What is it with guilt?

I’ve got this feeling. A feeling of guilt, which, as I’ll explain, is not over anything massive, but I’ve got it anyway, hanging there above me, clouding everything else in my day.

Now, I don’t know how you are with guilt, but I don’t like it.

I’ve been putting something off. I’ve found several things already today that allowed me to avoid the task in hand; the laundry, the packed lunches, chasing the kids off to school, dropping the car in for a service, walking the long route back to the house (well, I probably need the exercise). And so on.

And all the while though, there’s that intrusive guilty feeling. About how I should have written an entry for this blog months ago.

That’s it, just that. A blog entry.

So I’m sitting here at the computer, making a long overdue start………

Being honest, it’s that feeling of guilt, and not my claims of a lack of time which has kept me from putting fingers to keypad. It wasn’t to begin with, but the feeling has grown more intrusive, and more dis-empowering as each week has passed.

It isn’t that writing a blog is unpleasant (I find it rather enjoyable); it’s the feelings I have about not doing it that’s become the issue. But what an odd situation to be in, the feelings that are generated by my actions (or lack of them in this case) now become the root of the problem I’m facing, rather than the actual original issue.

It occurs to me that all this is similar in essence to what clients often tell me; they know what they should or shouldn’t do, but something keeps them from it.  And no matter how hard they try to avoid the feeling, there it is: guilt. And it traps them, increasingly dominating their thoughts, and making it harder than ever to take pleasure from anything else.

Guilt, of course, like all emotions, does have a purpose. It’s part of our evolutionary heritage that helped us to prosper as a species. Having evolved to live in small groups, guilt helped us to conform to the necessary rules of the group, to enable us to survive, and live in relative harmony. Unfortunately, the evolution of our emotions hasn’t kept pace with that of the “civilised” world. Life has become increasingly complicated, and guilt less helpful.

Okay, but what to do about it?

In a world so keen on CBT and thought diaries, I was intrigued to read an article recently that reported several studies had found that therapy had been more effective when focusing on just the behavioural element, and not the cognitive.

Say what now?

People who just worked on addressing their unhelpful behaviours, while not working directly with the accompanying thoughts experienced a greater recovery than the group using the traditional CBT approach!!

This is supported by the research behind Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which evidences that by a person learning to engage less with their troublesome thoughts (whilst accepting their existence), and instead focusing on living life true to their individual values, those very thoughts can diminish.

Interesting, eh?

So, where does this take us? Your difficult thoughts are there. They probably aren’t going anywhere fast, but taking them as ultimate truth serves no valued purpose either.

Rather, why not put them to one side (they’ll still be there later, that’s fairly certain), and apply what has been my favourite motto during a twenty five year nursing career:

Get up, get out, and get on with it!

 

Which leaves us with these questions: what might you do differently today? How could today be just a little bit better than yesterday? What small (but beneficial) change can you think of?

No doubt you’ve had good days and bad days before. Try to identify what you did differently on one of those previous good days, and employ that skill, strength or attribute today to make just a small change.

Then, that guilt might actually have served a useful purpose.

Me? I wrote my blog. Only a little thing, especially compared to the issues faced by someone with an eating disorder, but that cloud above me is gone finally, and I don’t mind telling you, I feel so much better!