I often use my daily meditation practice as a way to surface any underlying negative emotions and clear any resistance that may be holding my energy vibration down. The analogy I like to use: you are naturally like a cork bobbing on the surface of the water – you don’t have to do much to keep the cork floating happily along, because that is its inherent nature. Negative thoughts and emotions, however, act like a hand that’s holding down the cork. If you simply release the negative emotion, the cork (and your vibrational frequency) will naturally rise back to your true nature – a state of joy, enthusiasm, and love. Any emotional state other than this is not only unnatural, but research shows that chronic negative emotion and stress is toxic to our cells and hazardous to our health.
So being acutely aware of negative emotion is the first step to recognizing and releasing it. For this article, I want to focus on a particularly insidious emotion - guilt. Guilt is one of those tricky emotions that’s hard to pinpoint and even harder to root out. In its broadest definition, guilt is “an emotion that occurs when a person believes that they have compromised his or her own standards.” But I’d argue that that definition is not nearly subtle enough for the type of guilt that most people experience (especially women, who in my experience are more prone to obsess and fret than men).
For instance, most people might feel guilty about big offenses like stealing, cheating, or lying. Negative emotion is not always a bad thing if it helps you identify your moral compass and course correct – it’s called having a conscience. But what about when our guilt meter goes into overdrive and we start feeling guilty about the unrealistic expectations we’ve set for ourselves? For instance, I recently started working part-time in order to devote more time to my family and writing. To be honest, I love my lifestyle and am much happier as a result. But, I sometimes feel guilty and find myself saying “you’ve worked so hard to get to this point in your career and now you’re getting off the ladder” or “you’re a professional, and you’re not meeting your full earning potential.” Even though my husband and extended family fully support my decision, I feel my own internal sense of pressure and guilt. And on and on for goals and expectations that only I’ve set for myself.
After some reflection, and A LOT of meditation, I’ve finally come to peace with many decisions like this, and have found some strategies that help me cope when my guilt meter goes into overdrive.
Get some perspective.
It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and feel negative emotion over petty things that probably aren’t going to matter in the grand scheme of your life. When you find yourself feeling guilty over something small, just take a step back and ask yourself, “Is this going to matter in 5 years?” If the answer is yes, then by all means reflect on it more after the initial wave of negative emotion has passed. Even in instances where the guilt is about something significant, it helps to get some distance. But if the answer is no, then stop wasting the emotional energy and feeling bad. For instance, no one is going to remember or care in 5 years if you made cookies from scratch or bought them at the store for that charity bake sale. But yet these are the small things that women tell me they feel guilty about. In these cases, it’s important to get some perspective and focus your thoughts and energy on things that are really going to matter in the long run. Life’s too short to focus on anything but the big stuff and the stuff that makes you happy. Which leads me to my next point.
Use happiness as your barometer.
If you are feeling guilty about something you’ve done or said (or haven’t done or haven’t said), for example, use this simple test to determine if you need to take action on your guilt: what decision or action makes me happier (now and in the long run)? It’s as simple as that. Instead of thinking about what’s expected of you, what people will think, or even what’s best for your friends or family, the most important factor in letting go of your guilt is knowing you took the right path or decision for you. It may sound selfish, but unless you take care of yourself and do what’s best for you, you have nothing to give to anyone else anyway. So never feel guilty about doing something that feels right to you or makes you happy.
Give yourself a break.
It’s easy to sometimes feel guilty and obsess over even the smallest of things. For instance, I recently talked to one mom who felt guilty for not feeding her infant an all-organic diet. She was really worried that it would set him up for illness and health problems later on in life. Certainly, organic foods are beneficial. But when you create an all or none, perfectionist mindset, you’re setting yourself up for failure and guilt. That negative emotion is also creating resistance within you, which prevents the Universe from letting the right solutions come to you in the right way and at the right time. So learn to give yourself a break. This simplistic advice someone once gave me works wonders - just do the best you can, and let the Universe take care of the rest. In this instance, do your best to feed your child healthy a healthy diet, but trust that you don’t always have to get it right to have a healthy, happy child.