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Goodbye to Guilt (Another False Message)

Welcome back to Consider Yourself Hugged! Click here to listen to Episode 160 OR click YouTube below to watch!



 

Last week I mentioned the word guilt when it comes to self care and it dawned on me that I haven’t done an episode on guilt – maybe ever! I recorded an audio series in 2009 called Discovering Happiness in a Stressful World. If you follow me at all, you probably know why I don’t sell it anymore: Since my 2013 study on stress, I don't use that word anymore.


I was just going to use the original recording, but it’s been 15 years and it’s weird how your voice changes. So, this episode is an updated version of that recording.


Consider this story involving my youngest son.

·      I was on the road 2-3 weeks out of the month

·      White in a hotel, I got call from teacher. He had cheated on a test.

·      What happened?? GUILT!

 

I’ll use this story as we end today, but you need to work on one of your own. In the show notes, I’ve put an activity sheet.   On your activity sheet, or in your mind, make a list of the things in your life that are causing you guilt.  Some of the more common ones that I see are:

  • not spending enough time with my kids

  • not spending enough time with my spouse

  • not doing a perfect job on everything at work

  • not contributing enough to my community

  • not participating enough in my child’s school

  • having to say no to someone who asks me something maybe to be a volunteer on a committee 



These Things Cause Me Guilt
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Download PDF • 120KB


And the list goes on and on and on.  I hope within the next 20 minutes or so that I am able to really set you free from guilt, because I have been able, for the most part, to turn that over and I have found better ways to deal with it. 


So we’re going to start by defining the word guilt, because if we’re going to use the word, we really need to use it correctly. 




AI definition: Guilt is an emotional state characterized by feelings of responsibility or remorse for having committed a wrongdoing or for failing to meet a certain standard of behavior, often accompanied by a sense of regret or self-blame. It can arise from actions, thoughts, or omissions perceived as harmful or morally wrong, leading to a desire to make amends or seek forgiveness. Guilt plays a role in moral development, social interactions, and psychological well-being.

 


Dictionary.com definition: the fact of having committed a specified or implied offense or crime.

 

So, in my summary, the word guilt is defined as you are responsible for having done something wrong.  I am big on the power of visualization, so I suggest that you visualize yourself in a courtroom, you’re sitting in the chair and the jury is trying to determine your guilt over an issue.  And it makes sense to visualize yourself in that court of law because the word guilt is so closely associated with trials. 


Let’s use an example here.  Let’s say that you have a job and you’re working with a team doing a project.  You finish your part of the project and you hand it over to one of your teammates, and you realize before you do that that you’ve made a mistake.  But it’s just a small mathematical error, it would take you forever to fix it, and so you don’t fix it.  You hand it over to your teammate, she finishes it, turns it n to your boss, your boss catches the mistake, blames your friend, and you say nothing. 

 

Follow my line of thinking here:  You go home, pick up the phone and call your friend Sue.  And you say “Sue, I made this mistake today and my teammate got blamed and I didn’t speak up and now I kind of...” what would you say, “feel guilty.”  We say it all the time, right?  I kind of feel guilty


Well, that’s a phrase you need to get rid of.  You need to throw that out forever because it doesn’t make sense to say I feel guilty because either you are or you’re not.  Now I know if I were you, I would be sitting there thinking, “Well yeah, but that’s pretty cut and dry.  But what about the other things I’ve put on my list, like not spending time with my children or not calling my mother or whatever it is.  Those aren’t so cut and dry.”  We’ll come back to those in just a minute.


When I call my friend Sue and I say “I kind of feel guilty,” what am I looking for Sue to do?  I want her to make me feel better.  I want her to make my guilt go away.  Now its not that I’m trying to be irresponsible or shirk my responsibility.  Freud gave it a name; he called it the pleasure principle.  And he says we don’t want to feel emotional pain in our souls and we’ll do whatever we need to do to get rid of it.  And so what I’m asking Sue to do is to take away my emotional pain and I want her to say “Oh, it’s ok, you didn’t mean to.”  That’s what I want her to say. 


Now, contrast this, how does it seem different if I call my friend Sue and I say “Sue, I’m guilty of not speaking up when I made a mistake and someone else got in trouble for it.”  Do you see how that sounds different?  I am guilty of.  Let's take the phrase I feel guilty and throw it away and replace it with I am guilty of


On the other hand, what if you’re not guilty?  What if, say, I didn’t make a mistake and the whole team got blamed and it was actually the boss who misunderstood.  What happen in a court of law if you’re not guilty and you didn’t do anything wrong?  What do they do to you? They set you free.  That is an awesome phrase to adopt.  I did not do anything wrong, I am not guilty, I set myself free.  Visualize yourself getting up out of that chair and walking out. 


Back to if you are guilty, what comes next?  In a court of law, what comes after the guilt / innocence stage?  Sentencing.  You’ve got to sentence yourself.  So my sentence to my teammate is apologize, own up to it, tell the boss and fix it.  And then it’s done.  Guilt stage is over, I’ve finished my sentence and I can visualize myself walking out of the courtroom again and moving on.  That scenario is pretty black and white, isn’t it?  There’s really not a question to ask, if I made a mistake and I didn’t confess to it and someone else got blamed, I am guilty, I did something wrong. 

 


Let’s go back to some of those scenarios that maybe you wrote down on your paper.  Those relationship issues, those time issues, those balance issues, spending enough time with family and friends, or work, or whatever it is that you have in your life.  How do you know if you’re guilty of those things?  You may have a lot of different answers and sometimes people say “Well, people tell me and then I'll know I'm guilty.”  That’s not always true.  We can’t rely on what other people tell us to assess our guilt. 


Here’s another view.  I believe the best way to determine if you’re guilty in your life of some of those issues is to know what your values are.  Have you ever taken time to sit down with a list of values and a pen in your hand and choose your core values?  Most people in my seminars have never taken time to do this.  You have an activity sheet in the show notes.  It has a list of values.  Values are things like honestly, helpfulness, family time, spirituality.  And you can see the other ones on the list and it’s not an all-inclusive list, there are some spaces down there at the bottom for you to add some values. 



Core Values Assessment 2024
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Download PDF • 178KB


Here’s the way I recommend you do a values assessment.  Sit down with the list and pick 10; that’s your initial assessment.  Pick 10 values you believe are important to you, that you need in your life.  Ten values, though, can be too many really, when it comes to making important decisions, you really need to narrow it down.  Narrow it down to 5.  That’s not a magic number, maybe you’ll have 4, maybe you’ll have 6, but about 5 core values is pretty good as far as what guides your life.  Now how do you do that? 


You’ve got your list of ten.  With each value that you’ve circled on your list, ask yourself this question, "What do I do in my life that demonstrates that this is a value to me?"  For example, lets say that I circled helpfulness.  I circled helpfulness because what kind of person would I be if I didn’t value helping?  So I sit down and I think, ok, what do I do in my life that shows that this is a value to me.  So I think “Umm…uhh….well…,” and I got nothing, I can’t think of anything.  What does that mean about that value to me?  It could mean that it’s not a value to me, and I should on myself.  That means I said “Well, what kind of a person would I be if I didn’t value helpfulness?” Maybe my parents do, maybe the rest of my friends do, so I circled it, but I really should on me, I thought that I should but really it’s not a value, that’s one possibility. 


The second possibility is, it really is a value to me, but I’m not living that way.  And if you have a value and you’re not living that way, that’s when we feel the guilty.  So narrow that down to 5 by eliminating the should's and eliminating those that aren't truly core values to me.


Another way to narrow it down to five is by eliminating the overlap.  Maybe you circled integrity and honesty and those are pretty similar, so you could probably just choose one of those. 


So guilt comes, I believe, when you have these core values that really are important to you, but for some reason, you’re not living that way.  For example, let’s say that you circled family time.  You said family time is one of my core values.  And you work 50 hours a week, you bring work home, you think work, you eat work, you drink work.  Are you guilty?  Yes, you are.  Not to me, not because I say so, but because you said family time is a core value to you and you’re breaking your own value.  Are there exceptions to that? Sure.  


Let’s say you are a single mom.  You are the only source of financial support for your children and you’re working all these hours.  Are you guilty now?  Well, no.  Financial security for those children certainly supersedes your time together. You have to provide for their physical needs, their food, their clothing; that is absolutely more important.  Now you should be making a plan for how you can get back to your core values, but it doesn’t make sense for you to say I feel guilty because you aren’t doing anything wrong.  So, often this type of guilt that’s associated with values comes from making choices in our lives because we don’t really know what our values are. 

 

There’s another type of guilt that we sometimes feel when we’re pulled in a million different directions.  Let me set up a scenario for you, something that’s happened in my life, and you’ll probably be able to identify some similarities in yours.  I traveled a lot at this point in my life.  Sometimes I'd be gone 2 weeks out of the month.  And you might recall that I have 8 children.  Now not all of those lived at home at the time of this story, but at least 3 did, depending on who was home at any given time. 


My mother lived with my sister and my mother’s heath was not great, but she chose to live with my sister, even though she could have taken care of herself and my sister chose to have her live with her, because she helped take care of her children.  And so it was a mutual decision, but my mom’s health was not great. 


So, here’s what happened:  I’d be gone for a week, get home late, maybe 10, 11 o‘clock on a Friday night, get up on a Saturday and we'd get the phone call – Mom’s in the hospital.  Now as any quote good daughter would do, I dropped everything and rushed off to the hospital and my husband was looking at me and saying, “Ok, you’ve been gone a week, you’re leaving again tomorrow,” sometimes I'd have to leave out again on a Sunday, “and you’re leaving us.”  Us meaning him and the children.  So of course, I have this guilt. 


Now at this point in my life, I didn’t let things go on any longer than I had to before I would seek a solution, but I wasn’t able to figure this out.  You know what I’m talking about, I wanted to be a good wife a good mother a good daughter, a good sister, a good friend, a good speaker, trainer.  You know what? We could even say sometimes we want to be the perfect mother, the perfect wife, the perfect daughter, the perfect sister, the perfect friend, the perfect employee or career person.  And all of that leads to a tremendous amount of self imposed guilt. 


I finally decided this was not working for me.  So I went to a friend of mine who was a counselor; she was a counselor who’s also a Christian.  She gave me some advice that absolutely changed my life.  Now, you may know by this point that I base my deep decisions in my life on spiritual guidance, on Biblical advice, and so when she gave this advice, it changed me and I want to share it with you.  The first comes from Galatians, chapter 6, verse 2: Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. The second from verse 5: For each one shall bear his own load. 


So I ask my friend "how is that supposed to help me?  Bear one another’s burdens, bear your own load?”  Do I bear this, or do I not.  We talked about this for a little bit and actually, I had an analogy that I thought was perfect for what I want to share with you.  Have you ever gotten in an elevator and there’s a sign in the elevator that say maximum load 10 people or 1500 lbs., something like that?  That is the weight that that elevator is designed to carry.  It’s built that way.  It can carry it.  So I think about my load in life.  I want you to think about your load in life.  Loads are things that we typically choose.  We pick them up along our path in our life and they are things that we are supposed to bear, that we are supposed to carry. 


So what are your daily loads?  That’s a question that’s on your activity sheet here.



Loads and Burdens 2024
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Download PDF • 197KB


What are your loads in your life?  They might include: I chose to get marred, I chose to have children, I chose to remarry and take on the other 5 children, I chose this career path, chose to buy a house.... do you see where I’m going with this?  If you have children, you should probably take care of them, right?  Bathe them, clothe them, feed them, because if you don’t, someone will do it for you against your will, right?  If you have a spouse, you need to nurture that relationship.  If you have a job, you should probably show up and do the best job that you can.  If you have a home, you need to take care of that home.  Do you see what I mean by our loads?  They are things that we’ve chosen and things that we need to take care of. 


Here’s another question on your activities sheet:  What are the burdens in your life?  See, burden are things that we typically don't choose, typically they came upon us without our permission, they’re typically more than we can bear alone.  Maybe it’s an illness that came on you, maybe a spouse has left you, maybe you have sudden financial disaster.  Those are burdens.  Now there are two ways that I use these verses. 


Here's how I use these verses. Whose load are you responsible for?  Absolutely, your own.  You’re responsible for your own load, and whose load are you not responsible for?  Anybody else’s.  See here’s the thing, it doesn’t mean that you don’t help people, but it means, what we typically do is we carry our load, but then people come up to us and they want to dump their load on us.  Will you loan me some money, will you baby-sit my kids, will you stay late at work today, will you take on this extra assignment, will you volunteer for this, and we don’t want to hurt their feelings, we don’t want to say no. So we basically say, “Sure, dump your load on me,” and what do we wind up dropping?  Our own load. 


See, that’s what I was doing with my mother and let me explain. I said my mother’s health was bad, but often what would happen is, she would go in the hospital, and she would be in the hospital a lot, but it wouldn’t be anything that was life threatening, and when my sister and I would show up, my mother would say things like “Oh gosh, the only time I get both of my girls together is when I’m I the hospital.”  Do you hear the G word there, guilt?  And so, here’s what was doing.  That was part of my mom’s load.  If she was in the hospital for something minor, of course I needed to check on her, make sure things were ok, but was taking on all of her load, and dropping my own.  I was saying goodbye to my husband and my children even though I had such precious little time, to sit in a hospital room all day with my mother who didn’t necessarily need me that whole time.  Then I would feel guilty, because I took on these other load and dropped my own. 


What this allowed me to do was say this: Christ says in the Bible I am responsible for helping other people with their burdens, and so I’m certainly going to do that.  And so, if my mom is in the hospital and she has something that she needs me there for, then I need to be there to help. But if she’s there, everything’s ok, I check on her, I need to put down her load and go back and pick up my own.  I hope that’s something that you can really take to heart.  Listing your loads and your burdens helps you perceive the difference between the two and it allows you to see, hey, this is my load and I need to carry this and this is somebody else’s load and they need to carry that and I’ll help when I can when there’s a burden there.  It doesn’t mean that we don’t care and doesn’t mean that we never help, but we’ve got to take care of our own first. 


Click here to listen to the rest of the story of my son.


Remember, navigating guilt is a journey that requires self-awareness, compassion, and proactive steps toward positive change.

Love & Hugs

😘🤗


*Disclaimer:

The information in this show is not intended to be therapy or to address your individual situation. It is information based on my experiences, opinions, and research. If you need further help, please reach out to one of the resources here:


Mental Health Resources:






Thanks for joining today! As I've always asked in the past, please pass the show link along to your friends and subscribe, download, and review wherever you are listening. If you’re a woman and you haven’t joined our private FB group A Place for Women, please do that now! It’ll be your source of encouragement. I'd love for you to follow my Tami West Seminars Facebook page as well. And until next time, Consider Yourself Hugged 😘🤗




Tami West, PhD

Stress and Mental Health Expert Dr. Tami West uses her entertaining and compelling style to shine a new light on how to transform your life and discover solutions to life’s challenges.

Tami has worked in a variety of industries including healthcare, school nutrition, corporate sales, and 10 years as a public-school teacher. In 2013 she received her PhD in Human Development, studying the connections among stress, emotions, and identity.

Dr. West has spoken in 48 states across the US, as well as the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. In any given year, Tami speaks to groups with audiences consisting of anywhere from 100 to 3,000 people.


Dr. West is the author of several successful publications including three books: The Stress Club, Life Without the Monsters and Thrive. When she's not speaking or writing, you might find her with her traveling with her husband and family, reading historical fiction, or watching Big Bang Theory.


Tami connects with audiences through real experience, cutting edge research, and transparent stories – all sprinkled with humor! She will make you laugh, cry, and shine a refreshingly new light on life's challenges.


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Contact Tami at tamiwest@tamiwest.com or follow her at Tami West Seminars. 






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