When the stay-at-home orders began in March, many of our clients began talking about feelings of guilt. They were acutely aware of all that they had to be grateful for, leading them to feel guilty for the negative emotions and emotional struggles resulting from the new changes in their lives. I was quoted in several articles (see links below) about this feeling of guilt. Then came the death of George Floyd and the ensuing unrest. Once again, I heard people sharing about guilt, for all that they have and for not doing enough. I, too, have been experiencing these feelings. My mind says, “I should be doing more” and I think of situations in which I may have contributed to the problem. When I think about the articles I was quoted in, I realized that this feeling, for many people, is a result of privilege.
While I am grateful that the people I am working with are noticing and naming their feelings, as these are helpful coping skills, the emotion of guilt is usually not helpful. Although guilt can help us identify when we have done something wrong, it also put us at risk for self-degrading thoughts, which can then keep us stuck. We get caught up in thoughts like “I shouldn’t have done…” or “I’m a bad person/not good enough because I didn’t do…” While many people believe that beating ourselves up for our transgressions will push us to make it right and make changes, that is not always the case. It often keeps us feeling stuck and paralyzed, unable to do anything.
If this tough love stance isn’t the answer, what other options do we have? I suggest self-compassion. According to Kristin Neff, Ph.D., one of the world’s leading experts on self-compassion, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings. It consists of three components:
- Mindful awareness-In this first step, you identify that you are struggling, naming your feelings.
- Common humanity-Next, you identify that you are not alone in this, that this suffering is universal to all human beings.
- Self-kindness—In this component, you speak to yourself as you would speak to a friend going through the same situation, offering compassion and support. You can say things like “I’m here for you.” or “It’s going to be okay.” You can also hug yourself or place on your hands on your heart to offer yourself even more compassion.
Whether you are struggling with strong emotions related to the new normal, to systemic racism, or to any other situation, I encourage you to try self-compassion. It will help you feel your feelings and let them go so that you have the energy and space to work toward what is important to you in that moment. Give it a try and let us know how it goes. If you discover that you could use some support in practicing self-compassion, click here to schedule your free 15-minute phone consultation.
Articles about guilt