I was raised by a Jewish mother. I think that makes me an expert on guilt.
Religion notwithstanding, I’m going out on a limb to state that everyone has felt guilty about something. And I think we can all agree that guilt is not fun. So, many of us stay in an unfulfilling, unhappy, or non-productive relationship because it’s better than feeling guilty for taking the steps to end it. We remain miserable in our jobs, depressed at home, or going through the motions with a friend we’ve outgrown, all to avoid the guilt we’ll likely feel if we decide to call it quits. We’re huffing and puffing our way up the guilt mountain until one day we reach the peak, and we find ourselves teetering at the top. Should we take a look at what’s on the other side even though it can be scary? We can always choose to roll gently back down and stay in the relationship, stay at our unfulfilling job, or not ruffle the feathers of an old friend. At least we will no longer feel guilty for thinking about leaving. And we won’t be afraid of the giant unknown future looming ahead of us if we take the leap.
Remember that nobody can make you feel guilty. Feeling guilty is something we, and we alone, choose. This is true regardless of whether you tossed a wrapper out of the car window, or whether you opted not to properly return your shopping cart, or whether you left your co-workers in a lurch when you quit your job, or whether you decided to tell your spouse that you want a divorce.
Obviously, some choices are bigger than others, and an informed decision is always a better way to go. So, if a huge alternative is looming and you’re pre-worrying about feeling guilty if you opt to make the change, it might be a good idea to take a moment to learn about ways to deal with your guilt.
STEP 1: Take ownership of the guilt — it belongs only to you.
STEP 2: Recognize that you also own how long you choose to hold onto the guilt, whether for a day, a week, or for a lifetime.
STEP 3: Ask yourself about the timing. Is it better for you to quickly rip off the band aid, or slowly and gently remove it?
STEP 4: Listen to yourself. Trust your instincts. And then obey your instincts.
STEP 5: Forgive yourself. You’re not perfect, and no relationship can be perfect either.
STEP 6: Make it a learning experience. What life lessons are propelling you forward? What will you do differently next time?
Each of these steps is important on its own, and looking at all of these steps as a personal roadmap might be monumental. I’m curious about which step you think is most important. For me, hands-down, it’s acknowledging that I am continually learning life lessons, and making sure that I understand how to apply that knowledge moving forward.