually comes in two flavors:
- There’s something you’ve been procrastinating but just haven’t gotten to, either for yourself or others;
- There’s something someone is asking you to do that you are choosing not to do.
In both of these scenarios, your guilt is rooted in not truly showing up for yourself.
Take a moment to digest that. Guilt over something you are not doing is rooted in the subconscious that knows you are not living based on your innermost intentions.
To explore scenario 1, let’s envision I have a desire to start a regular meditation practice. This desire stems from an inner wisdom that knows this would be balancing for me. If there was a match between my intention, words, and action, then I would seek a meditation group, or style and take the appropriate steps to make this desired meditation practice a reality.
All to often, however, I may have that desire, and then maybe speak about it a little bit, or maybe seek out a few resources, and somehow not get to actually meditating. Then I feel guilty about it. The guilt stems from the knowledge that I didn’t show up for myself. I’m choosing to not give myself something that I know is balancing for me. Additionally, there is a mismatch between that thought-speech-action pathway, that is inner conflict.
Here, again, my guilt is functional; it serves to make me aware of this inner conflict, and hopefully encourages a change in my decisions to resolve it.
On the other hand, if deep down I know I have been showing up for myself, I probably wouldn’t feel guilty. For example, perhaps I take my herbs daily, do yoga regularly, practice ayurvedic awareness, etc. If I’m doing all these things that are balancing for me, I have an established history of manifesting my intentions for self-care, and my subconscious knows that. So, I may not have manifested this desired meditation practice yet, but I know that I will when the time is right. I don’t feel guilty, because my intentions-words-actions are generally well matched and there is no inner conflict. I feel that I am aware I desire meditation, I will manifest that and I am at peace until it happens.
Scenario 2 is where most of the dysfunctional guilt experiences come in. They usually take the form of not doing something for someone else, because that action is not in the best alignment for you. So many of us feel guilty about not being able to meet the requests of our family and friends.
This is a good time to remember that we cannot fully be present to help anyone if we are not taking care of ourselves. This is especially true when you are taking care of children or elder family members. Those in need always benefit from an abundance of love and peaceful presence. At it’s core, all the help we give anyone is a donation of positive energy. How can you offer these when you are depleted?
Oftentimes, we can recognize this and actually acknowledge our depletion, but have a hard time communicating this to our loved ones. Here’s a lovely secret I’ve experienced firsthand:
If you come from a place of joy when you communicate where you are coming from, it is usually well-received.
So think about how you are envisioning the reaction to your communication that you cannot help. Are you expecting disappointment, anger, hurt, etc? That means you are projecting this outward and already calling forth that reality. Can you come to a place where you are communicating your decision in joy? And can you imagine that loved one supporting your making healthy decisions in your life?
So, to recap:
Scenario 1: There’s something you’ve been procrastinating but just haven’t gotten to, either for yourself or others.
Approach: Start fulfilling your innermost intentions. This will build that inner confidence that you show up for yourself. Begin with baby steps (a healthier choice for a meal; taking care of small tasks that you have been procrastinating) and then take on bigger ones.
Scenario 2: There’s something someone is asking you to do that you are choosing not to do.
Approach: Applaud yourself for recognizing that you are not at peace with doing whatever the obligation is. Imagine communicating that with joy, and having it received with joy. (Even though this may not happen the first time, it will change over time if you keep it up). Feel the relief of laying down that guilt. Use that time and energy to nurture yourself so that you can eventually be more able to give to others.