Chris Croft's Personal Blog

December 21, 2013

Guilt – an action plan

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — chriscroft @ 5:01 pm

A lady on a training course recently asked me if I could give her any advice on her guilt problem – she said she feels guilty about most things, and most of the time, and it’s reducing her happiness hugely.  So here are some thoughts

  1. Make a list of what you feel guilty about
  2. Go down the list allocating either “Change what I do” or “Change how I feel” to each one.  These are the only options, which I call the Angel and the Devil options.  Both are OK.  For example, if you feel guilty about not visiting an old friend who you don’t really like any more, but they keep sending you Christmas cards, you have to choose between the angel option of seeing them a bit more often, or the devil option of not seeing them and feeling fine about it – life’s too short!
  3. Some of the items will need to be subdivided into angel and devil parts – so for example, say you feel guilty that you eat too much, you might decide to stop keeping biscuits in the house (angel) but still treat yourself to some chocolate each weekend (devil).
  4. When choosing angel or devil, the questions to ask are:
    1. How hard would it be to take the angel option?
    2. Would it worth the pain? (Giving up curry would be good for me but too much pain, so I’m going to keep on eating it)
    3. Is it the case that whatever you do you’ll STILL feel guilty (e.g time spent with your children, or money given to the starving of Africa) in which case the angel option is never going to be the complete answer – maybe you should do some Angel (give a bit more) and then try to be happy with what you’ve done (which is partly devil).
    4. If making a change would be easy, and effective, (Angel option) then make a plan for how you will do it
      1. Break it into chunks
      2. Put the first step in your diary
      3. Declare to friends that you are going to do it
      4. If you decide to change how you think (Devil option) then these ideas might help:
        1. Realise that you CAN change your thought processes – you are subconsciously  choosing guilt because of a perceived pay-off: you get to do something a little bit bad but still tell yourself you’re a good person, who might change in the future. But the payoff is faulty since you’re still doing the ‘bad’ behaviour that’s making you guilty.  Guilt doesn’t work!
        2. Start a mantra: “I’m going to eat a doughnut every day for lunch, as a special treat, because I’m worth it”.  If you tell yourself often enough that you deserve the occasional treat then you’ll start to believe it.  Or how about saying to yourself “I’ll hoover my house once a week, and that’s fine.  I will not yield to pressure from myself or anyone else to spend more time on housework – I am already a good person and I don’t need a spotless house to prove it” – a good mantra needs to be something short like “An immaculate house means you’re not having enough fun”.  Keep saying it till you believe that you are a good person.  Or even “I am getting rid of guilt from my life – it’s not a helpful emotion, it is destructive, and I won’t have it in my life”.

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